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Bennett's Five Links #062
Mad criticism; Sagas about Peter
Magic Mad Men ..
I enjoyed this article on why we’re wrong about how advertising works.
It’s not Pavlovian. Or at least not in the way we think it is. It’s more about signalling.
That is, so long as we think others will associate a product with a particular characteristic, we purchase the product in order to tell those other people we identify with that characteristic. And so, the advertising is about creating an association between the product and the characteristic but it can’t exist within your subconscious alone - it has to be shared. We don’t buy the product because the person in the advertisement is fun loving and we want to be fun loving too - we buy because we want others to think we’re fun loving.
The meme goes something like this:
Rather than attempting to persuade us (via our rational, analytical minds), ads prey on our emotions. They work by creating positive associations between the advertised product and feelings like love, happiness, safety, and sexual confidence. These associations grow and deepen over time, making us feel favorably disposed toward the product and, ultimately, more likely to buy it.
Here we have a theory — a proposed mechanism — of how ads influence consumer behavior. Let's call it emotional inception or just inception, coined after the movie of the same name where specialists try to implant ideas in other people's minds, subconsciously, by manipulating their dreams. In the case of advertising, however, dreams aren't the inception vector, but rather ideas and images, especially ones which convey potent emotions.
This meme or theory about how ads work — by emotional inception — has become so ingrained, at least in my own model of the world, that it was something I always just took on faith, without ever really thinking about it. But now that I have stopped to think about it, I'm shocked at how irrational it makes us out to be. It suggests that human preferences can be changed with nothing more than a few arbitrary images. Even Pavlov's dogs weren't so easily manipulated: they actually received food after the arbitrary stimulus. If ads worked the same way — if a Coke employee approached you on the street offering you a free taste, then gave you a massage or handed you $5 — well then of course you'd learn to associate Coke with happiness.
Let's call this alternate mechanism cultural imprinting, for reasons that I hope will become clear. It's closely related to, but importantly distinct from, emotional inception. And my thesis today is that the effect of cultural imprinting is far larger than the effect of emotional inception (if such a thing even exists at all).
Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product. Whether you drink Corona or Heineken or Budweiser "says" something about you. But you aren't in control of that message; it just sits there, out in the world, having been imprinted on the broader culture by an ad campaign. It's then up to you to decide whether you want to align yourself with it. Do you want to be seen as a "chill" person? Then bring Corona to a party. Or maybe "chill" doesn't work for you, based on your individual social niche — and if so, your winning (EV-maximizing) move is to look for some other beer. But that's ok, because a successful ad campaign doesn't need to work on everybody. It just needs to work on net — by turning "Product X" into a more winning option, for a broader demographic, than it was before the campaign.
If ads work by inception, then we should be able to advertise to ourselves just as effectively as companies advertise to us, and we could use this to fix all those defects in our characters that we find so frustrating. If I decide I want to be more outgoing, I could just print a personalized ad for myself with the slogan "Be more social" imposed next to a supermodel or private jet, or whatever image of success or happiness I think would motivate me the most. And I would expect such an ad, staring me in the face every day, to have a substantial "inception-style" effect on my psyche. I would gradually come to associate "being social" with warm feelings, and eventually — without ever lifting a finger — I would find myself positively excited about the prospect of going out to bars and parties. Effortless self-improvement: isn't that the magic bullet solution we're always seeking?
The perfect way to respond to allegations of imperfection ..
I thought this video was very well done. It’s something I need to get better at. Receiving and absorbing feedback is a superpower.
Or else ..
And if you don’t get better at receiving criticism, this next link might become very relevant to you.
The Peter principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to "a level of respective incompetence": employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.The Peter Principle
What a saga ..
Another long read, but in my view a super worthwhile one. This is the definitive explanation of what the eff is going on whenever anyone talks about the blockchain or other crypto products. It’s well written, easy to understand, and funny to boot.
We’re all about to knock-off for the Christmas break, and this might make for perfect feeling-gluttonous-on-the-couch-reading.
Money is a bit like that, too. Sacks of gold are a fairly straightforward form of it, but they’re heavy. A system in which your trusted banker holds on to your sacks for you and writes you letters of credit, and you can draw on those letters at branches of the bank run by your banker’s cousin—that’s pretty good, though it relies on trust between you and the banker, as well as the banker and the banker’s cousin. A system of impersonal banking in which the tellers are strangers and you probably use an ATM anyway requires trust in the system, trust that the banks are constrained by government regulation or reputation or market forces and so will behave properly.
Phew. No-one noticed.