Is it Time to Bring Psychologists Back to Marketing Meetings?

Brandon Grosvenor wrote this on Aug 25, 2020 | 0 comments

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Advertising exists to sell, and getting people to notice your work is the hardest thing a practitioner of the craft does. However, many marketers forget that most people don’t want to be persuaded and behave like their target market is as enamored with their brand as they are. So they do dull and literal work.

If you’re tempted to play it safe, we recommend this one-minute psychological experiment in selective attention from The Invisible Gorilla. The video proves that distracted people don’t see what’s right in front of them. If you’ve heard of this experiment and are too clever to fall for it, dare to try this twist on it instead.

Go ahead. We’ll wait for you to watch it and come back.

Psychology and marketing/advertising have a long history together. Remember Dr. Faye Miller, the Mad Men character from Season 4? She was a psychologist consultant that Sterling Cooper had hired for consumer and creative insight. Anyone who lived through the ‘60s and ‘70s will recognize the American Tourister/Samsonite reference in this scene.

Dr. Miller’s presence in the storyline is historically accurate. In the Mad Men era, behavioural psychologists were hired throughout prominent agencies for roles not dissimilar to today’s Business Planners. David Ogilvy talked about the practice of hiring them in his books, Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising.

Indeed, long before becoming the Chair of the University of Toronto’s Psychology Department in the 1980s, Dr. Fergus Craik had been hired in 1960 by Mr. Ogilvy’s London office. The offer was rescinded two days later when budgets were cut! (How many of the best advertising stories involve getting fired from Ogilvy?) Lucky for science and academia, Professor Craik pursued a successful career that included stints at Liverpool University, the University of London, Stanford and U of T. But we digress.

Whatever happened to the on-demand in-house supply Dr. Faye Millers?

How much these psychologists’ insights genuinely increased sales of shoes and baked beans is hard to prove. But their presence at boardroom tables indisputably increased agencies’ billings. A lot of the accepted truths in psychology that couldn’t be proved have evolved since the ‘60s. On the whole, that social science has become more science than social.

Back then, though, psychologists got away with lots!  We marketers have always held soft spots in our hearts for jargon. These days, there’s a reliance on tech-heavy jargon. Bring in a couple analytics statisticians to drop software names like Droople, for e-nabling distributed infrastructures and dynamically generated bounce rates, and all you need is subtler hair product to tell the difference between yours and a 1970s business meeting.

But consumers have proven no easier to pin down and persuade.

This article from The Atlantic a few years ago openly questions whether internet advertising works at all the way it purports to. Consumers doing a google search assert that they’re no more likely to buy because an ad related to their search surfaced. And if they do buy, they then assert they were going to buy it anyway. (‘It’s why I did the search!’)

Which sort of proves in a roundabout way how valuable — or certainly how interesting — psychology is in our vast and hard-to-quantify practice of successful advertising. If these search engines are only showing us stuff we already knew, maybe we should go back to hiring more psychologists.

Or maybe not. After all, the very basis of the concept for the ad that Dr. Millers Mad Men team was creating was a man in a gorilla costume. And it being advertising, unlike the Invisible Gorilla, obviously they hoped consumers would notice it!


Written by: Steven Bochenek – Senior Content Contributor 

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