Why do we do that, anyway?

There’s a memorable scene in the second season of Mad Men, where Don Draper admits, “No one knows why people do what they do.” Among other ironies, this comes from a man who seems to have an intuitive understanding of exactly why people do what they do.

That’s not much different that advertising now. We have a lot of ways to conduct focus groups, conduct surveys, analyze purchase history and mountains of demographic and lifestyle information.

“Never before has there been such a large pool of data from which one can draw the wrong conclusions.”

At some point the statistics and data feel like a very raw material — that can be molded and shaped according to the biases of the person leading the process. Even the best researcher to misinterpret all this information — a sea of data in which it is easy to drown. As Dave Pell said, “Never before has there been such a large pool of data from which one can draw the wrong conclusions.”

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Real data should provide the creative process with a launch pad, not a filter. It should inspire action, not another powerpoint deck. It should be a life preserver in that sea of Big Data. It should help identify people — humans, not ‘targets’ or ‘prospects.’

What would happen if we not only had insight into how people behaved last year, last quarter and last week, but how people very well might behave next week or next year? It’s 2013. Shouldn’t we be able to do that?

That’s why Sanders\Wingo teamed up with Somerset Consulting Group last year to explore a new way to approach human decision insight. We knew the very questions that planners and researchers work so hard to get right, are the factors that “lead the witness” and deliver solid yet unremarkable answers.

Sure, you can learn a lot from traditional research, but nothing seems to transcend the fact that people themselves don’t know why they make decisions — and therefore cannot tell you why. No matter how much free pizza or bowls of m&m’s you bribe them with.

People themselves don’t know why they make decisions — and therefore cannot tell you why.

Our new Behavioral Science Lab has been founded on the idea that people behave, experience and process things within their daily lives in a dynamic fashion, rather than in isolation. Not one factor but multiple — cognitive, emotional, social, environmental, economic — influence our brand preference and final buying decisions.

We believe we can gently uncover decision and purchase dynamics — basically the reasons we humans “Do what we do” — without completely knowing why we do them.

Learn more at behavioralsciencelab.com.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Research.

Market research has always been one of those elements in the creative process that fall between a necessary evil and an indecipherable treasure map.

You need it, you can’t deny its critical role in identifying human insights, but you never really know if the insights are the best, or if the people (yourself included) responsible for interpreting it know what they’re doing.

I’ve always relied on strong strategic planners to be the maestros of conducting and interpreting the information we get from big data, metadata, focus groups, surveys and whatever other blunt tools are out there. Good planners use a good dose of intuition anyway, and to me, authentic instinct is as good or better than surveys, statistics or other measures of ‘what they did last year.’

The nagging problem remains: Do we really know what we’re talking about?

The nagging problem remains: Do we really know what we’re talking about? Do we really know the answer to the old marketing joke, “half my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half”?

Let’s say good research and strategy helps the creative process start running the ball on the fifty yard line. What would happen if we got it at the opponent’s twenty?

That was my state of mind when I sat down with my partners in The Behavioral Science Lab. We knew there had to be a better way to look at the way human beings make decisions. And next week, I’ll tell you all about it.

The Death And Resurrection Of Advertising

Advertising will be fine, it will evolve and survive. We however, will evolve or die. Like global warming, the Earth will be just fine, it’s the inhabitants we need to save.

We know that the media landscape has changed. And that agencies are scrambling to keep up. Brands like Google and Facebook are encroaching on our strategic, creative and media turf.

It used to be Advertising, PR and Promotion. Now, it’s a zillion things. Yikes.

As a result, everyone is looking for the Magic Bullet. I’ve actually heard major league CMO’s say stuff like “We’ve gotta crack the code on Facebook” and “It all comes down to the hashtag.”

There is no magic bullet. There is only (drum roll) Trying Stuff. Want to figure out the next mobile breakthrough? Try something. Social Media? Try something.

There is no magic bullet. There is only Trying Stuff.

The audience is in charge. Instead of sitting passively in front of content, they seek it out. This shift has created a new role for advertising and creative content. Smart agencies and studios have created skunkworks to experiment with ideas their clients haven’t asked for while the mothership works on the assignments the clients did ask for.

