Lemon: How the advertising brain turns sour

Planner Parley

Truth Collective Truth CollectiveSeason 2Episode 7Dec 11, 2020

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Introduction: Welcome to Planner Parley, a show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. This week, we’re delving into a repair manual for the creativity crisis by author Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer at System 1 from London, England. He joins John Roberts CSO at Truth Collective in Rochester, New York to share his revolutionary new book Lemon. How Advertising Turned Sour and What We Can do About it. Join them as they dig into why fame, feeling and fluency are at the heart of what brands need to be doing, why they aren’t and what it means for small agencies. Pull up a chair and listen in.

John Roberts: Welcome to another episode of Planner Parley, where we focus on the role of strategy, particularly within small agencies, but to grow and learn from each other. Today I must admit I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome Orlando Wood, someone who I’ve been stalking in a business sense for many years. So Orlando, Chief Innovation Officer of System 1 Group, member of the IPA Effectiveness Board, both of which are combined into a really fascinating perspective as the new author of a book called Lemon. How Advertising Turned Sour and What We Can do About it. Welcome Orlando.

Orlando Wood: Well, thank you for having me on. Delighted to be here.

John Roberts: Fantastic. So how about we start with a very quick precis for those of us that haven’t had the chance to dive into the book. Talk a little bit about what is System 1 and how does that relate to the book itself and the focus for you?

Orlando Wood: Yeah, well, System 1 is I suppose a way of talking about the way that we make decisions. It’s been, I suppose, popularized or the idea has been brought to our attention by Daniel Kahneman and his worked with Daniel Tversky. He talks about there being sort of two systems of thought. One that’s very fast and sort of based on heuristics and rules of thumb, really, and one that is a bit slower really, and it’s more ponderous perhaps slightly more analytical in style. That’s called System 2. There’s a tendency to think about things, in business world very much from a System 2 level and System 1 is… There are various features of System 1. It’s sort of, I suppose, various components of it that the important thing about it is that you learn very gradually over time with System 1 based on experiences and based on emotional impressions. These sort of accumulate over time and help you to make really quick decisions in the moment.

Orlando Wood: Whereas System 2 is… It requires effortful thought. It’s a sort of display of describing effortful thoughts, I suppose and a more sort of calculated way of thinking. Many of the decisions we make are made on this System 1 basis, this fast and frugal way of thinking. That’s why the company I work for System 1, is called System 1. Because, we have an interest in measuring emotional response to advertising and to linking that to in-market effectiveness. And that’s because we think that’s the best way to look at long-term outcomes. The results of advertising over a longer time period, because System 1 is inherently sort of longterm in the way that it works.

John Roberts: So that’s opening up a whole heap of questions already, and we’re going to come back to the time and perspective, but I think it’s fascinating just one that very premise, that as within creative companies or strategists, we’re always trying to find the balance between how can we create some immediate impact and a more creative effect, but at the same time, how do we balance that with that business effect? How did this thing connect with Lemon and what is the premise of Lemon?

Orlando Wood: Yeah. So I mean, there are features of System 1, I mean, really that it’s important to know about from a brand perspective, from an advertiser perspective. Daniel Kahneman talks about a number of important shortcuts or heuristics rules of thumb, if you like. Three that we think of particularly important when it comes to advertising and what it can do for brands are what we call fame, feeling and fluency. So fame is how quickly your brand might come to mind, when making a choice between options. Feeling is simply, how do I feel some sort of positive effect for this thing, or this brand and fluency is, how quickly does it come to mind, or how easy is it to recognize? How distinctive is it? And really these three heuristics I think, are at the heart of what brands need to be doing.

John Roberts: But clearly we’re not if advertising is turned sour.

Orlando Wood: I suspect not. I mean, there are lots of… Certainly if you look at how advertising is connecting with the general public, the work that we’ve done, because we measure every ad that airs in the UK and the US across various sectors on TV. And we know that most ads sort of cluster at the bottom of a sort of emotional response range. Very few get up into the upper reaches, the sorts of emotional response that we’ve shown drive bigger business effects. So yes, that’s the first problem. I think also there’s a lot of debate about differentiation or distinctiveness in marketing. Whilst we debate it on the sidelines, this sort of conceptual discussion, I think advertising has become less and less unique. Less and less, I suppose, distinctive or different. There’s a lot of homogeneity around, I’m afraid. So this is the sort of framework that I suppose we have System 1 think about to how brands work and how advertising, the important principles for advertising.

