Adam Ferrier – The Consumer Psychologist


Campaign Asia Contributer


I’m now a regular contributer to Campaign Asia, here’s the first article which appeared here earlier this week.

I’ve heard that advertising is neither an art or a science, it’s more like a sport, before I disclose why I want to pose a question to you, ‘What advertising religion do you follow?’ That is, what is the macro framework through which you make sense of advertising and how it works?  When someone says to you ‘how are brands built?’ what’s your answer? Do you believe in evidence or gut feel, or something else?  All have merit, but the trouble starts when we let things meander and we are not clear on our own beliefs and why.   Marketing communications is in a stat of flux, and it’s time to pick a side.

Advertising as Science?

So you’ve embraced the emerging world of behavioural economics and you take an experimental design to communications.  You like to set up matched cells, and a test and learn approach to communications.  You’re organisation has embraced big data, and you’ve found a way to make sense of it all. Your media buying is leaving little up to naïve 23 year olds, as the whole thing is ran programmatically, whilst your creative work is less ‘creative’ but incredibly ‘effective’, and always optimised.  You have data scientists informing your decisions, and your rather cynical of traditional market research, but very interested in new ways of getting insights.  You rely less on what people say, and more on what people do.  You are inspired by some of the work of data rich organisations like financial services and airlines.

Advertising as Art?

You declare that humanity is way to complex to understand, and ‘codify’. Instead you listen carefully, and then go with your gut. You hold consumer understanding , and being ‘on brand’ sacrosanct, and both are maniacally followed.  You think all market research is a bit of a joke, as no one can articulate why people do the things they do. Instead you get your brands in peoples hands, and you observe them, and listen and refine.  You’re not interested in gathering evidence, and decisions are made on intuition, rarely informed by ‘evidence’.   You enjoy creating brands that are beautiful and perfect at every touch point. You admire brands such as Nike and Apple and look at them as hero’s for being both incredibly consumer centric, but knowing that they do no market research.

Advertising as Sport

Someone once said that Marketing is neither an art or a science, is more like a sport – not a lot to learn but a lot to practice’.  These types of brands get something right and repeat, repeat, repeat. The advertising as sports people see consistently as key, and marketing as a game of scale, numbers, and repetition. It’s carving out a niche and doing the same thing over and over again. Like a tennis player practicing his serve 10,000 times over a summer, so to does this marketer focus on delivering the same thing over and over and over. McDonald’s and your nearest, biggest supermarket chain perhaps share elements of this approach, as they keep things simple and get things right through repetition.

So here you say ‘well there is some truth in all of these’, advertising is a science and an art and a sport, and you may be right. However, I’m guessing the brands mentioned here all have one thing in common, clarity of how things should be done. They have a strong philosophy of how marketing communications is created – one that transgresses regions, and the whims of marketing directors.

In a rapidly changing marketing communications landscape, having a strong point of view on how to build a brand, both agency side, and client side is being eroded. To often its left to the marketing director, the ECD, or the CEO at the time to set the agenda before the next person takes the hot seat and takes the brand in a new direction.

When I ask people, even those in senior positions ‘How does advertising work’, I’m still often left with a blank look. Or ‘what’s your approach to advertising’ – still nothing. It worries me a tad (although it doesn’t really) that so many people in our business, don’t know how our business actually works.  So what do you believe in? How does it all work?  If your organisation doesn’t have one, at the very least you should.

So what is it? What’s your brands advertising religion art, science or sport?