Folded Paper

Before the Gorilla there were the Chimps

I've believed for a long time that we fundamentally misunderstand how advertising works.

This misunderstanding is a function of a larger misunderstanding about the nature of communication and, by extension, the function of media.

When we think about communication, we think about transmitting messages from our head to other heads. Media allows one head to reach many.

But - I don't think that much content is really being transmitted. When you've been to a conference and watched a bunch of presentations back to back, how much content do you really retain? And yet, you definitely form impressions of who you liked and didn't.

How much of what you say is really about message transmission, and how much is phatic - designed to elicit emotional responses in others, in order to establish or reinforce relationships?

The same is true with successful advertising - it's not really what you say that matters at all, but how you make people feel.

As usual, someone had already worked this out, so I can now steal from the very wise Paul Feldwick, in reference to the commercial above:

Now what's going on in commercials like these?

Certainly there are some statements being made about the tea, but they're very generic. I mean good tea, fresh tea, when a good cup of tea really counts and so on. Probably every other brand of tea throughout the last four decades has been saying more or less the same things. So what is it that's making the difference? Well of course it's the monkeys, stupid.

Somehow 30 seconds of entertaining nonsense leads to a situation where people not only choose this brand but will pay 35% more for it.

Feldwick goes on to point out that we are really uncomfortable with this idea, because we cling to our rational self conception, as obviously flawed as it is.

When I read that I suddenly realised that the Gorilla really wasn't very groundbreaking at all - we just thought it was because it disrupts how we continue to believe advertising works, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

In spite of the chimps.

The rest of the essay is here and it's brilliant - you should go and read it now.

If you didn't [shame on you] then remember at least that our only job, the only thing we need to do, is to make people feel good. As Jane McGonical says, we are all in the happiness business now.

To put it another way:

'We believe that if you are going to invite yourself into someone's living room you have a duty not to shout at them or bore them or insult their intelligence. On the other hand, if you are a charming guest and you entertain them or amuse them or tell them something interesting, then they may like you a bit better and then they may be more inclined to buy your brand.