John Roberts: Fantastic. So if we’re trying to drive on really finding an emotional connective thread as a driver, because we know that, that can connect to business impact and to be distinctive, how do we do that?

Orlando Wood: Well, that’s really, I suppose, where Lemon comes in. Lemon is the book I’ve written published by the IPA last year that looks at changing advertising styles and how advertising today is well, less likely to generate an emotional response and because it has different features from the advertising of even just 15, 20 years ago. What I show in Lemon is that actually the crisis in creative effectiveness that Peter Field describes in his work looking at award winning ads and looking at the effectiveness of advertising over the last 15, 20 years, is that, that drop in effectiveness can be explained to a large extent by a change in advertising style.

Orlando Wood: That the same way of, I suppose, the mode of attending to the world that is responsible for short-termism is also responsible for a shift in style that no longer connects with people. That’s what Lemon’s about and how we might put it right. I take in Lemon as my starting point to describe this and how this has happened, the work of a brilliant scientist, called Ian McGilchrist. Ian McGilchrist is a neuroscientist. He’s a psychiatrist. He’s perhaps one of the world’s experts on perhaps the world experts on… Perhaps the world expert on brain lateralization, the left and the right hemispheres. And so, your listeners might be thinking, “Well, hasn’t that all been debunked? The whole left brain, right brain thing.”

Orlando Wood: Well, it has been debunked in the sense that, the left and the right brain don’t do different things. They’re both involved in important ways and all types of cognitive function. But, it’s just that they do things differently. They have different takes on the world. They have different modes of attention, and they’re structurally quite different too, and I talk about this a bit in the book. But what Ian McGilchrist shows quite compellingly in his book, The Master and His Emissary is that the left brain is very narrow and goal-orientated in its attention and focuses on the smaller picture, on narrowness of things, is pretty linear in its thinking, in its direct cause and effect type thinking, quite binary in it’s thinking. Things are either true or false, factual or incorrect, no room for nuance or ambiguity. It has very little understanding of people.

Orlando Wood: It’s interested in things, in representing the world back to us in models, in symbols. It’s sort of a bit detached from the real world. For our connection with the real world, we really need the right brain and the right brain is interested in the world around it. It’s alert, it’s vigilant. It’s what gives us sustained attention and it’s very different in what interests it really in that it’s interested in the living, in everything in context. So understanding things as a whole, and it’s very interested in the way that the living interacts.

Orlando Wood: So facial features, accents, gestures, all of those things. It’s also able to sort of hold two contradictory thoughts in its mind at the same time. It’s not as fixed as the left brain, which means that it’s open to novelty. It’s open to contradiction, it’s open to… Because it can understand things on two levels, it understands metaphor and understands humor. It’s also what gives us our sense of live time and of space, spatial depth and it’s what helps us to understand music, which relies on both the sense of time, but also, being able to hear the whole, not just the individual parts.

Orlando Wood: That right brain connection with the real world, what McGilchrist shows through his work and his book is that at certain times in history, we’ve sort of lost this ability to connect with the real world, and you get this kind of shift towards left brain dominance, and there are very good reasons for this physiologically, the corpus callosum, which connects the two halves of the brain. It bridges the two brains, but actually the left-brain has a greater inhibitory effect on the right and the right is on the left and it’s through the corpus callosum that this inhibition takes place. So, you get this sort of… At certain times in history and I talk about them in the book. The reformation is one of them, the late Roman period and other… Actually 100 years ago, the rise of modernism. You get this sort of very left-brain literal way of thinking about things.

Orlando Wood: You get fixity, people adopt very dogmatic positions. Anger lateralizes to the left brain. So people get very angry and trenched in their worldviews and opposition starts to occur. People butt up against each other.

John Roberts: So art for today’s, the world that we’re living in. Right?

