The Connectivist Riots

I’ve spent quite a lot of time recently thinking about things that aren’t real. I’ve realised, that actually, not a lot of things are real. Obviously there IS a lot of things that are real. The computer in front of me, and my car outside are both very real. However there is a vast array of things processed by the human mind, that have no physical form.

From a consumer perspective, consider the ‘Coca-cola’ brand. It has been said that if the entire infrastructure of Coca-cola’s operations were to be lost, it would be okay if the brand were preserved. Where does the Coca-cola brand exist? It is a representation in your mind.

The same can be said about psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioural therapists will help clients recognise that many of their beliefs and fantasies, and how stopping a certain thought can solve the problem.

Many of the thoughts we have concern the qualitative (attributes), quantitative (numbers) and connective factors of the things we interact with. For example, many things are red. You cannot create redness though, can you? You could produce red paint, or show me something red, however red only exists in your mind.

As you can see, the role of these thoughts is as a means to an end. The end is to buy Coca-cola, live more comfortably, or enjoy the knowledge that you own a red car. These ideas and norms only work because of social connections which tell us our ideas are in sync with the wider world, and thus, something more real is taking place.

This is the origin of connectivist theory, a new way to view learning, as a process which takes place across a network of people. It has come to light at this point in time, as we now live in a highly connected age, where we also have a lot of mediated-but-non-existant stuff to sift through. Connections are powerful, as they give us a new perspective on things like accountability and authority. Suddenly, large groups of people are able to communicate, unify, travel or effect change.

The 2011 riots which took place across England.

The 2011 riots which took place across England.

The rise of mediation and connection has improved access to education, living standards, democracy and freedom of speech. It has also made possible less desirable things, such as the London riots, and mass terror. I wish to dwell on this point for a moment, because I thing it really does put things in perspective. The London riots began with a small group of youths, discontented with a court decision relating to a member of their community shot by the police. As violence erupted, it was exacerbated as it was shared across twitter. There was no specific factor that unified all who rioted, other than their access to social media.

I’ve often thought that if the connected world has the power to do what it did in England in 2011, it should have the power to do enormous levels of good too. It is connectivism that has given much positive publicity to Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing. (I mean, you don’t think it came from the establishment do you?) The massive quantity of ALS ice bucket videos is another example of the power of networked activity.

There’s a lot of power here, which can be employed in problem solving or divergent creativity. The power of connectivism is decentralised, and virtually impossible to take away, And I don’t think that is a bad thing, because it empowers individuals. In fact, the only thing that could stop it, would be for the energy to run out.

Formula Toothcare: Imagery portraying strength

I have a consumer psychology exam this Wednesday, and we were given an advert to analyze as practice. Since we live in the world of information abundance, nothing more is scared. Therefore, I have chosen to share my practice answer. And constructive critiques are warmly welcomed.

Formula Toothcare, Ogilvy & Mather (2006).

Formula Toothcare, Ogilvy & Mather (2006).

This advert plays with the representation of strength through a puzzling illusion that captures attention and is thought provoking. The advertisement is trying to build upon the representations of strength in the viewers mind. The intent is that they will consider the worth and implications of healthy teeth. The image and feelings associated with the strength used to rip apart the metal frame become part of the brands mental representation. It has a semantic meaning which it is hoped will create a more durable memory trace for the brand and product.

Considering the way in which strength is portrayed, the advert is targeted at a young to middle aged male audience. The surprising novelty of the advert will capture attention through its interesting and entertaining form. It will draw its audience to fixate on it, as they try to figure out what the illusion is and how it works.

In considering strength, the peripheral mental processes will be trying to frame the consumer’s opinion against ideals and intentions. They will be mindful of the costs of bad teeth, both financial and social. They may feel that with bad teeth they violate norms and fail to meet up to ideals. All these thoughts should shape their intentions to buy a relatively cheap tube of toothpaste, which will yield the dividends of social acceptance and reduced dental bills.

