Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
Photo by Jonathan Cole
Just the other day as I was going home.
A busy day at work. Google drove me mad. Cold and dark outside, although it’s not yet time for it (from three in the afternoon, that permanent English winter solar eclipse). Everything as it usually is this time of year in London. I board the train which takes about 20 minutes from Trafalgar Square to my home on the hill above the zero meridian.
The moment I go from the outside wind to an overheated train I realize that now I have twenty minutes for myself. A nice moment. Time to read an essay in The Guardian, see what people are doing on Facebook … to touch the pulse of the world, outside of the usual Google membrane.
The train is jouncing. The Englishmen are silent. Like me, they stare at their black mirrors that conjure the world into their palms; all, except those who, for all to hear, explain to their subordinates how to access some obscure function on a bank server, or which clause in the contract to pay attention to. On the outside, the dark suburbs pass by, intersected with lit houses, dark warehouses and monotonous waste incineration plants.
And then I thought I should say hi to my friend Ekrem – whom I call ‘Effendi’ – to see what he’s doing, to pay respect to his relentless pushing of the Sisyphus stone – thankfully ever smaller, it seems – up the mountain of the professional indifference back in the homelands. Type, type – hit ‘send’. The message disappeared in an instant, sailing into the desired ether, which it seems can’t have enough of the electronic wind.
And there my embarrassment begins.
Ekrem replies, cheerfully as only he knows how to. He thanks me and says all is going well, but then he asks: “Why did you bury me like that before my time?” I was baffled. “Well, you greeted me,” Ekrem says, “with ‘Rahmetli Effendi’, and ‘rahmetli’ for us means what ‘late, passed away’ means in Serbia.” I could see it bothered him a little. Ekrem got scared that I knew something about his health that even he doesn’t know yet – I do work for Google – and even if not, he doesn’t need the jinx. As if he doesn’t have enough things to worry about already.
And so there I was, sitting in a train, on a blue seat, with my face all red, embarrassed for insulting a friend, and for something I principally dislike in people, myself especially – assumptions out of ignorance. The problem arose because I assumed I knew something that I did not know. And it occurred to me that herein lie several lessons for all marketers, especially for my fellow copywriters and planners.
1. Handle words as if they are radioactive
Gustave Flaubert, known as a man who toiled for days – with headaches and a wet towel on his forehead – to find exactly the right word (‘le mot juste’) for what he needed, once said that words should be used as if we are using them for the first time: with ultimate care, precision and delicacy, as if handling something powerful and unknown. Let’s be sure that the word is right.
In my case it wasn’t. Somehow, I assumed that ‘rahmetli’ means something solemn, a bit ceremonial, with a lot of respect and dignity. Well, in a way it does, but not in a way that would please a living person. As I followed my train of thought and tried to identify from where the connection came, I realized that there is a sound association between the words ‘rahmetli’ and ‘rahatluk’ (rahatluk: Turkish delight sweets; also bliss, wellbeing). The ‘rah’ part gave the word some sweetness, the delicacy of cordial conversation between friends over coffee. I thought it sounded nice, so I believed the word was appropriate as well.
My fall was that I was certain that the word was right, but I didn’t check.
2. Are you interpreting words through your cognitive distortions?
In the theory and practice of psychology, which is important for planners, this situation is called the ‘halo effect’ – when one aspect of a thing affects another aspect. Tall people are often perceived as more authoritative, lecturers who talk faster are perceived as more competent, beautiful people as better candidates, those with a suit and tie as more professional and so on.
In other words – and this has become a warning mantra for planners in modern marketing – we must be aware that correlation does not imply causation; things may be related, but not always in a way where one affects the other, and in a way that is beneficial to the problem that we are trying to resolve. Ideally, a planner has to free their mind, as much as possible (and it’s hard), of cognitive distortions that are evolutionary and genetically inborn.
Therefore, the practice of collective thinking and agile group planning is becoming increasingly popular, because individual cognitive illusions are cancelled out, and the end result usually produces a deeper and more realistic vision of the problem, the target group and the potential solutions. A good strategy is usually the result of collaboration, from the outset, between all team members.
A paradoxical fact – with serious ethical overtones – is that the most powerful messages in marketing, those based on emotion, are developed through a process that includes the group activity of highly specialized experts, numerous meetings and analytical discussions that eventually filter out the idea. One consumer with their cognitive distortions, versus a galaxy of science – the fight is unequal…
3. Do you really know your audience – or you just think you do?
In the movie Under Siege 2, the one that takes place on a train, a Serb-amateur Steva Galebović (Steven Seagal) in the end beats the villain Marcus, famous for one of the best sentences ever spoken about marketing, without having anything to do with it: ‘Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups’. You need to know, not think that you know or guess.
As I assumed that ‘rahmetli’ means something with respect.
I can’t even remember all the situations in which clients or agencies base their multimillion dollar campaigns on completely artificial constructs of the target group, obtained with lazy patching and gluing of stereotypical research data. The New Metropolitans are young people who love music, self-expression, fashion, style… So, everyone in big cities, especially hipsters. What’s new?
Or clients who are convinced that the whole world thinks only about their product all the time, and that even the smallest change of wording or design has a cosmic importance that will drive all those people to stampede to the first store and buy. In fact, very few people care about brands, as long as there are enough of them that are good in satisfying the basic needs.
My favourite anecdote comes from an agency involved in service design, which asked a group of company executives during a workshop to play the role of individual consumers, as they were described in their segmentation. The first one was ‘Rachel’, the second was ‘Ben’ and so on. Executives were told to tell the group what a typical month of their segment was like – the good and bad in it… Then after that, they introduced to the room the real Rachel, Ben and others, and asked them to do the same. The result was a lot of red and angry faced executives, because it showed in a very unpleasant way how many of them, who are very well paid to know these things, have no idea how their customers actually live.
Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. In my case it was one word, same as with Coca-Cola: the assumption that consumers will love the ‘new’ coke more than the old one…
And so on. Examples are aplenty.
Asked what he thought about the future of the world, since he was one of the first to explain how our brains are hopelessly distorted in decision making, Daniel Kahneman said he was pessimistic. He said we’re just not made to think rationally and deeply at a mass level, because it requires a lot of effort, and that our basic sin – both among ordinary people and elites – is too much confidence in our own opinions. Conviction. Arrogance. That is why Nietzsche once said that convictions are a greater enemy of the truth than lies. That’s why in the movie The Devil’s Advocate, Al Pacino, who played the Devil, says that his favourite sin is vanity.
Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. Sorry Ekrem.