Orlando Wood: Exactly. I mean, you can see that happening all around us, in fact. I think, I believe that in art or any given period, that you can detect a few years in advance, that something is not quite right in society, that you can see these sorts of shifts. And in the book I talk about these different periods. Certainly in the reformation things got very flat and there was an emphasis on the word and paintings. There was a desire for authenticity for the stripping back of metaphor, of characters in the saints of the sights and sounds of the church. Anything which actually gave it sort of its sense of spirituality. And instead there was this focus on the word, which is also one of the things about the left brain is that it’s responsible for… It’s interested in tools and things with which to manipulate the world and principal of these is language, language signs, and symbols.

John Roberts: I love the way when, sorry, just on that flow, you’re talking through about looking at society and through art over time. And then the way that from when you think about the ways you’ve described it, from a neurological perspective about how our brains work, that then leads really quickly into the problem we faced with advertising today. Right?

Orlando Wood: It does. It does because, what I do in Lemon is I show how not just in advertising, by the way, but in culture more broadly, in films and music and comedy output, how there’s been a real shift in the last 15 years, towards this sort of left brain dominance. And that in advertising terms, this means when you look at advertising films, ads, videos, that whereas 20, 30 years ago, you had ads that showed people in the real world or reacting to each other, in live time, characters and perhaps something happening that’s interesting and easily defined place, today advertising doesn’t tend to do that. And instead it is a series of short sharp cuts, all edited very quickly together, that there is a sense of abstraction.

Orlando Wood: So, it’s a bit like futurism. You just see… You see it focused on tools or things, quite mechanistic, fewer people. And if they are there, they use as props and focus on the word. So just like in the reformation, the word is everywhere and it’s as if the imagery is only really there to serve what the words are telling you to think and do. And then also, you’ve got this. It’s become increasingly rhythmic, which is the only thing of music that the left brain can really appreciate is this highly rhythmic sense. So you’ve got all sorts of features. There are many more, but those are the main ones, that you see in advertising today. I show through a historical analysis that this started to happen in 2006 before the downturn. There are many reasons for it perhaps, we go into it, but, this has happened in the last 14, 15 years and in exactly the same timeframe, but completely different data sets that Peter Field has shown this decline in effectiveness.

Orlando Wood: The other thing that I show in Lemmon is that I show that these left-brain features, this mechanistic kind of advertising is much less likely to drive an emotional response in people and that these right-brain features, this depth and humanity, this referencing of other things, parody and pastiche and metaphor, all those sorts of things, characters in particular, that those are the sorts of things that generate an emotional response. So advertising’s becoming less emotional, basically less likely to be noticed, less likely to be remembered. Emotion helps to orientate our attention after all. That is a real problem. So the book tries to unpack why that might be, and then also give some pointers really, as to how to address it out, how to make work that we’ll know when we see it and we’ll remember it.

John Roberts: It’s interesting. I was thinking when I was going through the book and looking at those pointers, which are very, very clear because that connective thread back to everything you were talking about earlier, but also the reminder to me that when we talk about emotional work, we don’t just mean stowing heartstrings. There’s a huge breadth and gamut of emotions that we’re not using well today. Right? Talk a little bit more about that.

Orlando Wood: Yeah. Well, I mean, when you say emotional advertising, people immediately jumped to a kind of sentimentality, a sort of schmaltzy, that’s what comes to people’s minds. That’s a very narrow description for emotion really. I mean, what I mean is advertising essentially that on some level entertains and interests people. Humor is one important part of that metaphor, being able to do things that work on several levels. Comedy of character, and situation, those things, very powerful and important. Also the sort of, how people deal with the unexpected as well.

Orlando Wood: In recent work, I’ve just done actually, I’ve looked at the features of advertising that both hold attention, and this is not just on TV, but online as well, and elicit an emotional response. And there are a number of things that, it seems to me quite clear that that we need to be doing, if we’re trying to hold attention ad elicit an emotional response. The three things, they’re character, incident and place,

John Roberts: And this is true of all storytelling, obviously we’re talking about TV and digital.

Orlando Wood: Well, yeah. I mean, exactly. There’s a lot of talk in the industry about storytelling, but no one’s really tried to explain what that means, I suppose. I think, it’s quite a highfalutin term. I think, I was just trying to explain what that means in practice. And when you look at the campaigns on the IPA’s effectiveness database as I have, and look at the features, the right brain features and the left brain features of these ads, and then you start to overlay them on top of the effectiveness data, you see quite clearly that it’s the campaigns that have character, incident and place, character in that there are people involved doing things in live time, with a sense of agency, incident in that there’s something happening in live time, something unusual or incongruent happens. And that there is a definable place, that this isn’t… You could imagine this happening somewhere. It’s something approaching the real world. The ads that perform particularly well on market share gain, sales gain, that’s the sort of advertising that does it and that’s the sort of advertising that holds attention, elicits an emotional response.

