Creative directors, copywriters, marketers, brand owners, communication strategists
– we are all in the business of making change happen. Getting people to do
something new, to stop doing something old, or to carry on doing what they’re doing.
We use our craft to change the way people feel, think and ultimately behave.
But how do we do it? The truth is it’s not so easy. People are reluctant to change; it’s
much easier to just carry on doing what we’ve always been doing.
However, breakthroughs in neuroscience and behavioural economics are changing
how we understand human nature and how we can influence behaviour more
effectively. You see, 80% of what we know about the brain today has only been
discovered in the past 20 years.
Yet many marketing theories were developed half a century ago and are based on the
traditional economic premise that consumers make rational decisions after careful
consideration. In this paradigm, the role of marketing is to persuade consumers by
providing a compelling reason to believe based on a unique selling point.
In contrast, behavioural economics believes people make decisions intuitively, based
on what feels right at the time. The biggest driver of intuitive decision-making is
therefore emotional, not rational, and people are moved to choose something, not
persuaded. This helps explain why, according to a 2010 Institute of Practitioners in
Advertising (IPA) effectiveness study, emotional campaigns are 11 times more
effective than rational ones. It also helps to bring strategy and creative even closer
FCB South Africa has embraced behavioural economics to inform its strategies going
forward. For example, we pay attention to the things that matter to us, which is what
strategy has traditionally focused on, and is content-focused. But we’re also
programmed to pay attention to anything disruptive in the environment. It’s one of
the primary roles of the intuitive mind – to scan the environment for changes that
could spell danger.
This is something creatives have intuitively always known. It’s easy enough to get
attention, but it’s harder to keep attention. When it comes to sustaining attention,
one of the most powerful strategies is good old storytelling. Once you’ve set up a
good mystery hook, people tend to stay the distance, wanting to know what
happened next. The more vivid and personal the stories are, the more sticky they
are. A great example is the Google Chrome “Dear Sophie’ ad which creates a little
story that makes you feel like Google’s at the heart of your life.
Another insight from neuroscience which is very important when it comes to
behaviour change is that – when we think about ourselves in the future – it’s as if
we’re thinking about a stranger. We therefore tend to lack empathy for our future self
and try and satisfy our current needs first. Here, the role of marketing changes from
persuading people to save or exercise, to helping people save. A great example is an
international campaign by Prudential which helps people think about their future more
carefully by confronting them with the simple question: “How much will you need for
What’s odd about all this “new thinking’ is that in some ways a lot of this is “old
thinking’ that we’ve forgotten or simply never married with marketing theory. At last
we have a marketing theory that matches our instincts and brings strategy and
creative closer together.