It is important, however, to be aware that the brand name doesn’t diffuse the same image as the poster content. This will likely weaken the memory trace to the brand and hinder recollection. Another weakness is that people seeing it (this happened with me for sure) is that they may get side-tracked picking apart how the illusion was constructed. This may evoke semantic elaboration and a durable memory, however not for the product or cause of improved dental hygiene.

Improved congruence between the brands word and image representations would make for better future recognition and recall. However, the illusion portraying super strong teeth is thought provoking. If the consumer is not distracted by the sundry matters of the bill board’s construction, they will be nudged to evaluate their behaviour against ideals and potential negative consequences. If the brand identity was more related to the imagery of strength, then better connections would be made in the consumers memory relative to the semantics of the product, even if this processing only takes place in the periphery of the consumers mind.

Beer and Bingo!

At first people thought this was a spoof, until the government confirmed even the cynics worst fears: that it was real.


Considered as offensive to a large cohort of the population, the political opposition embraced this as their silver bullet in a campaign to brand the present government as out of touch with the people. But what was this advert trying to do?

Let us brush aside the rights and wrongs of political swings for a moment. This ad is hoping to address working families. If we consider working families as a reference group, the hope is that they will see that the government understands them and is directly influencing their lives for the better. If they feel this way, and recognise that it is a conservative government doing that, hopefully their loyalty to the conservative ‘brand’ will grow. Labour unions and political parties do this all the time, however usually they are more successful at identifying a common denominator in a reference group.


A lot of critics have said that the principle of the bingo ad is good, however the wording actually separates the sponsor (the conservative party) from its target audience. Change the word ‘they’ to ‘we’ and then see if it makes you feel any different…

As it is, it conveys the high society Tories looking down on Mr and Mrs Serf and granting them a few extra liberties down on the bottom rung of the British caste system. In addition however, I look at it and think it is very overgeneralising of a group of people in society – a point that no one else seems to have mentioned.

Should it have worked had the conservative party decided to identify with their electorate?

Escalas & Bettman (2005) argue that individuals, to construct their self-concepts, use brands associated with reference groups. When the advert conveys an image that is congruent to the image on an in-group, consumers start to bond with the brand.

There is more to reference group advertising however, than just appealing to an individuals group membership to create a brand connection. Part of the utility of a product or service is what it does for your standing in the group. Bearden and Etzel (1982) demonstrate that there is more leverage from the factors influencing brands that are publicly consumed. Simply put, decisions (either for or against) are made more sensitively when it affects ones image or standing in a reference group.

This can be either good or bad, depending on what the product or reference group is, but the principle is that the involvement of reference groups can make factors contributing to success of the ad a lot more volatile.

To bring it back to the conservative party’s advert, if the reference group is offended, people will consider their loyalty to the conservative party in light of their self image. Even before the bad press, the advert has done its sponsor a disservice. Use of the word ‘they’ over ‘we’ has also separated the public from bonding with the brand, meaning that the wrong use of a tiny (almost meaningless word), and maybe some overgeneralisation, makes this a bad ad.

A Son Every Day

I’m going to stray away from business use of television advertising and look at other ventures’ use of media. After all, governments, charities and religions all want to get their message out there. Dan Pallotta (2013) argued in a TED talk for the use of corporate behaviour for a more effective achievement of pro social goals, and so such organisations have just as much justification to use psychology to affect the way we think and feel as the corporations do.

This is an advert made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to raise awareness of the value of family relationships. No doubt it has a secondary purpose to raise the awareness of the name, brand identity and character of the Church.

Today I want to play with the Freudian concept of transference. We see here footage about a new father talking with his father. They had had a rough past day, taking care of the family business as best they could while also taking the mans wife to hospital so she could give birth. The account is moving as it portrays the young family’s dependence on the apple farm, but yet saw it as immaterial compared to the experience of having a son. Finally the father declares that he went in the night and collected the apples in, and the adverts tag line is declared ‘Family… Isn’t it about? Time?

For many of the ads viewership, especially in North America, there are a lot of young and closely connected families and many can compare the model relationships conveyed in the ad to their own situation. There is the use of empathy, which is a form of stepping into (or transferring) yourself (as the viewer) into the situation. We already know plenty about how emotions take precedence over rationality in compelling a person to action, and so this ad is evocative.