John Roberts: So without trying to dumb down an inordinate amount of work, but I will, if we were to talk as an agency with our creators and with our clients, and I want to come back to both of those in a minute about whatever the strategy is to solve the problem, we want to do it by demonstrating character, incident and place.

Orlando Wood: Yeah.

John Roberts: We’ll be more successful.

Orlando Wood: I think so. Yes.

John Roberts: Okay.

Orlando Wood: The problem is that advertising over the last 15 years, can’t really be described in many way, I mean, not all advertising, obviously, but a lot of advertising today can’t really be described by answering these three questions. Who’s involved? What happens? Where is it set? Because, the global nature of many businesses today has led of course, to the global ad, which has to work everywhere, which means that you can’t really show people talking or interacting with each other. You can’t show connection with place. It’s quite difficult to convey things happening. You also have lots of platforms available to us feel for our video advertising and that they sometimes mean that we have to create work that is easy to edit and chop down in smaller bits. So you don’t end up with something that it doesn’t play out in live time that, that looks very different, really. The pipe work becomes more important than the work. And so if-

John Roberts: Totally Orlando, just, I want to add on that because you and I were talking about this actually the other day.

Orlando Wood: Yeah.

John Roberts: I love this will lead into the role of that character, incident and place in a digital world. Are we now becoming… We’re inhibiting the impact of the work because of the nature of the format that we’re in? Six second ad and immediacy.

Orlando Wood: I think that’s had a lot to do with it. Yes. And also we’re measuring the effectiveness of these, of online video by very short term and direct sort of metrics. That leads us to optimize against those metrics, which is you end up in a vicious spiral and then you end up only creating work that will work in the very short-term. You end up with the kind of guidelines that you get today from many, the big tech platforms.

John Roberts: Correct.

Orlando Wood: Which I’ve actually been talking to a couple of the big ones recently about this and maybe they sense that it’s time to change, we’ll have to see. But, yeah, so that’s definitely part of it, definitely part of it. And so you end up with what my shorthand for this, I suppose, would be; frontality, instruction and product. You see a lot of human, but also product frontality, people staring into the camera or flat objects or products viewed from above, on a countertop. Ingredients thrown together in a very abstract way. The left brain is interested in making things, so you get in advertising, but also I think in programming or television. You get a lot of programs and adverts about making things, throwing things together, today. And this sort of instruction, telling you what to think and do.

Orlando Wood: That kind of advertising will work for those people already in the target market for people who are perhaps looking for a new whatever it is, but it’s not going to work for the people who aren’t. I think this is one of the problems with targeting is that it’s led people in their creative to assume that people are interested in what you’ve got to say.

John Roberts: Automatic.

Orlando Wood: Automatic.

John Roberts: Already in.

Orlando Wood: Yeah.

John Roberts: Yeah.

Orlando Wood: That’s not the case. And of course that sort of advertising style has then seeped or I should say, marched into television advertising as well. That’s really not how television works. If you’ve got a broad reach audience, then you can’t assume that they’re necessarily interested in your product and so, you have to create something that’s interesting and that might sustain their attention, that might raise your brand’s salience in their minds, as a future possibility, when you next come to buy your next car or whatever it is. “Oh, I remember that one. Yes. I think I’ll go and check out the VW garage.” Or whatever it is. So that’s the problem, I think.

John Roberts: So how do we overcome it? I’ve got three people I would love to think about and get your perspective on. Client, the strategist, because we are planners on the podcast and then the creative. Let’s start with the client because there’s a fundamental issue naively, but I think it’s truth as well, which is, we all know about the acceleration or the shorter time life of a CMO. We all know our clients are focused with, particularly in today’s world of immediate impact. How do we help a client start to reframe, how to define success?

