Tag Archives: Theory of Trying

The Best PSA on Social Distancing – Ohio’s Little Power(ful) Ball

12 Apr

    For the past three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors, epidemiologists and government leaders across the globe have tried to preach the necessity of social distancing.  The State of Ohio just did it in thirty seconds.

    The Ohio Department of Health and Dayton marketing agency Real Art are using a ping-pong ball and mousetraps to send a striking message about how this virus spreads and the effectiveness of staying apart and flattening the infection curve.

    The brilliance of the message is its simplicity.  Persuasive public communication and advertising is always most effective when it uses strong metaphors in human form, or to represent human activity.  In this case the single ball represents a single infected person setting off the jaws of contagion in crowded spaces.  In contrast, is also shows how proper spacing allows that same infected person to pass through without any damaging contact.

    But the simple before-and-after illustration is also a powerful teaching tool in the Theory of Trying.  Consumer behavior researchers Richard Bagozzi and Paul Warsaw developed the theory to show how intentions don’t always lead to a specific action.  In some cases, there is a goal evaluation based upon the risk of failure.  In the case of social distancing, the Ohio public service announcement clearly frames its argument both in terms of loss and gain.   In tight quarters it illustrates the consequences of failing to social distance balanced against the possibilities of success.   The framing primes one’s attitude toward trying to social distance and hopefully leads to a decision and action.

    Playing in parallel with the Theory of Trying in this PSA is Prospect Theory.  The well-established and utilized theory by Daniel Kahneman is essentially an economics theory that holds people are motivated more by a potential loss than by the possibility of a gain.  It won Kahneman the Nobel Prize in 2002 and has been the cornerstone of many successful political campaigns from Lynden Johnson to Donald Trump.  For better or worse, Trump masterfully used Prospect Theory in his 2016 presidential campaign to steer attitudes and votes based upon perceived losses to America from immigration, trade, and crime.  Likewise, President Johnson used Prospect Theory in his famous “Daisy” ad against Barry Goldwater in 1964.

    The simple ad showed a girl pulling the petals off a daisy that morphed into the countdown of a nuclear explosion.  The implied message was that Goldwater would lead to nuclear war.  The ad was so strong it only aired once.  Johnson won in a landslide.  In the Ohio ping-pong ball PSA, the loss is framed in terms of easily spreading the virus and getting stung by the traps.

    But the chief power of the Ohio flatten the curve campaign is its metaphoric simplicity.  Who knew a little ball could tell such a strong story.  The Ohio Department of Health did—it’s their own little Power Ball.

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Trump, Clinton and the Psychology of Fear

2 Aug

Fear Blog.001

     A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas created one of the greatest narratives of good vs. evil.  In a curious twist of art imitates life, the archetype is very much alive in the 2016 presidential race.  Darth Vader vs. the Jedi.  The dark side vs. light.  Fear vs. unity.

     The deep political divides in America skew the perception of who is Darth Vader.   To the significant number of voters who don’t trust the Clintons, it’s definitely ‘Crooked Hillary.’  Likewise, to  a majority of immigrants and highly educated Americans, it’s ‘Demagogue Donald.’

     However, the campaign strategies now cast in the nomination acceptance speeches of both candidates paint a stark electoral narrative based on fear.  And Trump has doubled down. Trump Clinton Fear.003

     “America is far less safe and the world is far less stable,” Trump told the Republican delegates and the nation.

     Trump painted a picture of lawlessness and rampant terrorism with the clock set at midnight and an illegal immigrant hiding in every closet.  “Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” said Trump.

     As a campaign strategy, Trump’s politics of fear is grounded in well-established psychological and economic theory.  Psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University established in 1979 that people when presented with a set of known risks are more motivated by loss than gain.  The resulting research is called Prospect Theory and it won Kahneman the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.  In short, Prospect Theory holds we are motivated by fear.

     Trump’s campaign strategy is clearly to use fear as a factor in the complex decision making process that voters will go through in deciding whether they can commit to him in the voting booth.  His strategy is well grounded in the fact that the vast majority of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.  When combined with the consumer behavior Theory of Trying by Richard Bagozzi, it establishes a clear framework for leading voters on the path toward supporting Trump.

     In the Theory of Trying model, there are three dimensions of attitude. (Figure 1)   One is toward success, one is toward failure and the other is toward trying.   In Trump’s case the attitudes toward success include better pay, secure jobs and safer streets.  In other words—attitudes framed as personal and social gains.  

