Strategy executive at Initiative, Sophie Mateer (lead image), recently brought sociologist Dr Andrew Cohen to the office to chat to her team. Cohen reminded them about why innate human behaviour is the key to building brands and changing human actions: in direct contrast to Sharp’s and Ritson’s data backed theories. Here, Mateer muses over the hot button points from the experience…
I take ‘sliding into someone’s DMs’ very seriously.
So seriously, that when I knew I wanted to invite a sociologist to come and talk to Initiative I scoured the globe to find the perfect candidate – Dr. Andrew Cohen.
It’s no secret that we love drinking our own cool aid in marketing but for all of the talk about Byron Sharp’s and Mark Ritson’s theories telling you the best data-backed way to build brands and change human actions, all too often we neglect the real opportunity… innate human behaviour. And that’s exactly what I sought to do.
So, who is this guy and why sociology?
Dr. Andrew Cohen is a Yale PhD graduate, arcade game top-scorer and a person with an immense passion for understanding people and culture. His career brought him into regular contact with advertising, working with brands such as American Express, Neustar and T-Mobile to name a few. This meant he would have the perfect balance of industry understanding and new world thinking I was looking for.
Now, for anyone who doesn’t have their old library cards to borrow dusty old textbooks, here’s what we learnt about sociology from Dr. Cohen, that changed my perspective forever.
The categories we define, define us
Using an analogy of blind people touching different parts of an elephant and voicing what they felt (e.g., touching the trunk was thought to be a snake or the tusk a spear), demonstrated how our unique experiences shape our perspectives. It also reinforced why we should look at problems and solutions from several different angles.
Mimics and mimes, collective identity is as important as individuality
Has anyone ever told you that the five people you surround yourself with most are highly important or that over time you can start to look like your partner… or dog. Well, this is all due to our subconscious mimicking (speech) and miming (action) of those around us. For all of our desires to be seen as individuals there is a primal need to belong to a collective identity. In marketing wank terms, we might refer to this as tribes, but it is an interesting watch out for an industry obsessed with personalisation to not forget to create cultural magnets for communities to collective identify themselves.
Drugs and the need for social shepherding
So, it was around this time in the presentation Andrew almost lost the audience when he used a metaphor about drugs (something we ad folk would know noooothing about) to explain how determining what is good or bad isn’t black and white. For example, when someone first gets high, they look to others to validate their experience before they can confidently claim it. For example, am I having a heart attack or am I vibing? Without any prior experience how, one knows or judge forthemselves whether what they are experiencing is right. An obscure metaphor which delivered an important lesson to anyone create new ideas that do not have a cultural reference point yet.
…. And so many more lessons.
But ultimately, the biggest lesson I learnt from this experience was don’t ask, don’t get.
As a girl from Canberra, about as far away from marketing world as you can get, I have always been fascinated by the cult-ish marketing community and how it can be self-fulling.
As there are no publishers with sociologists on tap, I’m proud I went well beyond my comfort zone to stalk a sociologist, burst our industry bubble, and curate this insightful experience. So much so I plan to continue to do so in every aspect of my life and work.
Maybe next time I’ll be sliding into your DMs… If you’re lucky.
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