And lest we forget, the purpose of the advert is as much about raising the profile of the Church as it is about reminding people to spend more time with their families. Rifon, Choi, Trimble and Li (2004) demonstrate how brands and sponsorships, which are congruent, are more persuasive. One might argue that the conscientious consumer might interpret sponsorships with distrust towards the sponsor. Interestingly, the evidence from Rofon, Choi, Trimble and Li (2004) supports that such endorsements typically support the credibility of the sponsor, even though and the cause of the relationship is unconfirmed.

So there we have it. In this as the Church portrays a pro social message effectively using emotions, and in addition to any motivation it provides with regards to ones family, it also raises awareness of the Church’s name as an organisation that supports families. This is an effective advert because evidence suggests that such sponsorships/endorsements will aid the credibility of the church as well.

Irony in Advertising

Consumers aren’t that stupid. They know when they are being up-sold, down-sold, lied to or aroused. If any marketer believes that customers are not remarkably good at second guessing the game which they are playing, they are deceived (Brown, 2004).

One way, according to Brown (2004) is to step the cognitive ingenuity up a notch and introduce some irony.

So without further ado, enter Yorkie commercial:

Yorkie continues to address its target market of the young, machismo males making statements which, if were to be construed literally would be grossly sexist. But this latest ad edges away from the ‘it’s not for girls’ statement to portray the idea more discreetly.

Instead, we now see a guy doing something many guys can relate to. Not content with making two trips in from the car, he endures blistering pain, carrying heavy shopping bags, which rip into the joints of his fingers. If masculinity were the concept being glorified Yorkie would be doing the feminist movement a great favour.

If we were to take the situation seriously, the man is laughable. But it plays into a common sarcasm of couples banter, where the man believes he is hard done to and has a tough mandate to live up to, when really he’s doing nothing sensational.

This is Yorkie’s brand personality. This chunky slab of chocolate marries macho chunkiness with a food known for its sweetness. It is irony in action, and it is also fun.

In mocking itself, irony sends its message through inversion (Brown, 2004). To a market who is well aware of the wrongs of sexism and the futility of exaggeration, irony echoes ‘you know what? We know that too. But we’re still going to have our fun, and you can be a part of it by buying our chocolate’.

Irony, however, is not a miracle pill. Deighton (1985) warns that it might destroy an entire market category. Indeed, if your use of irony is not done with caution, you risk presenting your brand unethical, snide or just plain rubbish.

In the case of the Yorkie bar, the irony is well portrayed, with the use of curiosity and brand personality. One problem it has is a classic: the brand itself is not memorably portrayed. The ad no doubt will support Yorkie on the recognition line-up, however it might struggle to get people seeking out a Yorkie.

Never Say No to Panda

This week my attention will focus on the advert for Panda Cheese; a product which, unless your are either Egyptian or an avid You-tuber, you probably will not have heard of.

This is a set of ads, which have a common theme throughout, that when a person chooses to reject Panda cheese the pander mascot appears gazing longingly into the character’s eyes before erupting into frenzy and violently attacking objects around the room.

It’s interesting, because it creates a brand identity that is both aggressive and unexpected – two factors that I seldom associate with household cheeses. With that in mind, I don’t think that buying it would really be a form of expression. What it is however is different and quirky, so it will more likely make its way into the recognition set of customers in the supermarket.

This dark subtle humour (Akerman, 2010) did send the ad viral and so it has a lot of replay value, although a lot of this has taken place in the western hemisphere, so would be of questionable benefit in influence the Panda’s target audience.

However the Panda ad does appeal to its target audience regarding the emotional intimacy you build with the Panda. Consider the ‘soft spot’ you feel towards it when it stares longingly before and after its violent outburst. Choi, Miracle and Biocca (2001) argue that cues such as eye contact, facial pleasantness and body orientation create a sense of presence, making (if not the ad) your relationship to the Panda rather surreal. This in turn would create an almost subliminal nudge to cause customers to have some favour for the product.