Trump Clinton Fear.001

Figure 1

     The attitudes toward failure include stagnant income, job insecurity, fear of crime and terrorism—Prospect Theory’s framing of loss.   All of those are balanced against the efficacy of trying supporting Trump based upon his reputation as a successful businessman, and the perception that he’s not a quitter and on our side.  All three of those attitudes combine to influence the behavior on whether to vote for Trump.

   Hillary Clinton has taken a different approach based not on fear, but the social norms of rejecting fear. Trump Clinton Fear.004

     In her speech accepting the Democratic Party nomination, Clinton exclaimed, “We are not afraid!”

     She spent considerable time reinforcing universally held social truths that America is not a nation of bullies, and that “we are stronger together.”   In supporting her central thesis, she quoted FDR in saying, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

     In forging such a strategy, Clinton is employing the Theory of Reasoned Action as advanced by Martin Fishbein and Icek Azjen.   This too, is a psychological consumer research theory based upon behavioral intentions and attitudes toward social norms and expectations.   In this model, the consumer/voter is weighing their behavior based on their attitudes toward Clinton, and their attitudes toward societal pressure. (Figure 2) 

Trump Clinton Fear.002

Figure 2


     The attitudes toward Clinton range from her experience and competence for the presidency, to her trustworthiness (or lack of) as a public figure.  The attitudes toward social norms include the notions that Americans stand up to bullies, that they don’t ban religions, and that Americans are stronger when they stand together.

     To be clear, Clinton is using her own fear factor.  One of the more striking passages from her acceptance speech implored voters to consider the risk of Donald Trump as president.

   “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,” Clinton said.  “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

     The tactic was stolen straight from the playbook of LBJ in 1964.  In that presidential campaign, President Johnson exploited the fears of a nation still jittery from the near apocalypse of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Republican nominee, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, had famously campaigned on the notion that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”   The Johnson campaign responded with an advertisement called “Daisy.”   The ad aired just once–so powerfully based in Prospect Theory that it never needed to air again.  LBJ won in a landslide.

     Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have laid out their archetypal strategies both grounded in solid behavioral theory.  Fear of loss is a strong psychological motivator and one that Trump clearly hopes is a message he can ride to the White House.  Clinton’s arguments based upon established social norms of working together and rejecting fear are equally as accessible in the minds of voters.  The wild card in all of this may come down to individual personalities.  In other words, do the powerful negative attitudes toward either Clinton or Trump actually swamp the attitudes towards loss and social expectations?

     We’ll find out on Election Day which theory “Trumps.”

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Mo’ne Davis Throws a World Series Strike for Girls… and Chevy

28 Oct

       From a distance of sixty feet and six inches, the pitch was money.  Actually, it was Mo’ne.  A strike, right down the middle.  It came from a girl, just 13 years old.  And by the end of game four of the World Series, it was just the first of several strikes that made Mo’ne Davis the advertising world’s latest pitchwoman. 

Mo'ne Davis on the cover of Sports Illustrated, August 19, 2014

Mo’ne Davis on the cover of Sports Illustrated, August 19, 2014

         To say Davis has had a good year would be as much of an understatement as saying Derek Jeter did nothing remarkable this season. As a pitcher for Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons Little League team, she not only took her fellow players to the Little League World Series, she became the first young woman to pitch a shutout in the series.  In the process she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. 

        She’s a chief marketing officer’s dream product endorsee.  The challenge however, is how does a brand align itself with such a story maker without coming off as taking advantage of her good fortune for commercial gain?  After all, she’s still a child.  Complicating matters are strict NCAA endorsement rules should she one day become a college athlete. 

Mo'ne Davis is "Throw Like a Girl"

Mo’ne Davis is “Throw Like a Girl”

        Most marketing officers would use Davis to craft a story about their brand.  Chevrolet instead crafted a story about Davis.  It hired acclaimed film maker and renowned New York Yankees fan Spike Lee to create a short documentary about Davis, her coach, and her family.  The documentary called “Throw Like a Girl” makes no direct product pitch.  It does however feature a new Chevy Malibu in the closing scene with a full screen tag line, “Chevrolet celebrates Mo’ne Davis and those who remind us that anything is possible.”

        Chevy also broke down the footage into 60-second ad that aired throughout game four after she threw out the first pitch.

       The documentary and ad together loosely follow’s Richard Baggozi’s Theory of Trying by making the viewer think about their own attitudes of success and failure.  In this case, one’s attitude toward trying is leveraged by Davis’ story of success.  It’s a powerful psychological framework f0r influencing attitudes towards success and the beliefs that it can actually happen. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

        But more important, the campaign is an example of transformational communication.  Instead of using information to affect a consumer decision, it uses emotion.  By forming a positive feeling with Mo’ne Davis’s story, the viewer also forms a positive association with the brand who helped showcase the story—in this case a car company that  wants to transport people to their dreams.

