Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thank you for smoking...more.

"If I asked my customers what they wanted, I would have made a faster horse"  - Henry Ford

The attached photo is an example of the fear tactics used by most of the world to "stop teen smoking". Australia, for one reason or another seems to use pretty extreme imagery in comparison to other countries I've lived in. 

I experienced a bit of culture shock when I walked into my first Sydney liquor store to find these graphic images of disease on cigarette boxes. My shock almost immediately turned to laughter, as I watched a barely 18 year old girl instruct the cashier to give her the box of ciggies with the heart disease photo instead of the mouth cancer photo. I ALMOST forgot how durable and adaptable I was when I was 18. 

This experience was fresh in my mind when I recently read a book by Martin Lindstrom called Buy-ology. The book is awesome! Martin Lindstrom who is an absolute, baby faced, Danish born, Sydney residing - BAD ASS describes a series of experiments conducted via neuro testing that validate what Henry Ford, and most of us have already concluded - people don't always know what motivates least not in a focus group environment.

The experiment that is most relevant to the fluffy artery in the photo above, was the graphic anti-smoking images test. Martin showed a room full of smokers very graphic images, not dissimilar to the photos that now exist on all Australian cigarette boxes and asked if these images would make them less likely to smoke. 

The vast majority answered with some form of strong YES. He then conducted the exact same test, BUT had the respondents brains connected to an FMRI machine. 

Here's the crazy part - not only did Martin prove that these images would NOT stop people from smoking, he proved that graphic images of disease actually made people smoke more! 

Now, let's overlay one of the very first human truths learned from a year 2 Social psychology class: People are more motivated by the idea of losing something, than the idea of gaining that very same thing. 

So, I could argue that telling young people what they will GAIN by smoking (disease) has been proven to NOT be as powerful as telling them what they may LOSE. So what loss would motivate young people to stop?  

If you buy into Erik Eriksons psychosocial development theory (8 ages of man), you will agree that younger people are in a life stage where they are as focused on "self identity"as babies are on eating and pooping - it's why Erikson theorised every single generation of teen rebels against authority (Gen Y's rebellion is much less of the James Dean variety, but in Ron Alsop's book The Trophy Kids grow up he validates that the millennials still seek self identity via - rebellion without anger) . 

They want to find answers for themselves and their "chosen future families" are more important than their "given families".

If I was the Australian government, I would follow this path of logic and try to address and stop the role smoking plays on the self identity of young people.

Smoking for young people is a way of fitting in, its a way of looking cool (many would think sexy). It's an accessory for a rebellious statement. Showing disease...only validates that the rebel, is rebellious. 

Friends are your "chosen family" - massively important point. As Romeo and Juliet taught us, young people would rather die together, than live without their chosen future family.

So, what if the Australian government stopped telling young people that smoking will make you gain disease - and instead showed how it could make them lose friends.

Lose friends because:
- Smoking will make you ugly
- Smoking will give you bad breath
- Smoking makes you look stupid
- Smoking does NOT make you look rebellious anymore

All of these "losses" are immediate (the speed most preferred by youth), all happen the minute you put a cigarette to your lips, NOT decades after.

Ugly, stupid, uncool AND stinky breath?  Wow, this is is beginning to sound like the voice of a bitchy young girl right? Good! 

Young, bitchy girls are the masters of words that cut like a knife,  masters of starting or stopping friends from engaging in all kinds of behaviours. Its a voice that I strongly believe the Australian government needs to think about adopting.

With tobacco companies being responsible for the executions of their own warning labels, I can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe this counter productive way of speaking to youth is something big tobacco understands and uses to their benefit. 

Banks, tattoos, sun block and Karma

I recently took the ferry from Sydney to Manly and was impressed by a local Australian bank called Bank West. As I waited to board the ferry I was handed a little promo by an attractive young gal. Yes, yes, "young and attractive" are always smart things to attach your brand to, but this was different. 

To be perfectly honest, I had my ipod on and over the sounds of a Rage Against The Machine ballad I said THANKS! (a little too loudly) and ignored the promo until I slowly began to watch this piece of cardboard become the topic of smiling conversation all around me. 

Much to my embarrassment, I realised that what I ignored was something this heavily tattooed guy forgot to bring (and badly needed) on the ferry ride to Manly - sun block! "We're looking out for you this summer" the packet read. I smiled and kept it. 

Being new to the city, I was still sorting out my finances and a week or two later I went out of my way to find a Bank West. No seriously, I really did go out of my way.

I know what you're thinking and BELIEVE ME when I say I'm probably more cynical than you, BUT along with my unhealthy cynicism is a healthy dose of child like curiosity. So, I dove into my old social psychology notes and found what I think is the humbling answer. 

A couple of years ago, I attended a seminar on persuasion and compliance by a Stanford Professor named Dr. Robert Cialdini. He is one of the most successful and well known social psychologists in the world and also surprisingly hilarious.

I studied social psychology at University and Dr. Cialdini's seminar directed me towards some old notes titled "Why karma works!" 

The notes outlined an experiment that took place towards the end of my first semester back at school, near the Christmas break. A classmate and I picked 50 perfect strangers names from the local phone book and sent them Christmas cards. 

We basically wrote "Just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!" - Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we received 34 cards back...from perfect strangers - wishing us a Merry Christmas (that's like a 68% response!!!). If you're a true cynic this is the part where you'll silently start to get turned off. Start thinking aww, this guy is full of shit. So, I recommend that you let your curiosity silence that cynicism by trying it. It's cheap and entertaining :)

One of the principles Dr. Cialdini described is called "the law of reciprocal exchange" (its what made strangers feel the need to mail us back). It's a law that is innately in us all. Every single country, state, city, village, culture, every race, gender on the planet. It's a human law that simply states: If someone does something for you, you should do something for them. It may be conscious, it may be subconscious - but for most of us, it's very very real. 