So there we have it. Panda cheese! Viral in the west, award winning in the east (Akerman, 2010) and full of surreal emotion to encourage you to buy.

Honda, the Drivers Car; a Work of Art

Last week I attended a guest lecture with the CEO of Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd (SBXL), and he talked about four fundamental principles of psychological marketing:

  • Attention
  • Emotion
  • Behaviour
  • Recall

It seems that if you consider these four ideas, you are well on the way to manipulating the psychological variables that can nudge people towards buying your product.

Now by that token, it might make sense to control these variables to the max, and make an advert that is bursting with emotional triggers to impact your memory, to capture your attention such that you cannot avert your eyes. To fill you with favour through appealing to your heart strings, your wallet or your other drives that it becomes so meaningful to your circumstances that you won’t be able to help running to the store and purchasing a new product.

Okay, enter Honda commercial. I watched this one and thought to myself that it was nice. It’s a bit long, and kind of quirky. Subjectively, I enjoy cars, and I have been long aware of Honda’s ‘power of dreams’ ad campaign. I believe they make a good quality car, but I am not head over heals to buy one. So it made me wonder what is the point of the ad?

Well thinking about it, the reason why it does little for me is because I am not their target market. I am a poor student, and I can barely afford to keep up a bashed up Rover 25 that’s been hit by a truck.  I’ve told myself that as far as bare essentials transportation is concerned, the car is a necessary burden. The one I have gets me from A to B (like most do), and that therefore there is no difference whether I drive an old Rover, a Honda, a Mini or whatever.

But if you can step aside from the costs of living, the increasingly short supply of fossil fuels and all the safety initiatives that dampen your fun (which I think many mid range earners can), the Honda suddenly becomes desirable. It is the drivers car, it is multipurpose and it has an air of quality to it. The a cappella sounds not only draw the viewers attention to the ‘niceness’ of the experience while using the car, but also instil a fondness to the day to day involvement with the car.

Overall, if you can get yourself into the mind-set of the average, middle income consumer, why would you not want to channel some of your surplus cash into a new Honda? You need a car anyway, why not get one that feels nicer, and which can help you pursue your dreams (to go exploring recreationally). You have to commute anyway, and this car will be an expression of your desire to get out and enjoy yourself.

Going back to my original point about attention, emotion, behaviour and recall, I felt that while watching this ad is cool, it didn’t use any of these principles. Instead, it struck me as something of a work of art. But even as all art is meant to portray a meaning, I believe this ad does convey a meaning, and to the target audience. It does instil a need for the quality, precision and nostalgia of going exploring in a Honda.

Russia Today: Question More

This week I am commenting on a TV advert produced for the American audience of Russia Today. For those of you who don’t know Russia Today, they are an international news agency whose slogan ‘Question More’ is thoroughly congruent with their critical thinking alternative to western mainstream media. As their title suggests, they originate from Russia.

We know that emotion has a lot greater leverage in the heat of the moment to affect behaviour. Last week I described how media outlets and the press capitalise on peoples’ prejudices to activate this emotion and to get them to think any way but rationally. In terms of emotion this ad certainly carries some, however it’s unique portrayal perhaps reverses the ‘emotions rule’ rule.

What I mean by this is that this ad serves to educate. Considering the dichotomy between emotionally driven behaviour and rational thinking, this ad presents a rationale. The news reporter from RT explains the conflict of interest between mass media and politicians. Clips of laughter are then congruent with the statements that the ‘joke is on you’, and that the news is not actually that funny.

The video evidence of politicians and recognisable American news reporter laughing overtly brings a surreal evidence that what is being said may even be maliciously true. It is provocative set of statements, for which the independent nature of Russia Today is then presented as a solution.

Russia Today becomes a solution to the need for a more critical approach to the news. It is also presented in an ‘alternative’ style, which many viewers who feel they are being lied to, or that their voice is not heard will relate to. All of this creates an attraction and a deeper need for Russia Today.

Finally, I really like Russia Today’s tag line: ‘Question More’. This is in line with the scientific method that undoubtedly many have come across at some point in their education. It refers to the concept that knowledge and understanding are advanced through questioning and maybe even ‘whistle blowing’, and it implies that Russia Today is a news agency that thinks differently to the status quo.