Rather than reacting to brand challenges with an “engagement strategy” we need to create advertising that makes people’s lives easier and more enjoyable. The brands actual products once served this purpose. Now the advertising also must do it.

Advertising must make it easier for people to be themselves.

We do not create art. We create belief.

Throughout history, civilization relied on the gods, saints and icons to assign meaning to the random events of our world. They gave reason to natural phenomena beyond our understanding.

In their truest sense, brands are shorthand for what we believe. Are you a Wal-Mart person, or a Target person? Are you an Apple person, or Samsung? Pepsi? Or Coke?


Today, brands help give us meaning to the overcrowded store shelves, levels of technology, information and social media content.

In the book Legendary Brands, Laurence Vincent claims that “Brand mythology acts upon the cognitive centers of the brain in much the same way that religion and other deeply held beliefs do. Legendary Brands, like most religions, gain their strength through narrative.”

Copywriting is the key to this narrative — and a lost art. Contrary to most copywriting, there is more to our craft than stringing together mandatories. But that’s often what we default to. It seems the number of people who actually understand brand voice is dwindling.

It seems the number of people who actually understand brand voice is dwindling.

We can decide if our agency is a temple for brands, or just a clearinghouse for product attributes. Bad work happens when the lack of belief and lack of simplicity create a vacuum, filled with every artistic whim or client mandate that happens to be nearby.

So stop creating art. Start creating belief.

Feed the walls.

War roomI like to put all my ideas on the wall, where I can gauge them more objectively. When we keep our ideas in our lap, on our note pad or on our computer, we protect them too much. We grade them on a curve and keep them from getting the fresh air of objectivity.

Putting ideas up encourages us to come up with more—to fill up the wall. It nags us to keep thinking when we would’ve given up otherwise.

Letting others in the office see the work invites the possibility of “yikes, that’s stupid” but it also invites “wow that’s cool, I wish I did that.” (Don’t mistake this for “showing off” your ideas prematurely. As Ernest Hemingway said, “when you talk too much about it, you lose it.” )

The wall invites the chance that someone outside your group (or your comfort zone) may make a connection with your idea you hadn’t thought of.

It nags us to keep thinking when we would’ve given up otherwise.

Work on the wall also strengthens the culture of the agency, inviting people in other departments or in support positions to take part in the process, and pride in it as well.

A lot of agencies and studios do this, but many don’t. My favorite places are full of rough ideas, sketches, tissues and works in progress. They remind me that the glorious, pristine final creative product is not possible without the messy, uncertain work of trying things and risking defeat.

Embrace the mess, the uncertainty and the risk. Build the wall.


If your idea is not simple, you don’t have one.

EggSo says my friend Michael Iva.

Simplicity rules. Creativity is very often the art of subtraction. Or, as Blaise Pascal put it once, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

It takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless. Everyone loves Apple, but I wonder if any of us would have the nerve to be that simple, that elegant.

Along with simplicity, great communication is pure candor. All humor or drama is honesty put in a surprising way. Honesty is disarming. It cuts through society’s veneer to reveal the soul within.

Few organizations or brands — or creatives for that matter — have the nerve to be truly honest. The marketplace tends to reward those who are.

Only 3% of creative directors are women. Here’s why.

Peggy Olson

 Women influence 80% of consumer spending. Yet, women make up only 3% of advertising creative directors. Through any lens, it’s a ridiculous representation, but there are very real reasons for this surreal imbalance. What are they?

1. Comfort

We know what advertising creatives look like: white guys with goatees and messenger bags. (There have been more dreads and tattoos of late, but you get the idea.)

“There’s no conspiracy…it’s just a bunch of dudes being comfortable with the familiar.”

There are more women in creative departments than ever, but due to lingering stereotypes, we’re still not totally comfortable with the idea of women creatively running an account, creative group or creative department. (Of course “we” includes the women who themselves are hesitant to pursue leadership roles.)

As Shanteka Sigers, my agency’s Executive Creative Director says, “There’s no conspiracy…it’s just a bunch of dudes being comfortable with the familiar.”