Orlando Wood: Well, one of the interesting things that’s happened over the last year is a very interesting piece of work by James Herman and Peter Field called the effectiveness code. What he’s done is he’s looked at the walk database and his effectiveness database of advertising. He’s looked at various media features of these campaigns and concluded that campaigns that have higher spend, but, work on more channels and work for longer, over a longer time period, sort of basically are more effective. And then he characterizes these different, different runs on a ladder, if you like, the different steps, these different range of ads from the least effective through to the most effective. The least effective ads look quite different in terms of their media features, but also their creative features, I think. From the ones at the top of the ladder, which are more likely advertising that I tend to describe, which involves long running characters or human scenarios that are quite… He describes them as iconic.

Orlando Wood: What I think I would say is to a CMO or even about or CEO is say, “Well look, this is what advertising could be. It can go from this type of ad, over on the least effective lines, which gives you short term impact. And perhaps may give you some uplift on some behavioral measures, but not really anything lasting or long. And then you’ve got this sort of advertising over here on the right, which is the top of the ladder as he positions it and where do you want to be? I’d say, well, because… And if I were CMO, I’d be saying to my CEO, CFO “Well, I think we should be playing up here on the right. That’s what I’m interested in doing.

John Roberts: Building business growth versus short-term immediate impact.

Orlando Wood: Yeah. So just trying to make it quite straightforward and simple and say, “Look, that’s where we need to be.” And then, well, how do we do that? Well, we need to create a long running asset and hopefully a character, a living thing, something interesting that makes the brand and the product interesting in some way.

John Roberts: Do you know, it’s funny as we’ve talked about this, and as you go through it now, we’re actually using left-brain system to linearity and structure, to validate the power of System 1 [inaudible 00:29:10].

Orlando Wood: Yeah. I know. Well, unfortunately that seems to be the business world. Doesn’t it?

John Roberts: But it’s important. Isn’t it? Because I think too often we can make the mistake not really translating our intention into client speak.

Orlando Wood: That’s right. I think you have to have some where you have… That’s one of the things we’re trying to do at System 1 is to demonstrate the relationship between this kind of emotional work and profit gain and longterm market share growth. Because, it needs to be drawn. That’s, I think the thing on the client end. You need to position it internally as saying, “Well, look, this kind of ad is going and this kind of campaign relative to all the competitors around.” And that’s one of the things we do at System 1 is we measure everything in the category, is so much better and will give us that growth, in the longer term, as well as having an indication of short-term prospects too.

John Roberts: So, if we think about the role of building from the client, understanding the client’s needs and where they think, what they think they need to do and how do we help use a lot of this incredible information and this pod and the videos that I’ll do all the links for Orlando’s speaking to ensure that people understand the switch, the role of strategy in Lemon, you talk about how the brief is broken.

Orlando Wood: Yes. I think not enough time spent on the brief, I suspect these days, talking to planners. That it’s become… The interpretation of the client brief and the briefing of the creatives. I mean, that… Probably not enough time is devoted to that. I also think that there’s a sort of, I wonder if planners are coming under a lot of pressure to just sort of let things through, and you have to come up with an idea quickly, which is not sensible anyway, it takes time for ideas to kind of compost and work, to come to the two creatives anyway. Then you’re in a position where you have to present some work to a client and it may just be a mood board, mood idea, mood video, really. And then the client might say, “Well yes, that’s what we want. That’s exactly right.” And that mood video is probably going to look something a bit like the very left brain ad that I’ve described.

John Roberts: Exactly.

Orlando Wood: And so I think, there’s a lot of pressure on planners and a lot of pressure on creatives to get to an answer quickly, which isn’t always the best answer, and that we need a bit more time to let these things play through.

John Roberts: I think that’s absolutely true, certainly in the world that we’re living in and the planet that I know. I think the other point coming back to what you were just saying about the client is I do feel as though within agency world, we do not spend enough time ensuring that we’re on the same page. Sometimes we use the creative presentation to go, “This is why we should be on the same page.” Whereas actually spending a bit more prep time of making sure clients, and we understand what problem are we really solving? How can we solve it? And therefore what’s the world of a creative? Coming back to what you were talking about earlier.

Orlando Wood: Yes, yes. I think the best work comes through a very good relationship or conversation between the planner and the creative. You know what I mean, the creative, a good creative, I think, will be quite a good planner as well, to a certain extent.

John Roberts: Absolutely.

Orlando Wood: And the planner’s role is to be useful in some way to serve up some interesting things, to the creative. Some interesting ideas that the creative can work with.

