people in silhouette in a room of star-like lights, representing the future

TAC: The Future Self

January 8, 2018

After the sell-out success of our last Thinking Around Corners event over at Digitas LBi, run in partnership with the Account Planning Group (APG), Event 3 got underway. We returned with another packed session on 29th November, kindly hosted over at The Guardian’s HQ in Kings Cross. These one-hour sessions are designed to stimulate unconventional thinking and deliver uncommon sense and this was no exception.

In the chair’s seat as always was Firefish’s Group CEO Jem Fawcus, and taking to the floor to tackle the questions: stalwart enthusiast of the planning world, Jon Leach and cognitive scientist, Dr Ali Goode, from Gorilla In The Room

We changed the format a little for this session, by having two questions that we could delve deep in to, as they are ones that consistently come up as a challenge for a whole range of people in the myriad marketing worlds.

Kicking off, Jon gave us his thoughts on our first question: How do you get people to care about their future self?

“The short answer: You can’t” – it was a provocative opener and, fortunately, not all he had to say. One key thing that Jon was keen to stress to the audience right from the outset (and part of the reason we run these events) was that we should never be afraid to tackle the tough questions.

Loaded with baseball analogies after opening with a striking Babe Ruth quote, Jon ran us through what he referred to as his “greatest miss” in the last couple of years: an inside-out strategy for a major supermarket, aimed at getting health on the agenda across the business, via its staff, and on to the customers. Jon’s thinking for this campaign was driven by some psychological and behavioural theories, including team cohesion and group mentality, rewards systems and nudge theory, and gave examples of those in use in the real world (You can see these in the film at the bottom of the page)

The overall message Jon wanted to leave behind: ignore the future and think about people’s current concerns. Think about how you can help them worry less about them, give easily achievable goals and bring them on the journey with you.

Over to Dr Ali Goode to bring the psychological rigour in support of Jon’s stance. As if they had rehearsed, despite having never met before that night, Ali spoke of Hyperbolic Discounting and how people are compelled by things in the now much more frequently than taking a later reward. The main reasoning behind this is that the brain isn’t designed to predict and create but to be immersed. System 1 is visceral and compelling. System 2 is the future – cognitively much harder work, consciously constructing and reconstructing to make predictions, which aren’t accurate. Ali said we only have to look at visions of the “the future” form the 80s, flashing an example from 1983.

His answer, then: take them to the future, then back again, to let them see and feel what it would be like as their future self. Having a particular interest in the use of VR, Ali says it is a great way to communicate this to them, and wanted to give the audience the answers to a few questions he thought they might have about VR, still in constant development:

1) How tolerant are people to being in VR?

2) Is it a media channel yet?

3) Is it really that immersive?

You can get the full answers in the film below, along with the studies that Ali spoke of to support them, but 1) very 2) probably 3) yes, very.

One question that came from the audience was about the existence of tension between people’s future self and their current happiness. Ali talked about cognitive dissonance in this respect and used smokers as an example: people don’t want to deny themselves now and so they rationalise the need not to change. This then raised another question about showing the positive or negative signs of the future self to people in the now, to get them to think about it. The response put simply: there are times when the negative works (think: drink driving ads) but, more often than not, people respond to the positive.

Our final challenge for the evening: How do you transform (a business) when people don’t want to change?

Jon returned to his supermarket example to say how, in this miss, they failed to engage all aspects of the business early on. With this in mind, he talked about 2 ideas that he thought would be useful in the re-planning, if he were to pitch it again: Idea Networks and People Networks.

A man after Firefish’s own heart, Jon said that it stands to reason that the better the insight you have for any project, the better the idea and the output. However, the traditional model of this is very linear and, like Firefish, Jon believes that using Steve Johnson’s (author of many books including How We Got To Now) theory of idea networks where a lot of small ideas come together to make one great one, you can get a more impactful outcome./

He used an example of the evolution of Birds Eye and their exploration and evolution of flash freezing to bring this to life, but also linked this back to his supermarket example. The idea evolved from a great multi-disciplinary team at the agency end but, in hindsight, they had forgotten about the internal, clientside people network that would be the driving force behind the entire project in its conception and inception.

His main takeaway: never forget the stakeholders. Always consider everyone that will touch the project, bring them all together and create that cohesive plan and team to drive it home. They are the ones that will create the change in the business as a whole, which in turn seeks to change the customer.

Ali went on to give some examples of how you might get people to actually do this in reality, taking principles from Behavioural Economics (such as herding) but also taking it back to the cognitive working of the brain, telling the audience how much it hates change. Did you know that it takes the brain 12 times more energy to change an existing routine or process? He had recently completed a study with Thinkbox to map all the different heuristics that advertising agencies employ in their campaigns, using the IPA Award entries and winners from over the last several years. You can see the map of these 100+ heuristics in the film at the bottom of the page but the most commonly used was split between Loss Aversion (think: “Don’t miss out”) and Herding (think: “Everybody’s doing it”).

The outcome of this study was one of consistency: in order to transform the business, then you need to transform the way you communicate consistently so that it easy for make the mental leap and come with you. Go back to the psychological and cognitive basics and see if they apply to the problem at hand. If they do, then make sure you make it as easy as possible for people to change. It’s what their brain wants.

With that, the session came to a close and the final thoughts given by chair, Jem Fawcus. He left the audience with 10 things that have been consistently delivered on, in some form or another, by the leading figures from our expanded network who have graced the panels to date, so keep them in mind next time you sit down with your team to plan your next big hit:

1) Pick a theme & tell a consistent story with it

2) Set expectations

3) Reframe the question, if needed

4) Ask a different question if the current one isn’t right

5) Use idea networks to get the final idea

6) Create multidisciplinary teams

7) Think about stakeholders and their needs

8) Use heuristics

9) When in doubt, put a picture of a brain in your pitch

10) Always swing big

With all this in mind, we hope to see you at our next event – keep an eye on the APG site for all the details

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