And not only does Sanders\Wingo have a female ECD; a woman has been an owner/partner in the company since 1983. (First, Beth Galvin, a creative director, then Michelle Cromer an account director, and for the past decade or so, my fellow managing partner Leslie Wingo.)

An ad agency culture that doesn’t blatantly discriminate against women isn’t the same as an environment that actively encourages them. Putting women in charge of agencies helps send a message that women can be in charge of creative.

2. Pregnancy

This goes beyond advertising, but a woman leaving to have a baby puts a wrench into a process driven by timelines and deadlines. But the prevailing assumption, even in the best companies, is that it’s her problem.

We know from insurance coverage that pregnancy is considered a disability. A disability? Really? I don’t recall anyone leaving the hospital with a cooing infant kidney stone, or having a baby shower for his or her coronary bypass.

We tend to treat women like they’re going off to spawn a gargoyle or some other species, rather than a human being just like us. A more civil society would behave a little more holistically, wouldn’t they?

An ad agency culture that doesn’t blatantly discriminate against women isn’t the same as an environment that actively encourages them.

For all our progressive values, the advertising industry can do better.

3. Work/Life Balance

Much of the reason for few women leaders, in or out of advertising, is that it’s too much pressure and responsibility. We know from the many conversations — op-eds, Sheryl Sandberg’s book — that balancing a family with an intense career is not for everyone. Most women feel they are bungling one or both of them.

Granted, women have strong innate nurturing tendencies and ties to home; men are more able to “compartmentalize” their career life, home life, etc. But women are held to dramatically different standards and expectations than men in terms of parenting — which compounds their conflict, second-guessing and self-doubt.

For many women creative directors, married or single, with kids or without, it’s just not acceptable to be on call 18 hours a day, or in a different city every week. Even when her family tries to be supportive, it’s hard. Husbands (like me) say we’ll do the laundry, the dishes and our share of childcare, but in the end, most of it is still on Mom’s shoulders.

You can’t blame her for not wanting that kind of life.

Then there’s Demian Fore, one of my former colleagues, who left a successful advertising career to be a stay-at-home dad. His wife Elizabeth is the breadwinner. Demian doesn’t work. He’s doesn’t freelance. He raises and takes care of their kids, period. It’s the best decision he has ever made.

Few men have the courage, maturity or healthy enough ego to do this. I don’t.

4. Sexism

Whether we admit it or not, we don’t trust women in leadership positions. Especially those as complicated as that of an advertising creative director. There is a century’s worth of male creative director stereotype — aptly depicted in Don Draper — that to this day, maintains a powerful aura.

Likewise at the time, most people on the client side were men, so agencies needed male CD’s to keep the boys club secure and their credibility high. Of course that’s changing. While female CMO’s are still a minority, half of the most influential marketing leaders are women.

In any case, there’s an underlying belief that women are too fragile to handle it. This same canon dictated that women rode sidesaddle, were forbidden from competing in marathons, were summarily unqualified for military combat, and so on.

In truth, there are people better suited to lead, to make presentations and to run a creative department full time. There are people better suited for working behind the scenes or focusing on their craft full time.

Some of those people are men; some of them are women. Personality, not gender.

5. Creative Bias

From the chauvinistic print ads of the 40’s and 50’s to the “Bud Light” style slapstick of the 90’s, “Guy humor” has dominated the advertising industry for decades.

Much of this advertising, biased or not, was and is, pretty good. A lot of people liked it. Women laughed because that was all they had to watch. (It was either that or the condescending babies-and-puppies stuff on daytime TV.)

For all our bluster, the advertising industry follows cultural progress rather than leading it.

There’s a misconception that women creative can’t do humor in advertising, which just isn’t true. And that they don’t want humorous advertising targeted to them, which isn’t true either.

For all our bluster, the advertising industry follows cultural progress rather than leading it. Not only do women control the lion’s share of consumer spending, but also they report vast dissatisfaction with the ways they are marketed to. Clearly the 97% male disproportion in creative directorships comes at a cost.

We can do better.