This is a thought-provoking ad, which stirs emotions to amplify the need for a more transparent and critically thinking news agency. The ad seems almost unnecessary, given that it will only ever be aired on RT’s own channel, but it is a useful tool to retain viewers and strengthen their perception of why they should watch Russia Today.

The Power of Prejudice

Forget Superbowl commercials, this week I want to talk about an antique, or perhaps maybe a relic from the 1980’s.

The whole backbone of the advert is that we are fending off an invasion from Europe and Japan; very reminiscent of and riding off the common attitudes towards the Second World War, that we ‘gave Jerry a royal kick up the back side!’

This advert rolls on the theme of British protectionism combined with a bit of ‘we won the war’, at a time when vehicle imports and pan European trading were heating up the competition for British Leyland. We hear the iconic ‘Rule Britannia’ playing as this band of Metro’s pass across highway and through village, adding value to everything we equate with our traditional past.

We also see iconic celebrities of the day; Arthur Lowe from ‘Dad’s Army’ saluting the car, on the backdrop of the union flag. We see a cheerful senior citizen waving her handkerchief from the window, reminiscent of the glorious homecomings of our military at the end of the war.

Now let us consider the psychology used for a moment. I would imagine that this advert was successful. It has emotional significance, so it would be memorable, and it would gain the favour of it’s audience. It is also demonstrative of the car’s functions (that it has lots of space and good fuel consumption).

Psychologically this would all be very effective, but is what they did right?

In a recent interview with Margaret Heffernan on wilful blindness, she explains how today’s press and media feed our established prejudices to affect our behaviour. This certainly influences peoples’ actions, however it does so on a very shallow, improperly though through level. Ultimately, this is what the Metro advert does. We the British were very prejudiced after the war, and have been slow to warm to our European neighbours. This feeds that prejudice to motivate people to buy a British car over a French, Italian or German one. It sent the message that a British car would not just be good, but it would protect British workers and culture.

The irony that confirms all this is that the Metro was one of Leyland’s most notoriously hideous cars. Their reliability was bad enough, but the rust and corrosion meant that in a short space of time most of them landed in the scrap yard. On the other hand, Renault, VW, Fiat and Nissan are all big global players today. The ‘British car to rule the world’ was clearly more based on emotion than hard premise.


The Apple Genius

During Apple’s return to the ‘big league’ in the late 1990’s, Steve Jobs paid special attention to how Apple products would be sold to the end user. He didn’t want to see an iMac sitting on a shelf between a Compaq and a Dell; instead he wanted to control the retail experience (Isaacson, 2011). Naturally this allows for greater control of psychological variables, which leads to higher sales performance. I’m going to discuss a few of those variables now, particularly in relation to the language of their staff.

Apple's 5th Avenue, New York store. Image Credit:

Apple’s 5th Avenue, New York store. Image Credit:

Prior to coming to university I handled customer support in a well-known retailor of computer equipment. I will say now that we were not the most helpful at getting the users device back up and running. Because this was a regular occurrence, we developed a language and a manor of saying ‘unfortunately there’s nothing I can do’. Apple by contrast prohibits the use of the word ‘unfortunately’, and instead they say “as it turns out” (Business Insider, 2012).

What this does is it pronounces fault upon force majeure, instead of placing it upon Apple and their repair process. This brushing off of the guilt directs the customer’s frustrations away from Apple and towards a ‘crap-happens’ perspective.

Another language factor that is controlled is pronunciation of product names. If someone mispronounces iPad, then the iPad will be pronounced the same way the customer has pronounced it (Business Insider, 2012). Since pronouncing is quite a subjective matter anyway, this philosophy respects the customer as an important equal. This would lead to feelings of empowerment and a perception of a good relationship with the Apple brand.

A similar approach has been taken with brands such as GAP. Jobs’ approach of maximum control over the product experience, as well as his meticulous attention to detail, has contributed to the success of Apple, not in the least in the factors described above.

Photo Credit: GAP

Photo Credit: GAP