        It’s not just a clever strategy, Chevy also used smart tactics.  It spread the “Throw Like a Girl” ads in a flight throughout the night’s World Series game to ensure broad exposure.  Additionally Chevy integrated the message across its social media channels. (Figure 1)

        The strategy by Chevrolet speaks clearly as to how marketers are embracing brand journalism as a tool to reach and engage audiences in new ways.  Davis threw the perfect pitch, but Chevrolet brought us along for the ride—with its badge on the tailgate.

Best Ads of 2013 – The Emergence of Viral Brand Journalism

31 Dec

Best Ads Collage

     This just may be the year when creativity came back.  With the stock market and retail sales once again in the driver’s seat, brands seemed more willing to take creative risks.   In return agencies pushed some of them to think beyond traditional advertising.   The result was some brave long-form storytelling and investments in building communities in social space. 

     One of the finest examples came from Dove and its agency Oglivy Brazil.  Armed with the insight that only 4% of women around the world think of themselves as beautiful, Oglivy was charged with restoring their self-image.  They did it by hiring a former police sketch artist.   The result was a three-minute mini-documentary that produced an emotionally powerful message: “You are more beautiful than you think.”   

Figure 1 Theory of Trying model of the attitude toward improving self-esteem on one's beauty.

Figure 1 Theory of Trying model of the attitude toward improving self-esteem on one’s beauty.

     The ad is an exemplar of using the strategic power of the Theory of Trying.   Social psychologists Richard Bagozzi and Paul Warshaw established that people evaluate goals based upon their attitudes towards success and their attitudes towards failure.   In this case the mini-documentary exposes the perceived self-image failures of women and then awakens them to the success of seeing themselves in a new light.   The ad leads them to form new goals improving their self-esteem—with Dove products.  (Figure 1)

      The message is salient not just with women, but with husbands, boyfriends and partners who all look at that someone special in their lives and believe she is the most beautiful person in the world.   That’s why the video has been viewed more than 61 million times on YouTube. 

     But Oglivy took it a step further by creating a branded website for women to share their stories.  Dove even connected the insight to its Facebook page that greets followers with a simple message, “Hello, beautiful.”  Its daily posts of branded self –image content are now seen by a community of 20-million.  All of that from a soap company.

      My personal 2013  favorite is from a brand you’ve never heard of.   It doesn’t directly sell a product, but instead an idea.  And in the process it brilliantly illustrates the power of brand extension with a smart and strategic piece of communication.

      It comes from a cell phone company in Thailand named Truemove-H.  The three minute film spans a 30-year story, one that begins with an act of sympathy and kindness and ends with a surprise act or gratitude.  The film contains no product placement, no overt sales pitch, only the powerful idea of paying life forward.  The message from Truemove-H:  “Giving is the best communication.”

      Proof of the ad’s power lies in the fact that it surpassed 9-million YouTube views in one week.

      As a piece of communication, the film is a daring and brilliantly strategic tool to build brand salience in a hyper-competitive category. 

Figure 2 - Applying Appraisal Theory to Truemove-H's "Giving" advertisement.

Figure 2 – Applying Appraisal Theory to Truemove-H’s “Giving” advertisement.

      In this case, it effectively uses Appraisal Theory to connect emotion and mood to influence a specific action.  The film makes the viewer cognitively aware of how giving can have its own reward. (Figure 2)  The deep emotional response of empathy—even guilt—leads to the formation of new attitudes about how giving can impact people’s lives.  In this case, Truemove-H’s goal is to get people to give by calling more often.  But just as important, it seals an emotionally positive connection to the brand—a connection likely to be top of mind the next time a Thai consumer searches for a new phone service.

      Another overseas brand also hit the bull’s eye with the key insight of sharing and friendship.   It comes from Robinsons, a juice company from the UK.   Core to Robinson’s brand promise is wholesomeness.   But its challenge is creating an image for itself in a category crowded with soft drinks and big budget marketing campaigns. 

      What BBH London created was 60-second episodic of two boys playing games together throughout the day.  But as the day ends and they begin to fall asleep, the subtle surprise metaphor finally reveals itself.   The positive attitude toward the ad directly transmits to the brand.

      Kmart also reinvented the Blue Light Special.  And it’s… well, a bit blue.

      The original discount department store pulled a little sophomoric humor out of isle ten in hopes of gaining more attention in the online retail marketplace dominated by Walmart, Target and Amazon.  DraftFCB in Chicago produced an off-color and humorous message promoting Kmart’s ability to “ship my pants,” or anything else from kmart.com for free. 