John Roberts: So let’s talk about that a little bit more. Because I thought the other part I took away from your points in the book about the brief is broken is that briefs, okay, the majority of briefs are word documents, structured, boxed, and therefore [inaudible 00:33:37] starting to put some left-brain constraints in terms of what we’re trying to do.

Orlando Wood: Yes. And I think that… I mean, the brief as I think I say in the book, the brief is important of course, but it’s not the only way to a great idea. And sometimes you end up with something that is completely remarkable, that perhaps isn’t [inaudible 00:34:04] with the brief. But that’s not to say that it’s a bad idea. And so, one of the things that I think is important in briefing is conversational briefing and just conversation actually. There was a time when people used to go to lunch with their clients and they might have a drink or two. Actually that sort of opens up the right brain in many ways.

Orlando Wood: It sort of lets you in conversations, certainly something will be said or an expression or a wording or I call them a bar, a little bar, that little thing, the things that stick to your clothing, that suddenly stick. And that’s interesting. Why do you say that? And this, the role of conversational briefing and interaction between people engaging their emotional responses, you talk, I think all of that’s really, really important in coming up with a great idea. We tend to over-intellectualize things or conceptualize things, sometimes. That’s what the left brain tends to do. I think it was John Webster, the great creative in the UK who said to his planner, “Just talk to me. Talk to me about these people, without any of the intellectual stuff.” An hour’s conversation.

John Roberts: That is the bane of planning, I’ll tell you now, is treading line between being not too clever and not too creative, but being useful as John Steele says. Yeah.

Orlando Wood: Yeah, that’s right.

John Roberts: Let me think about, I love what we were talking about earlier, and we’re thinking about for helping the creative with the brief, but then also some conversation around the volt of character, incident and place. I had another couple of questions. We talked already about the role of emotion, are there emotions that, in your opinion are been underused today?

Orlando Wood: Well, yes. Anything to do with leaving people feeling good, leaving people feeling happy or joyous about what they see. We’ve certainly seen a decline in amusement or humor over the last 10 or 15 years. I think we’ve also seen, published this yet, but, an increase in sort of lesser forms of happiness as I would put them in effectiveness terms. So things like pride or being pleased for others, or sort of contentment or gratitude, these sorts of things, which are likely to connect actually on a lasting level, amusement and humor. And the sort of advertising, which has gone massively out of favor, people getting a corrective comeuppance, which you used to see quite a lot in advertising, which is hugely entertaining. Is not done today. It seemed to be perhaps slightly unfair or not caring enough. But, that sort of amusement or getting people to feel kind of uplifted in some way. That’s really, I think what we should be looking for.

John Roberts: It struck me to start on that and some work that System 1 has released recently. It feels as though we’re a little worried about being funny. Yeah. Because the world’s so blooming serious and splintered and fractious. Is that true?

Orlando Wood: Oh, yes. We’re worried about offending people, I think, is part of it. Also, with the left brain comes this desire to be this sort of slight mockery of anything that might be popular. And this idea that… This sort of shunning of popularity. Well, advertising can’t work unless it’s popular, really. It needs to be popular. It needs to be distinctive and memorable. It’s like advertising. And certainly then the creative awards, they look more and more like the sort of rather abstract Turner Awards, the arts-

John Roberts: Right.

Orlando Wood: What comes in the UK, which are very conceptual and alarmingly look very much like the inner workings of the left brain. I mean, if you look at the Turner Prize for 2019, the various one in particular, has lots of abstracted hands everywhere, and the all-seeing eye of truth, looking over it. I mean, it’s remarkable. But that’s the sort of advertising that we’re rewarding and awarding, in creative awards. And that sort of advertising just doesn’t connect with the general public. So, we’ve sort of got a bit of a problem on our hands.

John Roberts: And it’s funny. I know that we’ve all had conversations with clients through the years of, the work shouldn’t need to be creatively awarded or creative awards should not be the sole goal of the work. And this connects back to what I think you were talking earlier about fame, feeling and fluency. Fame for me is about remarkable, being stand out and actually talked about, frankly, because those are the things that we want our consumers, our little people to talk about. And then, can I ask about… I’m fascinated by the notion of the fluent device. Because again, in Lemon, you talk through about the role of fluent device over time, and we’ve kind of lost our way on this a bit. Can you explain a fluent device and also what should we do?

