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Draftfcb's Drunk Tank Pink


Director of the Institute of Decision Making, Matthew Willcox, & author, Adam Alter, discuss Cannes Lions seminar

Draftfcb's Drunk Tank Pink

Adam Alter’s latest book, Drunk Tank Pink, is a New York Times bestseller. Looking at influencers such as names, symbols and colours, it illuminates how they can dramatically and unexpectedly affect decisions that all of us make everyday. Matthew Wilcox, Director of the Institute of Decision Making, held a panel discussion with Alter at last week’s Cannes Lions. Laura Swinton caught up with the pair to find out more. 


LBB> What was the crux of your Cannes Seminar?


MW> Really, it was all about things that we don't expect to have an effect on us, but do.  In most cases, marketers don't take these things into account. For example, take the finding that our names – things we have been given or saddled with, rather than have chosen – have an effect on our behaviour, our life decisions and decisions others make about us.  Marketers gather huge amounts of hard-to-get data on consumers, but with the exception of age or targeting ethnic culture, I've never heard of marketers using the most public thing about someone – their name, as a way to target likely behaviours.


LBB> How did Adam Alter get involved with it, and what did you think the audience learned from him?


MW> Adam has been a friend of, and associated with the Institute of Decision Making pretty much since we started four years ago.  Around this time he was becoming very well known in academic circles for his work on cognitive fluency, which is about how the ease or difficulty of processing information affects our decisions more than the content itself.  


As well as being super smart and a world-leading expert in his field he has the rare gift of being able to explain it so the rest of us can get it, which is why I think his book has been so successful. Beyond nuggets for cocktail party conversation, there are two things we hope people took from the session.  First is that context is every bit as important as content when it comes to influencing decisions. And second, the unconscious isn't a black box.  Although it seems to eschew rationality, it is more approachable, even more logical than it appears from the outside.


LBB> Which campaigns or brands stick in your mind as showing a really good understanding of or smart use of behavioural or decision making science?


MW> I do think that many marketers, creatives and planners have an intuitive feel for how unconscious processes effect decision-making.  There are many good examples that use various behavioural principles, but without being involved in them, it is difficult to know if they got there by delving into the science, or intuitively.  



For example, one of the first ads for Kellogg's Cornflakes over a hundred years ago used the principle of scarcity; BA's blockbuster "Faces" by Saatchi and Hugh Hudson used the bandwagon effect exquisitely; Mac vs PC used reference dependency in a very cultured way.  In fact, if you look deep enough at any great piece of work, you can probably find a behavioural principle lurking inside it.  The best creatives – though they may deny it – have more than a touch of the behavioural scientist about them.  Perhaps there's an idea for a Cannes Lions category in this somewhere.



LBB> When you start looking at the ways in which our decisions are governed by external forces it really can throw you into a bit of an existential crisis, regarding free will. In your experience, in agency life or just generally, how do people respond when you bring up these ideas? Do you ever experience much pushback or ‘that might influence other people but it won¹t influence me’ responses?


MW> This is a great question, and deserves a chapter in a book rather than just a paragraph.  There's the philosophy of it, the psychology of it and the practice of it!  


First, governed is perhaps too strong a word – I would prefer to say we are influenced by external forces.  I don't see anything sinister about this – unconsciously reacting to what is around us is simply how our decision-making systems have evolved so that we can survive.  Equally, consciousness, or deliberative thinking, or free will if you prefer has become a human trait for good reason as well.  In his excellent book, neuroscientist David Eagleman writes, "consciousness developed because it was advantageous, but advantageous only in limited amounts".  


For the majority of our decision making, over our time on this planet as both a species and as individuals, intuitive, unconscious and quick processes have got us better outcomes than conscious, considered and slow processes.  We could survive – although not optimally – on our intuitive processes alone. But I wouldn't give any of us much a chance if equipped only with our deliberative, conscious processes.


In terms of explaining this thinking and approach, I find evolutionary psychology and the work of people like Gad Saad, Vlad Griskevicius and Geoffrey Miller a great help.  It's easier for people to absorb and accept this thinking when you see it as a consequence of how we've evolved rather than some black box or puppet master controlling us.  To my mind, the question "why are we affected by the unconscious?" is more like the question "why do we have finger nails?" than one of morality and philosophy.


To your point of getting push back, the answer is yes.  I think we all think we are above the effect of unconscious processes like cognitive biases. Behavioural scientists joke about a "Bias Bias", meaning that we all, and they in particular, are biased against the effects on biases on us as individuals.


LBB> Aside from making more persuasive advertising, can or should this science be deployed in other ways to improve agency life?


MW> It can.  We have run sessions not just about brands and marketing, but for mangers and HR on how the unconscious affects hiring and personnel issues, and how it can be used in negotiations by our finance and procurement people.  But it is also a great help to people we work with in every day life.  Though we will never be above the effect of cognitive bias, understanding more about them can help us mitigate against their effects, or just make us feel better and not so stupid about our irrationality.


LBB> I¹m really interested to learn about the work you do at the Draftfcb Institute of Decision Making. What recent projects have you been involved in? And how do you think the presence of this institute has influenced or changed thinking across the whole agency?


MW> I have been traveling a lot around the network recently, and you can really see the interest when you get into conversations or run workshops with teams and clients about specific projects.  Some of our offices are now starting to build great relationships with academics locally, and there are a number of pitches and or work in that are in process that the Institute has been directly involved with that I can't talk about.  But there are some great cases I can think of. One is how behavioural thinking helped our London office develop a mailer to recruit health workers that tripled response rates.  There are clients we are advising on pricing. 



At a more emotional level, the strategy that led to our creative and Effie award winning Dockers work from our San Francisco office came from infusing a message about masculinity with the principle of loss aversion.  And in New Zealand we have had great successes.  Our team there adopted a behavioural approach some time ago and have done work that hasn't just had an effect on brands, but on society and the economy.  Their communication programmes for the Electricity Authority, which used behavioural thinking from inspiration to implementation was recently called out by the NZ government as having been a factor in keeping inflation down.


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FCB EMEA, Mon, 24 Jun 2013 09:30:00 GMT