* * *

In the end, confronting our own creative comfort zone is its own reward. David Kennedy and Dan Wieden exemplify this in how they built their agency and the resulting creative work. (And by the way, W+K’s Portland ECD and global ECD are both women.)

The three highest-ranking creative directors in my agency — group CD Tynesha Williams, group CD Rhonda Dore and ECD Shan Sigers — are women. This is due 100% to their own talent and leadership. But I still take pride in it.

In the end, confronting our own creative comfort zone is its own reward.

the 3% Conference stages events throughout the country, making the case for women CD and the benefits that await the agencies that grow them in their ranks.

The 3% Conference stages events throughout the country building the business case for more women CDs — and the benefits that await agencies that grow them in their ranks.

The idea of more women as creative directors isn’t about equality or political correctness. It’s about smarter business — and more effective, intelligent advertising.

That’s why, in a week, I’ll be on Austin’s 3% Conference Panel, along with Carlotta Stankiewicz, Shanteka Sigers and Stefani Zellmer. We’ll be addressing and discussing these issues.

Perhaps women will never make up half of all advertising creative directors. Perhaps not 40% or even 25%. But we can do a whole lot better than 3%. At a time when a woman leads the US Secret Service, surely more women can lead the advertising industry.

Today, women have an overdue and increasingly greater voice in the marketplace. The question is, can the advertising industry keep pace with reality?

#3. Plan to fail.

At the 4A’s Transformation Conference, Jeff King gave a great talk about Barkley parting ways with Sonic, it’s signature client. The agency produced the very successful “Two Guys” campaign — and was stunned when the business went into review. Barkley is not unique in this — many creative companies have one or two clients that make up a lion’s share of their billings.

Two_guys_sonicYou don’t need to be Warren Buffett to see how vulnerable this position is. And like General Motors in the early 2000’s pumping out hundreds of thousands of SUV’s, we’re too busy maintaining and protecting our current business model to create contingencies. (See “investing” in the last post.)

King talked candidly about how hard Barkley was hit and what they did before and during the process of agency redevelopment.

True growth is often painful. King shared in detail how the agency navigated the difficult process of staff “triage” — layoffs, remaining talent and key new hires. Sonic had represented over 60% of Barkley’s revenue. Now, no one client makes up more than 7%.

Postscript: One year after Sonic awarded the business to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the client decided the new campaign wasn’t working — and directed GS&P to go back to the original “Two Guys” campaign.

#2. Invest in invention.

At Transformation, Lori Senecal and Ed Brojerdi of kbs+ pointed out the overuse of the term innovation.

They prefer to invent.

Innovation implies theory, whereas invention implies action. kbs+ invests in projects and experimental teams, in order to — as mentioned in the previous post — just try stuff.

While many agencies and studios make their bread and butter on a lot of traditional media, the smart ones also invest in experiential and integrated ideas on their own — sometimes with internal labs, sometimes with offhand ideas they produce and use to surprise their clients. They learn from failed ventures, and aggressively promote their successful ones.

Do the rest of us do this enough? Do we truly invest?

New hardware and software for PUMA.

How do you advertise a car that doesn’t exist yet?

After the client killed it, they brought it to life.

After the client killed it, they brought it to life.

#1. Try something. Anything.

backgammon-precision-dice-dark-red_primaryFrom the initial days of the dot-com era to social media, mobile apps, convergence, integration and so on, ad agencies and media companies have been trying to “crack the code.” As if there was a system or formula to connect brands with customers in the digital age.

Transformation was another affirmation that all brands, all audiences, all strategies and tactics are unique unto themselves. Doing your homework and knowing your audience are always critical, but leaning too hard on data is not the path to an idea.

Sure, there are some hard-earned rules of thumb, case studies and metrics, but there’s no formula. There is creativity and inventiveness. There is trial and error. There is trying stuff and sticking with what works.

From Subservient Chicken to Oreo’s “Dunk With The Lights Out,” one thing comes through: Great brands and their creative partners utilize a lot of gut instinct and chance.

As Oreo’s Lisa Mann put it, “You can use analytics to guide you but you have to trust your gut.”