[Behavioural Economics] O Behave! Issue 17


Updated sayings for the digital era

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[5 Links] Adam Ferrier on psychology, advertising and behaviour change

consumer's ignoring advertising cartoon

The author of The Advertising Effect: How to change behaviour - and opening keynote speaker at the upcoming 4A's Strategy Festival 2015 in NYC - unravels the psychological principles in play behind successful behaviour change interventions, and points us in the direction of works that pick apart the orthodoxies of rational/emotional messaging and brand loyalty.


AF: Many years ago I came across this amazing study by Leon Festinger who was the father of the power of cognitive dissonance. It's rather remarkable, completely counter-intuitive, and proof that 'action changes attitude faster than attitude changes action'. If you want to understand human behaviour you need to roll around in the social psychology of the 60's and 70's - this is where all the interesting work was done by American Jewish psychologists trying to make sense of the holocaust.

AF: The Hidden Power of Advertising is perhaps the most important, and least read book on advertising published. My boss at Saatchi & Saatchi made me read it. Fundamentally the premise is that we don’t pay attention to ads, and they only work because they create "mental availability" (not Heath's but Byron Sharp's words; see next link). The beautiful thing about LIP is that it helps account for the fact that most of the variance of effective advertising is due to whether you advertise or not, rather than good or bad advertising (perhaps that’s why it remains relatively unread?)

AF: Then along came Byron Sharp and he really put the nail into using advertising to build motivation. He expands on Heath's work by explaining that we don’t desire brands, we desire category benefits. Then it’s the marketer's job to have mental and physical availability (e.g. I want chocolate, oh a Snickers bar is in my head, and there is one on shelf – that’ll do). Please read this book, even if the author's tendency for hubris, and stretching of applicable principles gets annoying. It’s excellent.

AF: So let's get back to the power of action and cognitive dissonance. This 90 second argument by Professor Steven Johnson is brilliant.

AF: So to change behaviour either make it Easy (for example create mental and physical availability), or increase Motivation by getting people to act (or creating social norms – not covered here). These are the principles covered in my book. The last link is something a little different but always stays with me in this hard core behaviouralist world. It’s to a book called ‘Existential Psychotherapy’. When I was half way through this book I went and changed my name by deed poll to ‘Max’ (years later I changed it back to Adam). No behaviouralist intervention has ever had as profound an impact on me as this existential tome.


adam ferrier cummins chief strategy officer speaker
Adam Ferrier is a consumer psychologist and Global Chief Strategy Officer at independent creative:media agency Cummins & Partners. Adam began his career in forensic psychology, before completing his clinical masters thesis in ‘Identifying the underlying constructs of cool people’. He subsequently became a cool hunter, before joining Saatchi & Saatchi as a strategic planner. In 2004 Adam co-founded Naked Communications Asia Pacific. The agency was later sold, and in 2013 he joined the team at C&P. Adam is the author of ‘The Advertising Effect: How to change behaviour' and has won several Effies, Cannes Lions and a Cannes Chimera.

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