Monthly Archives: September 2013

The power of persuasion

Sep 18, 2013 0

Many people in the world, both those who use advertising and those who fight advertising believe that we in the industry have some arcane power to make people want things that they don’t need or at least didn’t want before our ad came along.


This view presents consumers as passive ‘victims’ of advertising unable to make a decision in their lives unless some ad tells them what to think or do.


Even as far back as 1958 Aldus Huxley the famous author attacked advertising by saying ‘advertising agencies try to bypass the rational side of man and appeal directly to the deep, unconscious forces below the surface’ and later in 1962 the historian Arnold Toynbee said that ‘people do not consume rationally and advertising is to blame’.


These supposed intellectuals appear to believe that we in the advertising industry have some sort of mind-control powers that allow us to insidiously manipulate the minds of consumers without their conscious knowledge. There are two responses to this:


Firstly do these learned gentlemen think that advertising proponents would sit around thinking up ways to sell cat food if they had such power? I for one can think of many more profitable and entertaining things to do with it!


Secondly, in the same way that hypnotism, big around the turn of the century, was believed to be able to make people do anything against their will and we now know that hypnotism can only suggest things the subject is willing to accept, so it is with advertising.


In short advertising does not use people, people use advertising. Everyday we are all exposed to advertising for say dog food, but we only actually buy dog food if we have a dog. If advertising was so powerful would we not all have stock piles of dog food or diapers whether or not we had a dog or baby?


Couple that point with the fact that over 90% of all advertised new products fail in the market. Advertising for example could not save Betamax or Virgin cola and may not even be able to save the mighty Nokia. These brands also failed having big advertising bucks thrown at them whereas brands like Starbucks, Google and Amazon have reached great heights with very little ad spend at all.


Clearly advertising isn’t the evil, immoral manipulator that it is considered to be. Rather than creating a need you didn’t have it channels a need you already have. We only buy a new product when the old one runs out. Advertising just directs a consumers purchase decision it does not create the need.


In this way advertising helps customers. By differentiating products and services clearly it helps consumers make more informed choices and freedom of choice is the exact opposite of the ‘Big Brother’ mind-controlling manipulations that advertising is so unfairly accused of.


- Dean Massey

Living in Bahrain has taught me many things, patience being high up on the list however I still struggle to maintain my inner calm when being told by the maintenance company at my villa’s compound that the Electrician will be with me in an hour to fix the Air Conditioner and then he turns up 2 days later! This theory of being told something that they think you want to hear rather than being told the reality really doesn’t work for me!  The blood pressure rockets, I climb the walls and my husband and I generally start ranting at each other about who will contact the Electrician again for the millionth time to chase him up!


Take this theory and put it into an Agency’s Client Servicing Department; one would lose Clients quicker than you can say “my Air Conditioner needs repairing”!  The key to meeting our client’s needs is good communication. Clients want to know that they can air their concerns with somebody who will understand their issues and act upon them accordingly whilst keeping them in the loop at all times.


I am also not in favour of the inherent term “Client Servicing” as really this is no longer sufficient.  It is all about Client Relationship Management wherein a relationship with a Client needs to be built, strengthened, managed and essentially maintained by creating a partnership. This however does not stop at keeping a list or database of current or prospective Clients. It involves understanding customers and their expectations, personalisation and loyalty.


Critical to the above is understanding that our direct Clients themselves, are always answerable and accountable to a higher level in the company’s Management structure; accepting that the pressures they are under will always be passed down to the Agency. But that is just the battle begun…how we deal with that pressure and turn it into a positive, calm and results driven solution in a set timeframe is the battle won!  As we know in the Agency world that you are only as good as your last job.


It is also ironic that we now live in times when our communication with one another is increasingly reliant on the written word; therefore the art of listening and conversation is falling by the wayside. Both skills are imperative and enable you to understand motives and concerns of people you are communicating with. Strong listening skills are important for successful Client Relationship Management – it ensures that you hear the right message, helps you identify reasons of problems and then react on them appropriately thus helping you build that relationship.  It really is relationship 101 – can you imagine speaking to your spouse only via email, SMS, Social Media, WhatsApp, BBM – some husbands would probably like this but I’m thinking it wouldn’t be very healthy!!


