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Our fifth Brainy-bar in partnership with WARC started in dramatic style, as an electrical fault saw an anxious crowd gather outside Unlimited House, with firefighters in attendance. Was it the spark of ideas that caused the electrical fault? Hard to say… but what we do know for sure, was that not even a fire could… Read more

Brainy Bar 5, literally the hottest ticket in town

Posted on September 29, 2017

Our fifth Brainy-bar in partnership with WARC started in dramatic style, as an electrical fault saw an anxious crowd gather outside Unlimited House, with firefighters in attendance. Was it the spark of ideas that caused the electrical fault? Hard to say… but what we do know for sure, was that not even a fire could stop the hottest Brainy Bar yet with our behavioural economics special.


Introducing the speakers and the evening’s theme was our main nut, Cristina de Balanzo. Cristina set the tone discussing how neuroscience techniques and behavioural economics are revolutionising and improving market research, placing the individual at the heart of a brands thinking and shedding light on the limitations of human cognition. As our world is becoming increasingly saturated with competing information and advertisements, it represents a real challenge for brands, but also for institutions to change or alter people’s behaviours. To be disruptive and breakthrough the clutter, brands must overcome our brains natural information filters. Behavioural economics (BE) helps us to identify and analyse the core biases in human thinking and leverage this knowledge to nudge behaviours and create effortless brands.

With the power of BE firmly in our minds, it was time for our first guest speaker, Mark Malloy, CEO of Behavioural Works to take the mic. Mark’s talk took us to the coalface of BE implementation, outlining his key learnings for BE programs to be successful. He began with the initial barriers to be overcome, such as shifting client thinking, accepting that success is unlikely to be immediate and that at times, disappointing clients is necessary. Mark told us not to be afraid to implement multiple BE strategies at once, as diversification is your friend. There is no magic bullet, but fundamentals, such as scarcity and social norms, have a huge body of evidence to support them and should be embraced. Mark’s final warning to BE consultants – do not try and show off! Clients do not need formulas and equations; they want solutions that work. Behaviour responds best to behaviour, so we need to keep it simple in order not to turn off clients.

Mark Molloy CEO Behavioural Works

Utilising evolutionary psychology, our second speaker Leigh Caldwell, Co-founder at The Irrational Agency, demonstrated how the ability to make quick decisions was naturally selected for in prehistoric man. If we failed to think quickly and react to our environment, we starved, while fast-thinking cavemen took over the world. Building on Cristina’s earlier point about a cluttered world, Leigh made the point that attentional limitations are a major constraint on our ability to make perfect decisions, as most information is never processed consciously. Instead we often act based on symbols, as these offer us shortcuts to decision making. Defining symbolic value as something we care about, but has little material impact on our lives, Leigh delineated what gives an object symbolic value: the object must be credible, simple and compatible. Nearly everything we do is driven by symbolic value. Brands are prime examples of objects with symbolic meaning and become associated with reward, even before we try the product they represent. Brands need to find what symbols they own and link these to customer’s symbolic desires by telling emotional stories.

Leigh Caldwell, Co-Founder Irrational Agency

Our third speaker, Mark Earls aka The HERDmeister, got the audience thinking beyond BE and neuroscience to the cultural blinkers we all share and how these impact our decision making. First Mark had us creating symbolic maps of the important features that represent how people behave – which included the mines of rationality (as Kahneman pointed out it is really hard work), the mountains of emotion and the waterfalls of memories. Audience suggestions included: the streams of social media, the pub of despair and the salt marsh of habits. Mark pointed out that while Western cultures tend to be highly individualistic, we are hugely influenced by culture. The HERDmeister got everybody on their feet and ruminating on whether their product choices are really a solo decision or the product of social influences. Sure enough, this led to some stark realisations that whilst much of our decision making occurs between our ears, which remains important to understand, we cannot and should not forget the social and cultural influences on our behaviour, almost every decision we make is either copied or learned from other people.

Mark Earls, The HERDmeister

The audience re-seated, it was time for the panellist questions. The speakers were joined by panellists Catherine Hunt, Head of Insight & Evaluation for the Prime Ministers and Cabinet Office and Richard Bates, Insight Innovation Director International at Beam Suntory. Chris Pearce, CEO of TMW Unlimited chaired the panel, fielding questions from the audience.

There were some excellent questions, three of which are summarised below:

Q. How do we change company attitudes towards longer term campaigns when there’s a focus on short term sales figures?

Mark E – There are two things I would say – one of them is Les Binet and Peter Fields great work based on the IPA effectiveness database points to the levers to unlock the short-termism that they observe in some businesses. They describe how IPA effectiveness cases how being increase focus on the short-term, which aligns perfectly with the digital age. Another thing to consider is that the people we are asking to make decisions for or against our recommendations are human beings to. So we have to frame things, in ways that makes sense in our understanding of human nature. If you’re an independent vendor, prospective clients will ask who you’ve worked with – that’s an obvious “I’ll have what she’s having” heuristic that people are looking for. There are many others that we can use to shape the conversation, rather than imagining that it’s got to be entirely rational all the time.

Leigh – If you can’t measure the reward yet or actual acquisition yet, because it takes longer, find the intermediate rewards or stimuli that are predicted by your activity – that will be your mid-funnel.

Q. Should behavioural economics be used to appeal to the audience that hate a brand, or should a new brand be created instead?

Catherine – It’s an interesting question; we probably have the best-known brand in the country – whether you like it or hate it and I think we’ve done a lot looking at this. What we found is there are certain things the Government is really good at doing – if it’s authoritative, telling me to do something quickly, use it. If it’s about asking somebody to do something they don’t have to do and they might not want Governments intervention, don’t. It’s about thinking about what is it you’re asking someone to do and could Government ever be the brand that did that? If it’s asking them to voluntarily do something, it doesn’t matter how beautifully you put Government behind it, it doesn’t work.

Leigh – I would say look up the Pratfall effect, you might find some case studies there. A few years ago, Dominoes in the US came out and said their pizzas are terrible; everyone hates them and they taste like cardboard. They weren’t good enough. By admitting they had a problem and by telling people, people believed them and they’ve grown hugely since them. It can be done – that is a behavioural effect.

Mark M – You have to ask yourself right at the beginning is this a behavioural challenge? They aren’t all suitable for BE. BE works best if it’s just a nudge, if we’re nudging people to do something that’s in their interests. Sometimes it’s not always a problem if customers hate your brand – look at Ryanair! They have risen to the top of a very competitive industry and people are always complaining about them. I don’t like them, but I always end up using them.

Q. Are we selling the science or informed creativity? How do we frame what we sell?

Richard – When you come with just the science, I’m not interested. I’ve had experience selling it into my business. We used the Caveman video clip explaining the science to 400 people. They weren’t interested in the science, they were interested in the solution or creativity. For me, the science on its own is not helpful – we need to know what we are going to do with it. Science is nice, but without the solution at the end it’s meaningless. I spent 15 years agency side and one thing I wish I’d be told at the start – is tell the client what problems you can solve. That’s what the clients want to know.

Catherine – You need to know your client. Are they going to respond to science or do they want a creative solution? If you’ve got a client who wants hardcore data, you’ve got to give them hardcore data. If you’ve got a fabulous creative guy, you would go straight in with a creative idea. My take would be; know your client.

Panel Discussion

After a lively panel discussion, it was time for a drink and some networking! A massive Thank you to all our speakers, panellists, chair and the audience for bringing your energy and enthusiasm. A special thank you to WARC for co-hosting this event with us! Until next time (hopefully with no fire engines).

Video highlights of each of our speakers will follow shortly!

Thanks for reading

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