Daddy cool

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We all want to know how we can be cool, don’t we? Lucy Clark gets the answers from behavioural scientist and Naked founder Adam Ferrier, as he prepares to take on his new role at CumminsRoss.

Adam Ferrier probably knows more about why you bought that pair of jeans you’re wearing than you do. He’s psychologist first, adman second.

Ever since his early days assessing sex offenders, Ferrier has been working out what makes people tick – and what makes people ‘cool’.

It was whilst working as a forensic psychologist for Corrective Services NSW that Ferrier was first inspired to work with brands. He landed a job with brand consultancy Added Value. And not just any job. Ferrier was Global Cool Hunter, looking at emerging trends. 

“Both consumer and criminal psychology are about trying to understand human behaviour, looking at the antecedence that leads to that behaviour, and trying to predict and correct people’s behaviour,” he explains. “There are a lot of similarities, but the tone and working environments are obviously massively different.”

Despite his cool new job, Ferrier still worked in the prisons at weekends. “It was fascinating and I didn’t want to give it up,” he recalls.

Even when he later joined Saatchi & Saatchi as a strategic planner, Ferrier ran groups for men with relationship issues in his spare time.

But when his friend Mike Wilson asked him if he wanted to be a part of a start-up (Naked Communications in Australia) Ferrier left his criminal work behind. With an impressive cocktail of founding clients Absolut Vodka and Coca-Cola, Naked – which was initially going to be called Stupid Media – got off to a flying start.

“Naked was very different,” says Ferrier. “It combined media strategy and brand strategy – no other agency was doing that. And it separated itself from execution, and just did the planning.

“A highlight for me would be creating what must be the coolest working environment in Australia –the whole vibe of the place was really intoxicating.” 

A cool theme runs through Ferrier’s life. During his studies, his thesis was entitled Identifying the Underlying Constructs of Cool People.

So, what makes someone cool?

According to Ferrier, the traits of coolness are self-belief and confidence, defying convention, understated achievement, caring for others and connectivity. “Also, you’re more likely to be cool if you’re male, in a career that’s borne out through passion such as the arts or politics, left-wing, and aged over 18,” he adds. 

Social sciences are, he believes, going to play an ever-critical role in advertising.

“As marketing budgets get smaller and the options of what you can do are increasing, marketers are finding it difficult to know what the right thing to do is,” says Ferrier. “Through behavioural economics, you can recommend what you think is right – not based on gut feel or intuition, but on past experience and knowledge.”

He’s looking forward to applying this to his new role as chief strategy officer at CumminsRoss.

“I’ve spent the last six years developing my thinking around what makes a grounded strategic approach, based on psychology and behavioural sciences. I’m excited about going into a fully functioning agency that does amazing creative work and buys and sells media, and then applying behavioural science.”

At the heart of consumption decisions is a general rule: Actual Self + Brand = Ideal Self.

“Most consumption decisions, after bare necessities, are made on the gap between how you are and how you want to be,” explains Ferrier. “Marketing is constantly creating a bigger gap between those two. If people accept themselves, I wonder if they will make different consumption choices that fulfill their needs more authentically.”

Ferrier’s wish for everyone to be less ‘wannabe’ follows through to his advice to industry newbies.

“My one piece of advice for people entering the field is ‘be interesting’,” he says. “Think about the most interesting thing about you and amplify it. It’s a competitive world, embrace your vulnerabilities.”

As such, Ferrier embraces his early years as under-12 state chess champion in Western Australia and his near miss as state goalkeeper for hockey. “I realised these things made me very uncool in the playground,” he says. “That’s kind of where my interest in cool and social identity stems from.”

Even the story behind how Ferrier met his wife Anna (they now have an 18-month-old son, Asterix) is offbeat. They met during through a cult called Brahma Kumaris. “I was interested in cults – I used to go along and try to disrupt what was happening,” he explains. “Anna was on a girls’ weekend and thought it was a meditation retreat.”

And he believes brands should take the same attitude: “I’d like to see brands embrace their weaknesses and be stronger and more authentic by doing that – I’d like to see a bit more honesty.”

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