Friday, August 28, 2015

I see you baby...shakin' that ass

Lions have a couple of principal hunting methods.

The first is one in which the lion stalks, undercover, getting as close as possible to the target, saving vital energy for a final burst of speed at the end.

Lions can’t run very fast over distance.

The second method involves find a bush close to a water hole, for example, hiding in it and waiting for unsuspecting dinner to appear.

This second approach is double-good for the lion who can also have a snooze whilst technically ‘out hunting’.
A bit like ‘working from home’.

Our Lion wakes up and sees a young gazelle taking a break by the water.
Lion tentatively moves out of the bush, but the alert young gazelle clocks him straight away.

But gazelle doesn’t run.
Nor does he crouch or try to hide.
Instead he turns to face the Lion.

Standing up straight he barks and stamps the ground with his hooves, all the time staring-out his potential attacker.

The Lion comes a bit nearer.
Surely the gazelle should get off his mark now?

Nope. He stands his ground, then begins a series of repeated jumps, using all four legs, a kind of dance known as ‘stotting’.

After a number of these jumps he then begins a somewhat leisurely run, shakin’ his ass and short black tail at the Lion in a kind of gazelle version of ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.’

The Lion steps back into the bush for another nap.

Why would the gazelle waste time and energy jumping up and down in front of an extremely dangerous predator instead of legging it as fast as it can?

And why does the Lion not go for him?

Biologist Amotz Zahavi asked this same question, and published the findings in 1975 in a study called The Handicap Principle.

(I recommend this one to young planners when they ask for reading material.)

Zahavi suggests that the gazelle is 'signalling' to the predator that it has seen it; and that by 'wasting' time and by jumping high in the air rather than running away, it demonstrates in a reliable way that it is able to outrun the Lion.

‘Even parties in the most adversarial relationships, such as prey and predator, may communicate, provided that they have a common interest: in this case, both want to avoid a pointless chase.’

The gazelle is communicating – implicitly - to the Lion as if to say:
‘Look at the amount of energy I can waste, and still get away from you.
Let’s not waste each other’s time.
Go and find something to eat that you might have a chance of catching.’

The Handicap Principal in a nutshell states that - to be effective - signals have to be

1. Reliable
2. And in order to be reliable, signals have to be costly.

It’s an elegant idea: waste makes sense.
‘Conspicuous’ waste in particular.

‘By wasting [conspicuously], one proves conclusively that one has enough assets to waste and more. The investment -the waste itself- is just what makes the advertisement reliable.’

The waste itself is just what makes the ‘advertisement’ reliable.

Researchers Tim Ambler and E. Ann Hollier wondered if the same thing applied in brand advertising and published their findings in The Waste in Advertising Is the Part That Works.

The pair devised a number of signalling tests including showing respondents showing ‘expensive-looking’ and ‘degraded’ versions of the same TV commercials to experimental subjects, and found that the perceived expense was influential in reported perceptions of brand quality.

 ‘The perceived extravagance of an advertisement contributes to advertising effectiveness by increasing credibility. It draws especially on the Handicap Principle in biology: animals use wasteful characteristics to signal their exceptional biological fitness. It hypothesises that excesses in advertising work in a similar way by signalling brand fitness…

…High perceived advertising expense enhances an advertisement’s [persuasiveness] significantly, but largely indirectly, by strengthening perceptions of brand quality’

The most important fact about a signal is that both senders and receivers benefit from its use.

At the core of signalling is the idea that businesses are constantly communicating through their actions, even when they are not intentionally communicating.

Over time, we implicitly learn that heavily advertised brands are of a high quality, and because advertising causes salience of the brand name, most times we can infer high quality from recognition alone.

It is the increasing absence of such signal that is becoming one of the core problems we have with digital advertising today.

Faris has spoken of it in terms of a Malthusian trap

‘Every time some new space opens up in culture, we rush to fill it, create an arms race, destroy the space in our self created Malthusian Trap.’

Bob Hoffman adds this, in his inimitable fashion.

‘I can think of nothing that has done more harm to the internet than adtech.
It is a plague. It interferes with virtually everything we try to do on the web. It has cheapened and debased advertising. It has helped spawn criminal empires. It is in part responsible for unprecedented fraud and corruption. It has turned marketing executives into clueless baboons. And it is destroying the idea of privacy, one of the backbones of democracy.’

Also Don Marti (who has been on the case about signal longer than most)

‘But when advertisers try to target users individually, signalling breaks down. Targeting turns an ad into the digital version of a cold call. Targeted ads tend to “burn out” the medium in which they appear, through a Peak Advertising effect. Each new targetable medium falls in value and popularity as users figure it out, filter it, or get their governments to restrict it.

The question remains.

At some point soon we are going to have to figure out how the hell to build brands on the internet, because we haven’t done much of a job so far.

But more on that later...

'I know you all know what I'm talkin' about,
Don't be lookin' at me like that now,
I see you baby shakin' that ass'