Is It Possible To Change Someone’s Mind With Marketing? Ogilvy PR Chairman

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It’s the age old question that marketers and advertisers long to be able to answer – and subsequently enact; can you change a person’s mind and influence their decisions?

Hannah Edensor
Posted by Hannah Edensor

Speaking at the PRIA conference this morning in Sydney, the crowd was graced by the compelling keynote Christopher Graves, Ogilvy PR global chairman. Part scientist, part communicator, Graves posed a strong argument for the ways in which the brain works, and how marketing and brands struggle to convince people to change their world views.

Referencing neuroscientist Antoni Damasio, Graves said that emotional and biological regulation play important roles in decision making, however, “The emotional brain is going to win out”.

“We are able to rationalise confirmed opinions and reasoning, but we are not able to rationalise opposing views,” he said, suggesting that when someone tries to tell you you’re wrong, it puts your identity into question.

As an example, Graves referenced his own article, ‘Why Debunking Myths About Vaccines Hasn’t Convinced Dubious Parents’, and his findings – among others – showed the following four principals:

  1. Arguing facts doesn’t help – it makes the situation worse
  2. Repeating a myth inadvertently popularises it, and studies show this action can even take 25 per cent of people who didn’t believe the myth previously, and push them into believing
  3. Affirmation works but we rarely use it
  4. We consistently underestimate the power of narrative

Here’s a successful example Graves showed of affirmative narrative, whereby the protagonist represented someone who’s mind needed changing, and therefore resonated with the audience the brand was trying to convince:

“Triggering great empathy is hard,” Graves admitted, but sometimes it’s a matter of whether your narrative is concrete or abstract. Graves said if he asked the audience to draw a ‘paradigm’ in five seconds, it would be far too abstract a thing for them to conceptualise.

Concrete notions, however, are far more effective.

“If your audience can paint a picture in their mind from what you’re telling them, that’s going to be more successful,” Graves said.

He went on to give a recent example, referencing the US election and the abstract notion of ‘immigration reform’. The only candidate to give a concrete solution was – that’s right – Trump.

“Trump said ‘we will build a wall’,” Graves explained. “And we mocked it but it worked. We can all picture the wall.”

Graves also added that according to research, concrete narratives correlate with believability, and in turn, trust.

“Humans tend to value avoiding a loss at two-three times the magnitude of winning a gain,” Graves explained, adding there’s a “science to messaging”.

Speaking to social norms, Graves claimed, “Creating implied social norms for communicators is an immensely powerful thing.”

On a university campus, advertising that “everyone was binge-drinking” saw the practice actually increase, because it was accepted as a social norm. On the flip side, when the ads said, “Most people don’t binge-drink,” the campaign saw lower engagement in the behaviour, because people didn’t want to be the minority.

Another pertinent notion raised by Graves was that of the “identifiable individual”, and the way in which humans resonate with an individual story over a macro narrative.

“If I tell you one story of a person who follows this plight, it is much more identifiable than if you tell the story of thousands,” Graves said.

As a final thought, he shared this video which managed to personalise – and tell the story of an individual’s engagement with – the world wide web, a mammoth challenge for any gold marketer.