Figure 3

Figure 3

      The message is very strategic.  Kmart is simply trying to regain lost customers by using humor to remind them that they don’t have to go to Amazon or Walmart to shop online.  (Figure 3)

      The unique part of the strategy is to avoid television and go directly to social media where edgy messaging can exceed the more sanitized boundaries of broadcast television and quickly be shared among friends.  In Kmart’s case it was a brilliant success.  In the first 48-hours, “Ship my Pants” received more than two-million YouTube views.

       Finally, one brand had a little fun by mocking its own product, and for that matter celebrity endorsements too.  It came from Dodge who used a fake celebrity to sell its Durango SUV.   Chrysler’s agency Wieden + Kennedy used “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) to disparage the product.   The result was a serial TV and digital campaign that had Burgundy humorously highlighting a different unique selling proposition in each ad, everything from Durango’s big glove box, to more horse power, to a design that still looks good with egg on its doors. 

Figure 4 - Google Trends data on Dodge Durango and Ron Burgundy from September - December 2013

Figure 4 – Google Trends data on Dodge Durango and Ron Burgundy from September – December 2013

      It turns out the high risk/high reward gamble was a “kind of a big deal.”  Online search and buzz of Durango and Ron Burgundy jumped. (Figure 4)  Furthermore, sales of Durango’s in October rose 59% upon the release of the campaign.   The campaign proved once again the theory of positive brand association with the likeability of it ad.

     This is a short but not exclusive list.  Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” is another example of truly great and brave brand communication using accessible metaphors to force consumers to think about sustainable foods.

      Clearly more brands and their agencies seemed willing to stretch the boundaries again.  That should make 2014 even more fun and beneficial for consumers.

For more expert analysis of the best in advertising, I invite you to follow John Eighmey’s blog, The Psychology of Advertising.


Twinkies Strikes Gold–The Best Olympics Ad You Wont See

1 Aug

Perhaps one of the best advertisements of the Olympics is one you won’t see on NBC.

The folks from Hostess have created a whimsical and brilliant social media film that simply says there are Olympians… and then there’s the rest of us.  And for the rest of us, there is a special golden reward—Twinkies.


The ad created by the Berstein-Rein agency takes the well established Theory of Trying and turns it on its head.  (Think Home Depot: “You can do it, we can help.)

But as fun as this ad is to watch, it’s also a strategically smart piece of communication and critically timed as Hostess goes through bankruptcy.  It targets every person who has tried at something and failed.  Because that includes most of us, it guarantees that fans of the ad will share it on social media.

Additionally, it speaks to what marketers would call lapsed users—consumers who haven’t bought Twinkies in a while. It reminds them that Twinkies are still here, still good, still golden.

So go ahead, treat yourself. (You know you want to)


Natalie Strand and the Power of “I Can”

21 Nov

                Amazing things happen when you put your mind to it.  Natalie Strand has proven it for most of her life.  Diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes when she was just 12 years old, she didn’t let it hold her back.  At an age when most adolescents would view such a diagnosis as a barrier, Strand viewed it as an opportunity.   

             The changes to her body brought on by diabetes led to an intense curiosity about medicine.  That curiosity led to medical school.  Medical school led to Oxford.  Oxford eventually led to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and then to the faculty of UCLA.  These days most American television viewers don’t know Dr. Strand by her title, they know her by her victory—winner of The Amazing Race.   

             Dr. Strand shared her story and her secrets to success this weekend with the families connected to the MinnDakotas chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Each step along her journey Dr. Strand says she’s succeeded by eliminating the words “I can’t” from her vocabulary.

            “I think it’s a very simple thing.  You just have to decide to do it,” Strand said.  “Whatever it is that you are doing, if you decide at the onset that no matter what comes up, you’re going to do whatever it takes.  You’re never going to say I can’t.”

              For most of us, the keys to success are not that simple.  To be sure, they weren’t for Dr. Strand either.   Social psychologists have come up with a unique model to explain how we approach personal obstacles.  In their Theory of Trying, Richard Bagozzi and Paul Warshaw explained that people evaluate goals based upon their attitudes of success and their attitudes toward failure.  (Journal of Consumer Research, 1990)  Failure combined with fear can be powerful motivators—we are often more afraid of loss than we are motivated by success.  (Kahneman, 1979)  It’s all about framing.  Dr. Strand has succeeded by continuously framing her life in terms of success.  Failure is not an option. 

             How refreshing in an era of unemployment, stagnation, and polarization.   At a time when our economy and our political system prove “it can’t,” along comes an amazing winner who shows that as individuals “we can.”

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