Next time you do something for someone at work, next time you go out of your way to help out a friend, next time you do anything and feel a bit pissed off at your favour not being returned - instead of responding with a "No problem" to THANK YOU - throwing away any sense of future credit, say "I know that you would have done the same for me" - watch how much easier your favours will be returned! It's brilliant. That one act alone, has changed my work and social life for the positive.

This human law, also has implications for brands. There's a famous case study where the same brand, in the same city, branded two different things with two very different attitudinal scores: One group was given a branded coffee cup - low to negative response. The other, a branded cup holder that protects the fingers of customers from the heat of the cup - positive response. We ALL have a sense of "future obligation" towards people, groups, even brands that FIRST give us something. 

Is this basic human truth the engine that drives Karma? I think it is.

In this new age of advertising (that sounded very Star Trek! haha) -  brands like Youtube, Google, Flickr, etc...ALL seem to GIVE FIRST, in order to RECEIVE LATER. It's not about a product OR a service - it's learning how to think about your product AS a service.  

It's about brands learning to believe in Karma.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Beatles, Hamburg, German Strippers and Practice

Over the last 15 years I've had the honour of working with loads of really smart strategist, but to be honest I've started to find that more and more often, the smartest planners are missing the simplest and biggest truths.

I've always believed that one of the greatest abilities a strategist can have is the ability to make difficult things simple, but in sharp contrast to that belief I'm hearing a consistent and universal pattern of complaints from agency creatives about strategists that make simple things - difficult. 

Just a few months back, I worked at TBWA Chiat/Day in Los Angeles where I overheard a planner - who had a reputation for being "really smart" say there will never be another Beatles! 

He continued into an incredibly long and complicated explanation of media and how it's changed, of television and how the "critical mass" had been reached in 1964, and how the alignment of 7 key factors had essentially created a perfect "popular culture storm". Wow, I thought to myself - that sounds really complex. So complex as a matter of fact that I just didn't buy it. 

I started to think about my own love of the Beatles,  of myself after work, as a lover of music not an agency guy. I love the Beatles because they simply wrote, played and sounded great. Simple.

So, I decided to do my own research into why the Beatles simply wrote, played and sounded as brilliantly as they did. A test to see if there was a simple answer. 

The info below will give an opinion on whether or not there will be "another Beatles". I did not read journals of social science. I chatted to my Uncle (he was in a Beatles cover band and an avid fan since I was a kid), read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and watched the documentary Shout - that's it:

The Beatles came to the United States in February of 1964, starting the British invasion that transformed the face of popular music. It was a MASSIVE thing! I know this will piss a lot of people off, but Lennon was right - they kinda were bigger than Jesus. Which is especially weird, because his look was VERY in style in 1964.

The first thing that surprised me during my research was just how long the Beatles had actually been a band before they "hit it big". John and Paul had been playing together since 1957, that's 7 years before even arriving in America. 

What happened during those 7 years is the REALLY interesting bit - in 1960 when the Beatles were still a struggling high school rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg wasn't known for great live music back then, what they were known for was numerous and fantastic strip bars. 

A club owner named Bruno had the idea of bringing young, English rock groups to play at his strip bars so, this German version of Tony Soprano went to London - and by good or bad luck, happened to meet a would be Liverpool-based entrepreneur who promised to send him "London's best" - what Bruno got was, Liverpools average, including The Beatles. 

The Beatles first International job however, was NOT average. Bruno, having previously worked at the German equivalent of US county fairs, had a different rock club model than CBGB's. He wanted bands...and strippers to perform for HOURS as 2nd, 3rd and 4th audiences cycled in and out of his venue, a "non-stop strip tease" was the basic idea. Can you imagine the Beatles and naked German girls? That's just awesome! 

Hamburg didn't really pay very well, the acoustics and audiences were kinda shit, BUT the amount of time that the Beatles were made to play...was insanely differentiating from other bands. Here's a great quote from John Lennon (You can find this quote in Malcolm Gladwells book - Outliers): 

"We got better and more confident. We couldn't help it with all the experience we gained from playing ALL night long - it was handy being from Liverpool because we had to try even harder than the locals, put our heart and soul into our performances to get ourselves over (to Hamburg). In Liverpool we only ever did 1 hour sessions and we only did our best numbers - the same ones, over and over. In Hamburg we had to play for 8 hours so, we really had to find a new way of playing." 

They played like this 7 nights a week! And as they got better the 12:30 closing time was extended till 2 most mornings - I gotta say this again, 7 days a week! 8 hours a night! How do you even think about doing something like that without a WHOLE LOTTA COCAINE??!!!

Now here's some simple math to contest the complex "7 factors" that my strategic friend waxed poetic:

The Beatles went to Hamburg 5 times in less than 2 years - On the first trip they played 106 nights - 5 or more hours each night. On the 2nd trip they played 92 times. On their 3rd trip they played 48 times - for a total of 172 hours on stage. Again, ALL within less than 2 years.

The Hamburg experience totalled 270 nights in just over 1 year and 6 months.  By the time the Beatles actually did end up on American television, they had performed live an estimated 1200 times.  Most bands do not perform 1200 times in their entire careers!

So, is it the complex 7 factors ? Personally, I don't think so.

To quote the fantastically simple Sir Winston Churchill: "Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential."

The Beatles simply tried harder than any band before them...and because of that, I KNOW we will see another Beatles before we die. Keep your eyes on the hardest working bands as we inch towards our next musical revolution. It may or may not be bigger than grunge, may or may not be bigger than hip hop, but we're due. 

Personally, I think it will happen in '09 and I'm watching Radiohead closely.