So the next time my Air Conditioner breaks down and I’m told, via email, that an Engineer will be with me in an hour I will talk to him on the phone, tell him my concerns that my child’s pet hamster may die in 100 degrees heat and hope that he will listen and act accordingly!!


- Julia Rushton

Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel titled Social Entrepreneurship & Philanthropy: Synergies for Change, alongside Forbes featured social entrepreneur, Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund.


Acumen Fund, which tackles poverty through “dignity, not dependence, and choice, not charity”, has worked since 2001 to invest more than $80 million in social enterprises impacting over 100 million lives in South Asia and Africa and creating more than 58,000 jobs.


In Bahrain and much of the Arab world, our approach to tackling social and environmental issues and causes is largely donations-based. In fact, for much of the business community, the terms “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) and “charity” are synonymous!


Although charity is often well intentioned—and sometimes necessary, particularly in times of emergency and disaster relief—there is a down side that most of us are unaware of. If you’re one of those well-intentioned individuals or companies that makes donations to charitable causes, please read on…


Real Good or ‘Feel Good’?


Noble Laureate and microfinance pioneer Prof. Muhammad Yunus points out that the weakness of charity is that, “It relies on a steady stream of donations by generous individuals, organisations or government agencies. When these funds fall short, the good works stop.” In other words, in times of economic hardship, charities suffer in this donor-dependency cycle.


Not only that; charity can do more harm than good and inadvertently hurt the very people it is trying to help. An increasing number of foreign aid practitioners and agencies are beginning to recognise the flaws with aid.


For starters, charity and donations unintentionally weaken already tenuous local economics, undermining local business and stifling entrepreneurial spirit through creating unsustainable donor-dependent economies. So instead of helping to alleviate and eradicate poverty, aid can exacerbate the very problem it’s trying to solve.


In an eye-opening interview with SPIEGEL, Kenyan economist James Shikwati, points to the disastrous effects of Western development policy in Africa. An excerpt of the interview follows:


SPIEGEL: In the West, there are many compassionate citizens wanting to help Africa. Each year, they donate money and pack their old clothes into collection bags…


Shikwati: …and they flood our markets with that stuff….Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livelihoods [sic]. They’re in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products. In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria’s textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide.


This interview immediately brings to mind Tom’s shoes. If you’re not familiar, Tom’s is a popular global brand famous for donating a pair of shoes to a child in Africa for every pair bought. Sounds good, right? Actually, no…


Tom’s CSR approach has been condemned for being designed to make consumers feel good rather than improve quality of life in the long-term.


Although Tom’s has donated over 1 million pairs of shoes it hasn’t changed the conditions in which people are too poor to buy shoes. Had Tom’s integrated CSR into its core business operations rather than viewing it as a marketing-driven add-on, Tom’s could have manufactured its shoes in Africa, created local jobs, and pumped much needed foreign direct investment (FDI) to boost the economy.


But this isn’t just about poverty. Charity can create dependency and have negative consequences even in more developed economies. For example, in the Gulf, I think most of us would agree that our approach to helping the blind, autistic or other differently-abled individuals is through donating to charities.


Few of those charities actually work to empower those individuals and foster independence, dignity and self-sufficiency.


One of my favourite examples of how we can be more effective in creating impact is Discovering Hands: a German social enterprise that provides employment opportunities for visually impaired women by training them to become Clinical Breast Examiners (CBEs). These women are 50% more effective at detecting tissue changes than doctors. The programme simultaneously creates social and economic value through leveraging perceived ‘disabilities’ into abilities.


William Easterly, an author and economics professor at my alma mater, New York University, is quoted in a Times article, saying:


“I’m sorry to be so unkind to someone who has good intentions, but you don’t get a get-home-free card just for having good intentions. You have to do things that make sense…If a surgeon is about to operate on me, I’m not all that interested in whether he has good intentions. I hope he doesn’t have evil intentions, but I’m much more interested in whether he knows what he’s doing. People have a double standard about aid.”


I couldn’t agree more. Charity in the Arab world needs to evolve from ‘feel good’ to ‘real good’.


- Leena Al Olaimy