System One: the behavioral science revolution

System One: the behavioral science revolution

System1 Group's Orlando Wood on how our understanding of human decision-making is revolutionising advertising.

While advertisers have been wrestling with the changes in media and data, the 21st century has brought another fundamental shift with huge implications for TV: a revolution in our understanding of human decision-making, rooted in the findings of behavioural science.

The key ideas have been explained in a series of bestsellers, like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast And Slow, Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational or Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings. Humans have two modes of thinking: ‘System 1’ is fast, instinctive, emotionally-driven, and we’re often barely conscious of it; ‘System 2’ meanwhile is slow, considered, more logical, and effortful.

What the new generation of behavioural science thinkers have done is illuminate just how much more powerful System 1 is. System 1 is our primary decision-making system, with System 2 usually just a rubber stamp for its choices. Where possible, humans prefer to make “fast and frugal” System 1 choices, with results usually good enough for the job in hand. We hate using System 2 and avoid it when we can. In a nutshell: we think much less than we think we think.

Marketers have devoured the science of Systems 1 and 2. But nobody had written a book setting out in simple terms the practical implications for marketing. So we did. System1: Unlocking Profitable Growth answers a crucial question: if human beings are fast and frugal decision-makers, how do you design your marketing for System 1 decision-making?

What we realised is quite how much conventional marketing wisdom relies on the misguided assumption that people think hard about their purchases. Take innovation, for instance. Brands often pin their hopes for new launches on novelty, new benefits, or disruptive technology. But behavioural science tells us that humans have a “gut liking for the familiar”. The key to designing innovation for System 1 is to make the new feel comfortably familiar – something we call ‘Fluent Innovation’: your innovation should feel 80% familiar and just 20% new to make it quick and easy to process and get it accepted.

In the book we also discuss the implications for brand building and shopper marketing. But perhaps the most important implications of the behavioural science revolution – and certainly the most relevant to TV advertisers – are reserved for advertising. Advertising continues to be used as a vehicle for rational product messages, seeking to persuade people with information that, it is believed, will influence their purchases. But this chain of causation assumes we rely on System 2 much more than we really do. In the real world, where System 1 calls the shots, it’s the lasting emotional impressions an ad makes that matter most and that lead to long-term market share gain.

This is because an ad that leaves a positive emotional impression – a “somatic marker” as Damasio calls it – tilts System 1 in the direction of a brand when it’s time to make a decision. Fluency also plays an important role. Fluent Devices – oft-repeated characters or scenarios, like Compare The Market’s iconic Meerkats – also help to build market share over time, as our historical analysis of the IPA’s DataBank, presented at Effectiveness Week 2017, demonstrated.

The book explains many of the patterns that Les Binet and Peter Field are seeing in their analysis of the IPA’s DataBank. It also explains why long-term emotional campaigns, like John Lewis’ ‘Thoughtful Gifting’ Christmas ads, are so successful in building market share.

If you want to predict effectiveness over the long-term, measure emotional response to your advertising.

The good news for UK TV advertisers is that video is the best way to create an emotional impact, and that TV is uniquely placed with its high-quality content and broad reach. The bad news is that many brands are not yet making the most of this emotional opportunity. We know this, because in 2017 we tested every single FMCG, Financial Services, Automotive, Health and Wellbeing and Charity ad that aired on British TV. TV is the medium to reach and touch people, yet too many ads do not seek to entertain.

Taken from A Year in TV 2017-18click here to download your copy

You might also like

What to watch on Channel 4

Follow young superstars in Football Dreams. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is back in Changing Rooms. Alex Brooker tours around the UK in Hobby Man. Alan Carr explores the world of his favourite childhood authors and you can discover the story of Britain’s Secret War Babies.


Highlights from UKTV

W’s Dating with my Mates twists your typical dinner date; Big Zuu's Big Eats returns to Dave; Drama brings a true story from World War 2 to our screens with Passport to Freedom; and CSI: Vegas is new on Alibi.


What’s on Sky in the next fortnight

The Premier League returns. Stephen Graham is back deleting crime in Code 404. In Irma Vep, a movie star’s life starts to blur. Find out what’s next for Dr Goodwin in New Amsterdam. One Shot follows young players from South London and Micah Richards: Player Pranks begins.