Orlando Wood: Yeah. I mean, it’s a term I coined really, but to mean, well it means, I suppose it means a couple of things. I mean, let me start with the work of The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute because they talk about the importance of distinctive assets. Logo, shapes, colors, fonts, all those things, and how it’s important to keep them consistent over time, which I don’t disagree with in any way. But I think the trick when it comes to advertising is to turn those static assets into something that lives. That means most likely a character or a set of characters, that are instantly recognizable and that are recurring through your campaign, that are repeatedly used. So this might be the M&Ms characters for instance, or the GEICO Gecko or over here in the UK, the Meerkats, Compare the Markets, the Meerkats.

Orlando Wood: What I’ve shown using the IPA’s database again with Peter Field is just the greater business that you get with that kind of advertising. Over advertising that doesn’t have those recurring assets. It’s not just characters, it can be sort of human scenarios that are have… You’re not you when you’re hungry, will be a good example of that for Snickers.

John Roberts: Yes.

Orlando Wood: That are repeated, but sort of changed slightly and evolved, over time.

John Roberts: So there’s a common enough thread that people recognize, but it isn’t the same all the time. Points of variety that talked about earlier.

Orlando Wood: Yes. And funnily enough, it overlaps very nicely with the idea of character, incident and place because, in all of those sorts of ads, you’ve got human characters doing something, something unusual or perhaps interesting, the incident. And somewhere, it’s relatively easy to relate with, a real place. So that’s what… The fluent devices. What I found again, working with the IPA, is that over the last, well, particularly the last 15 years, along with all these other right brain features that the character fluent device has disappeared, almost disappeared.

Orlando Wood: There are very few of these left, when they used to be everywhere in advertising. It’s just part of this, this move towards the left brain type of work. And that fluent device, the other thing I should say about as well as being extremely useful for driving these big effects like market share gain and profit gain, is it also helps to reduce your price sensitivity a little bit, this interesting work in psychology that shows that if you’re quick to be recognized, if you recognize something and it feels very familiar, you’re more likely to pay for it might, pay more for it, I should say, than other things. It’s a really fascinating example of this, where they showed, they gave people regular dollar bills and they gave another set of people dollar bills which had been doctored slightly. So they just looked slightly… They were just slightly not quite right, but not so much so that you might question them totally.

Orlando Wood: They said, “How many everyday objects… How many paperclips can you buy with this dollar bill?” And the people with the regular dollar bill thought they could buy twice as many paperclips as they could, the people with the slightly unfamiliar dollar bill. So we saw this in our work, the fluent device campaigns were more likely to register reductions in price sensitivity, which is an important part of profit gain, of course.

John Roberts: Absolutely. It comes back to that business impact that we’ve been talking about.

Orlando Wood: Yeah.

John Roberts: So having sat through more ads than probably anyone else on this planet, what are your favorite three?

Orlando Wood: Well, I don’t know that I could claim that. But I mean, look, it’s so difficult, isn’t it? It’s like we like choosing between children, wouldn’t it? But, there are loads of wonderful ads from the past and some from the present. There’s one I talk about in the book, which is Heineken’s Water in Majorca ad, which has so many of the right brain features that I talked about by Adrian Holmes, who also did the front cover of Lemon, I should say, who I was very pleased, to be able to work with, on that. I’m very grateful to him. I think I’d have to pick one by John Webster, and probably why not the Smash Martians.

John Roberts: I knew you were going to say the Smash Martians, all links for those poor Americans that didn’t grow up watching Martians. For mash get smash.

Orlando Wood: Exactly. For mash get smash. And just because I think, they’re just wonderfully silly and entertaining and they live in a whole different brand world and they’re just very funny. Well, my third be, well, I mean, there’s a lovely series of ads again. I mean, this is a UK stuff, but for the yellow pages in the 1980s, which are rather lovely by Abbott Mead Vickers.

John Roberts: Yeah.

Orlando Wood: And they have a kind of warmth. I mention them because they have a kind of warmth and even then, they felt nostalgic, I think. But, they have a sort of warmth, seems to be totally absent from today’s advertising and a humanity about them a bit like, and this was the other one I was toying with mentioning, which is a US ad. How Ryan is Mourning in America, which is a topical one as we record this today.

