Tapping into our inner caveman instincts

Marketers need to be Paul Fishlock_blueaware of the greatest natural forces that affect human behaviour including how we’re hardwired to think less says Paul Fishlock, in a piece that first appeared in Encore.

Back when poking dinosaurs was a dumb way to die, evolution installed an operating system in our brains so we’d stick around long enough to pass on our genes. There’s never been an upgrade.

With areas of marketing changing on the hour, it’s easy to forget that some of the strongest forces determining your behaviour today were designed for the hunting, foraging world of our early ancestors; hard-wired survival and reproduction instincts that are so much a part of us we are unaware of them. But marketers should be.

Why do we want to be a part of communities? So there are people we trust to look after our kids when we’re out mammoth hunting. Why are we more sexually attracted to 20-year-olds than 70-year-olds? Because they produce better babies. Why do we eat more than we need? Because our ancient mind wants us to stock up on sugar, salt and fat in case there’s a famine. Marketers don’t need a PhD in evolutionary psychology but, given we’re in the influence business (not the entertainment business), being aware of some of the greatest forces affecting human behaviour wouldn’t be a bad thing.

They should be aware of how we’re hard-wired to think less, for example. Conscious thought uses valuable energy our caveman brain would rather save in case we need to escape a sabre-tooth tiger later. Avoiding a potential extinction event beats unriddling a self-indulgent ad every time.

Our gravitational pull to think less is why brands are so powerful. When we know, like and trust something, we implicitly value it over an alternative we have to burn energy evaluating. Strong brands make us think less, not more.

Over 90 per cent of our behaviour today will be determined by what Nobel-winning behavioural economist, Daniel Kahneman, calls ‘autopilot’: a lightning-fast, energy-efficient, system in our brains which uses short cuts, emotions, associations in memory and operates almost entirely below awareness. We may like to believe our ‘pilot’ is calling all the shots but it’s simply not true.

Every day, the hidden forces that shape our decisions and behaviour become less of a mystery – and marketing’s reluctance to embrace them, more of one.

Our finest have always intuitively understood the importance of human instincts. Half a century ago, Bill Bernbach wrote: “It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk of changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man.”

One of the things behavioural economics can give us is a method and a language to understand not only our customers’ instincts but also our own; why some ideas just feel right and others that tick all the boxes don’t.

Bill Bernbach also famously said that advertising is not a science. With respect to the great man, I’d like to build on that: advertising is not a science but it’s more science than most working in it currently realise.

Paul Fishlock is the principal of Behaviour Change Partners.

Encore Issue 33This piece first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.



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