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Friday, July 28, 2006

Interesting People Say Interesting Things

to echo suzanne powers from chiat, i think it's great that all these people who spend 362 days a year competing against each other can come together for the conference once a year and share their thoughts and insights selflessly. this was only my second time, but it's been invaluable in each case, and i look forward to next year.

here's the highlights of what i saw and heard:

chuck porter tells us to beware of metaphors unless we're shakespeare. to be a chicken sandwich, or not to be a chicken sandwich... that is the question. but what is a big bucking chicken, or a subservient chicken, if not a metaphor? maybe it's a simile. who knows? i'm no good at grammar. regardless, they do great work at cp+b that makes me jealous, so good for them. it was interesting to hear him spell out their basic rules and ideas and think back and see how it all plays out in their work.

mark beeching from digitas had a great quote: "the answer is a tv spot. now what is the question?" well put. i also liked what he said about "active brand ideas" and "agile campaigns" in our "liquid media world." just so long as the trying-way-too-hard amex in:nyc card campaign is not the model by which we put these thoughts into practice. personally, when i lived in nyc and saw those ads all over the subway they made me shiver - new york is not corny like those ads would make you believe.

andrew deitchman from mother is my hero - no bullshit from that guy. i love the idea of the "mother study" as a better way of doing research. when it comes to marketing research i always have a bug in the back of my head telling me that we're finding things out about a certain kind of person who is enough of a sucker to actually want to take our surveys and sit in our focus groups. i mean, the money's not that good, and the conversation isn't that interesting, so why do these people keep showing up? are we really talking to a representative sample? i find it hard to believe. i used to work at a magazine in the marketing/promotions group and i got a real sense from that experience that there is a particular population out there that is disproportionately represented whenever a marketer does a sweepstakes, a contest, a survey or whatever. lonely people, desperate people, bored people, people who need the money. we would hold events and keep seeing the same weirdos showing up every time. i can't help but suspect there's something similar at work with people who participate in the kind of research we field as marketers? i remember the first focus group i ever went to as a participant. it was for sam adams beer, and i lied my way into it by saying that i drank beer and didn't work in advertising, which wasn't hard since the recruiter on the phone made it very clear what the right answers were if i wanted to get added to the group. what was hilarious was that after the group was done and all the particpants were riding down in the elevator together, about 5 or 6 of the 10 people all admitted to each other that they don't drink beer either, and that they were only there for the money. one guy was on his second or third sam adams group in a year with that lie. what i love about the mother study is that questions like "have you ever been in a fist fight" seem like they might just be interesting enough to engage honest answers from people that are uniquely insightful. it doesn't solve the problem of recruitment, but maybe it solves the problem of lazy participation. at least it's a start, and it doesn't hold up research as some sort of umimpeachable holy truth.

mark earls' session on why neuromarketing is wrong was also a favorite. while he applauds the kinds of discoveries about how emotion is the basis for decision making that are outlined in books like "the advertised mind," he gives three basic reasons for why the idea of hooking someone up to a machine and measuring their brain's response to an ad stimulus is a bad idea.
1. the technology isn't good enough yet - those who tell you it is are swindlers. real neuroscientists hate those guys for overstating what's possible.
2. thinking you can measure the link between brain and behavior misunderstands how consciousness really works. our brains are not independent actors, they are part of larger systems within our bodies. there is no "buy button" in the brain that a marketer can discover through neuromarketing - we just don't function that way. the fact that we are tempted to think otherwise stems from the fact that our brains are fooled into thinking the decisions always come before actions, when that's just not always the case - our brains are brilliant post-rationalizers as it turns out. not to mention that testing one person's brain does not necessarily mean anything for another person's, nor does it necessarily even mean anything for the person being tested - our brains are different from each other, and they change over time.
3. the desire for neuromarketing to be the silver bullet stems from our uniquely western concepts of materialism, positivism and individualism. we think that all things can be represented how they are, that things are certain and can be measured, and that the truth about human behavior lies in individuals. not necessarily the case for any of these three ideas. he concluded by saying that if we're trying to influence mass behavior, then that's what we should be focusing on, and that talkability is a great indicator of effectiveness because it measures mass impact rather than individual impact. loved his focus on culture as a key influencer on our behavior - we spend so much time thinking about psychology, but we often ignore sociology and anthropology.

dr. bob deutsch also focused on culture, which makes sense since he's an anthropologist. he talked about finding the truth you find when you uncover the "secret story" of how our internal riots meet the the chaos of the societal structures that contain us. he also used a fun quote from picasso ("if you want to find the universal, start in your kitchen") to illustrate the importance of finding the underlying commonality that all people share. i also loved what he said about brands needing to help people feel more like themselves, that a brand is a metaphorical merger of how people understand themselves and how they understand the product. the brand is defined by the space in between, which i really like. it gives brands a mission that clearly benefits people if done well.

so that's that. i have a bunch of other notes, but these are the main things that caught my attention. i don't think it's a coincidence that these last three guys who i liked so much were all really provocative in their presentation style. goes to show that how you say it is as important as what you say these days.


El Gaffney said...

Gracias A.(migo), for setting the bar so high. I agree it was great hearing people "talk about what they know." And wish I had gone to Mark Earl's session. It was this authenticity (which was the theme of Anomaly's Carl Johnson's speech) coupled with passion (though not necessarily all the energy of Richard Tait) that separated the good speakers from the great. I'll echo what I heard from more than one person: There is no inspiration without emotion.

NeuroGuy said...

Thanks for summarizing Mark Earl's session - I quoted your summary in Neurobashing and Legitimizing Neuromarketing. Sounds like it was an interesting presentation.