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An Ad Guy and a Psychologist Walk into a Campaign...


Dept's Julien Kelch explains the power of behavioural economics and how to use it to perfect your campaigns

An Ad Guy and a Psychologist Walk into a Campaign...

What makes people do what they do? And how can advertising take advantage of that? Psychologist Dr. Mel Weinberg and the so-called ‘ad guy’ Dan Monheit explain at SXSW how they use behavioural economics to explain the powerful impact behind some of the greatest ad campaigns of all time. 

People are often influenced by emotions or innate bias in making decisions that are not in their best interest in the long run. Behavioural economics combines insights from psychology and economics to clarify this process. The results could be considered irrational as they contradict classical economic theories.  

During the talk, Dr. Mel Weinberg breaks down the psychological theories drawing on science, research and neuroscience, while Dan Monheit explores how these mental weaknesses – biases which can be used for marketing purposes – can be used to better market products and services. Through impressive examples of great advertising campaigns, the individual biases are explained in more detail and their effects are clarified.

The Availability Bias

The human brain is designed to have a strong connection to other human brains. The first and the strongest connection we typically have is the one with our mother at birth. During your lifetime, whenever you think about your mum you will experience a rush of oxytocin (better known as the love or cuddle drug). And this is where the availability bias steps in. This is a mental shortcut which relies on immediate examples that come to one’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept or decision. During this process, the availability bias occurs when a story you can easily recall plays too big of a role in how you reach your conclusions. This can be misleading as people have the tendency to think that examples of things that come readily to mind are more representative than is actually the case. 

Using the availability bias in marketing can be a smart move. P&G, for example, has used the availability bias in a very emotional campaign called #BecauseOfMom. P&G impressively tells the story of Olympic athletes on their winding road to success. The audience is emotionally integrated into the story because the situations shown are close to their own reality. In the end, there is a surprising resolution that touches the viewer and creates a connection to one's own mother. 

In addition to triggering positive emotions within the viewer and empathy, P&G has managed to advance from a brand with useful articles to a fundamental enabler of Olympic achievement and successful parenting. 

Cognitive Biases within Marketing

80% of ads are rational. They’ve been over-intellectualised. But what the P&G example shows is that it is more beneficial to ramp up the emotional aspect. If you want to be remembered, you have to establish an emotional connection to your audience. Dr. Mel Weinberg and Dan Monheit touch upon other cognitive biases which can be used for marketing purposes.

Loss Aversion

A distortion that makes us more sensitive to the prospect of losing than to an equivalent probability of winning. For example, if you lose 100 euros, you will experience a feeling of loss that is stronger than the feeling of profit you would feel if you won 100 euros. People also have a tendency to value objects they already own much higher than identical objects which they don’t possess. Marketers can take advantage of this by using a language that appeals to the urgent need of consumers to avoid losses at all costs and a high valuation of current possessions.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency for us to seek or increase our perceived value of information that is already consistent with our beliefs. This is another reason why our social media echo chambers have become so strong. Give your customers information they already believe is true and you will win their loyalty. 


Anchoring is a simple bias that spurs the mind to cling to key numbers or concepts to which it was recently exposed to and then use them as a starting point for future evaluations, calculations and assumptions. This can have serious implications on your decision-making process and the conclusions you come to. For example, when it comes to website design, if you don’t help people understand in a few seconds how you can solve their problem, they’ll leave your site. First impressions are quick. A Google study showed that they can be made in 17 milliseconds!

Framing and priming

Similar to the anchoring effect, users are subtly influenced by words or phrases they have seen before. For example, studies show that if you expose people to the words ‘hero’ or ‘stylish’, they will perceive a stranger in a more positive light than if they were exposed to words such as ‘villain’ or ‘rude’. Subtle cues – from words to design decisions – will be even more important in the near future as user experiences and attention spans become shorter and shorter. You need to ensure your website encourages the consumer to continue their journey. Details matter. 

Wrap up

The lecture by Dr. Mel Weinberg and Dan Monheit showcases how being aware of human cognitive biases can have a lasting effect on your target group. To take your brand to the next level you need to create stories which connect to people on an emotional level. You need to trigger an emotional response to have a lasting effect and stick to their minds.

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DEPT®, Wed, 13 Mar 2019 13:42:15 GMT