#SXSW2019 Soundbites: Creating Better Campaigns with Psychology and Behavioral Economicss

As communications organizations continue to broaden their offerings to keep up with the evolution of the marketing, design and public relations needs of our clients, it is important to remember the basics behind why and how we do what we do: drive behavior change. Whether we are selling a product to consumers or to HCPs, or an idea to a new or existing client, we should all be well-versed in the way our minds work to more effectively share ideas that appeal to our human brain.

In a crowded world, everyone is looking for a way to grab attention and stand out. We can use tools based on our knowledge of the human psyche and behavioral economics—how humans act and make decisions—to formulate ideas for the most effective ways to connect with our audiences. How? you might ask.

I was lucky enough to experience this year’s SXSW, where I attended a session called A Psychologist and an Ad Guy Walk into a Campaign, presented by Dan Monheit and Dr. Melissa Weinberg. Below are my takeaways on some examples from world-class advertising campaigns they shared—and some perspective on applying these insights to the work we do day in and day out.

Classical Conditioning and Vernacular Jacking:

Classical conditioning can be used to form a powerful connection between two previously disconnected stimuli (think, Pavlov’s dogs). Use of repetition between two words, such as “Wassup” and the image of people drinking a Budweiser as demonstrated by a 1999 Budweiser commercial can be used to condition viewers to make a connection so that every time someone says “Wassup”, they think of Budweiser. This use of linking a common slang term or phrase with a brand, is called Vernacular Jacking.

This could be especially useful as a tactic for effective scientific communication. Attaching a more complex scientific topic or normally avoided/stigmatized health idea to a commonly used term can help make a connection that didn’t exist in consumer minds previously.

Availability Bias:

Using availability bias means creating something in your campaign that everyone can relate to. The easier it is to recall something, the easier it is to recognize it in everyday life. For example, P&G’s 2014 Winter Olympics sponsorship was promoted by their "Thank You Mom" campaign that drew from a relatable, emotional story based on the human connection with their mothers. Making it emotional intensified the memory created by viewers, and making it personal - based on the first and fundamental human relationship- gave the viewer a hit of dopamine, increasing their connection with the ad.

Using availability bias to create the overarching theme, P&G was able to solve the challenge of tying together many different products and brands under their name and create a holistic campaign focused on the P&G brand.

Confirmation Bias:

Above all else, the human brain loves to be right. If you can create a concept that confirms what people might already think, or reinforces a certain idea over a period of time, this will be appealing because of confirmation bias. So, using "Mac vs. PC" as an example, people may have started out thinking PCs were just fine, but by the end, they would agree (with themselves) that PCs do actually have security problems, are difficult to set up and aren’t as sleek and cool as Macs. By bringing up some well-known facts about PCs that users were already aware of, Mac was able to connect with viewers to confirm the preexisting biases they may have already had and provide them with a better solution.

This is especially important to remember as science communicators since it is easy to ignore unfavorable science or data in order to promote a product and confirm our own or client biases. It’s important that we find ways to correctly and accurately represent our clients and their products by embracing the existing scientific research and thinking creatively about how to present it.

While there are many more examples of how we can utilize what we know about the human brain and how it reacts to content, the three campaigns described above give us a taste of the possibilities. If we continue to apply these concepts to each new problem, pitch, campaign or program, we can continue to create exceptional work for our clients.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Leanne Stone, Senior Account Executive. 

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