John Roberts: Yes, it is.

Orlando Wood: But, the Reagan campaign in 1984, which also has that sense of warmth and confidence, and also a sense of permanence that I think is so important in advertising. I mean, at the moment, with all the changes in digital world over the last 15, 20 years, lots of things have changed with globalization, the way we work, probably our disconnection with where we grew up, all of these things have a slightly bamboozling and disorientating effect on us. This translates into a kind of world and kind of advertising that is kind of a bit odd. It’s like the features that you see in a… And I use this term very advisedly and unknowingly in a sort of schizophrenic patient, because, you sort of get this unwielding of the world or this distancing, or seeing things from multiple perspectives, which is… I mean that in the sense that, you probably got multiple identities.

Orlando Wood: There’s something strange and disorientating about the modern world. What we’re all crying out for, I think is a sense of permanence, a sense of confidence, and a sense of human warmth and connection, which seems to have broken down.

John Roberts: Very, very true. So is anybody doing a great job today? Fantastic examples of the past.

Orlando Wood: Well, I’ve mentioned a few. The Mars table seems, is very good, I think. And from what I understand, creatives tripping over themselves to try and work on that account, on those accounts. So the Snickers, the M&Ms, I mean, in this country, Maltesers as well. I think some of the Skittles work too. So very good really. In the UK we’ve seen a long running success of things, like Compare the Markets, Meerkats, and again, a whole brand world.

John Roberts: Yeah.

Orlando Wood: There are companies like Yorkshire Tea, doing things that are quite funny and interesting, Warburtons as well in the UK using characters and Jonathan Warburton, the founder in those ads, with special sort of celebrity guests. Those are the sorts of things that connect very well with the public that are-

John Roberts: And they all have that character, incidence and place. Right?

Orlando Wood: Well, they do. They do. It keeps coming back to that really. And those three questions I mentioned earlier, who’s involved? What happens and where is it set? They’re three questions that we use all the time to try and help us understand what’s going on in the world to help us connect the bedrock of empathy, really. That’s something we mustn’t lose sight of.

John Roberts: Excellent. So all links will be attached to this podcast because Lemon is a fantastic read. I’ve learned so much, and again, learned from today, as well, loving it. Quick. What’s next for you?

Orlando Wood: Well, I have just recently recorded a short film on the work that I’ve been doing with Peter Field and Facebook and others on the features of advertisement that sustain attention. That’s called act on, and I’m looking to write that up and I’m looking to, well, perhaps another book. So we’ll have to see how that goes, but it’s looking at, really how you do it, drawing on the work of great entertainers, animators beyond advertising. How do we make this come to life in the hope that we can, I suppose inspire a different kind of attention to be brought to bear on the world.

John Roberts: Fantastic, Orlando. One final question. When you think about the journey you’ve been through with Lemon, what surprised you the most?

Orlando Wood: Well, what surprised me the most? Well, I suppose it would be, I suppose it’s reception, really. Because it does seem to have articulated something that I think people instinctively feel and know that they haven’t been able to sort of put their finger on it. Do you know what I mean?

John Roberts: Absolutely. I’ll be honest. Okay. I’ve used Lemon and other work from you that you published on finding a connected thread to, as we talked about earlier, funny enough. How do we use System 2, the rational, linear thought process and clarity to really reinforce how we feel about the work?

Orlando Wood: Yeah. How can we feel about the work to create better work?

John Roberts: Yeah. I think that’s what I like in some way to think myself as doing. I’m the corpus callosum that links the left and the right brains, that tries to act as a sort of translator to show the importance of human creative work with depth and metaphor, the importance of that for business results and to try and translate it into that language.

Orlando Wood: Fantastic. That has to go on your next System 1 business card, by the way.

John Roberts: No more Chief Innovation Officer.

Orlando Wood: Corpus callosum.

John Roberts: Orlando Wood. Corpus callosum. Orlando. I have as ever loved speaking with you, listening and learning some more. Thank you very much for your time today.

Orlando Wood: Absolute pleasure, John. Thanks for having me on.

John Roberts: Take care. Enjoy the lockdown, focus and I will hopefully catch up with you again, soon.

Orlando Wood: Thanks so much.

Speaker 1: Planner Parley. A Truth Collective production.