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Running away or chasing? What are you selling?

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

As a naïve, young researcher, I walked into an advertising agency hopeful that they would be excited to sponsor my research. Of course, I was dealing with the ultimate salespeople and there was no chance I would be able to match their ability to pitch and influence.

The research looked at whether we could tailor advertisements to be more credible if they aligned with the regulatory focus of people. People are…

…wait a minute. Let me sell it to you like the ad man…

Some ads are made to make you feel insecure, like deodorant commercials. Other ads are flogging you a dream or idea to make you feel happy.

The first lot of ads correspond to a prevention focus. When individuals are concerned about their prevention needs, they are especially worried or concerned with fulfilling their social obligations. Or, as the ad man would say, they’re worried they’ll smell.

The second lot of ads are related to a promotion focus, which is a fixation on ideals and aspirations. The ad man would refer to that luxury car you dream about or the holiday cruise.

How you position yourself or your organisation may very well hinge on whether your audience are promotion or prevention focussed.

Say your customer is after some innovative, blue sky ideas. You may feel the need to provide these ideas but also back up the idea with assurance of risk management and fact checking.

Interestingly, research suggests that combining more abstract and creative messaging (promotion) with vigilant messaging (prevention) affects your overall credibility. That is, people instinctively reject the message.

Organisations that develop visions and missions often try to integrate lots of ideas in one, simple message. Their efforts are admirable. They are aiming to cover everything that they do in one message.

However, often these messages end up getting tangled and ultimately become fairly meaningless. For example, depicting some future utopia may inspire the audience up until you bombard them with messages about fixing immediate issues. Suddenly, that inspirational message gets caught up in the here and now.

The opposite can also be true. If your customers associate your brand with prevention, then you may alienate these customers by highlighting the aspirational aims of the organisation.

Do you exist to make your customer feel secure or to help them realise their ideas?

It isn’t all about the organisation. You also have your own brand. Do people come to you because you come up with the ideas or do they rely on you as the diligent finisher who dots all their ‘i’s and crosses all the ‘t’s?

If you are a working in a role where prevention is a key consideration, then you may find that your ideas are perceived as less important than your ability to provide your internal customers with confidence. If your role is about dreaming big, people may find your preoccupation with protocols to be a drawback.

Perhaps this is why the ad man rejected my pitch. Maybe my research and delivery felt too mechanical and diligent. The message was not enough luxury vehicle and too much bad body odour.

Here are examples of vision statements that align with either a prevention or promotion focus.

Prevention Messages

World Vision

Our mission is to be a Christian organisation that engages people to eliminate poverty and its causes.

Obesity Society

Better understand, prevent and treat obesity to improve the lives of those affected through research, education and advocacy.


To prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection.

Promotion Messages

Coca Cola

To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.


Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.


At eBay, our mission is to provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world

Do you scoff at Apple products?

in Media Psychology by


How many people have you met who are proud they do not own an Apple iPhone or iPad?You know the type. They disregard the slick designs and marketing and focus on the technical and functional characteristics of products.

But if you are one of the many millions of iPhone owners you might be more willing to admit you simply like the look and feel of your device. If you didn’t care about appearances you would be more than happy to scroll through a basic checklist of apps rather than navigating through colourful buttons.These preferences extend to your home too.

Open your pantry and you will find an assortment of brands that probably taste exactly the same as a generic product. Your television might have looked just as good if you purchased a lesser brand, so long as you weren’t aware it wasn’t really a Sony.

You may have tirelessly debated over a shade of paint and were willing to spend more because that premium off-white really looks better than the cheaper off-white.

Many people, however, do not think they are easily manipulated by all that. They love the idea that they are sensible and rational and can, therefore, find a bargain and spend their dollars where it counts.

For example, they believe they are not influenced by advertising, branding and other messages designed to persuade. It’s referred to as the ‘third-person’ effect. 

And it is true to a point.

In one study, when participants were exposed to the features of a very expensive product they were subsequently less likely to purchase that item than a more functional one. Presumably, the mere exposure to extravagance deterred individuals from making the superficial choice.

However, when the participants were distracted and not given enough time to think things through, they were more likely to purchase the expensive product.

The reason this happens is that when not given much time to think, we can base our decisions on emotion. The luxury products, for example, make us feel a bit more comfortable and we use this as a quick method to gauge their quality.

So, the third-person effect makes some sense when we have time to really think things through. Unfortunately, many of life’s decisions are made on the run and we are often distracted by choices as well as different views and opinions.

And advertising is relentless. It invades every aspect of our lives: on our pantry shelf, on television, radio, clothing, store windows, labels and billboards. Even written in the sky.

You may think you can logically ignore all this but eventually advertising, luxury brands and other superficialities will weed you out and make you invest in something you don’t really need. After all, you were suckered into reading this fairly superficial blog. And all the way to the end too. That’ll be ten dollars, thanks.

Aesthetics is more than just window dressing (except when you’re working on windows)

in Work Psychology by


Steve Jobs knew instinctively that consumers would want to select their own typefaces or fonts. People don’t just want to read and deliver content. They also want it to look good too.

Since the early days of the Apple Macs, we now have more and more options on how to format and improve the attractiveness of our documents and presentations.Finally there’s research that validates all that tinkering around with fonts, borders, styles, layouts, headers, footers and clip art.


This research shows that working on these aesthetics—that is, the beauty and attractiveness of things—is one of the easiest ways to lower resistance to new ideas.To understand why this is let’s look at one of the main reasons why people resist change: well-ingrained behaviours, beliefs and values.

When the change appears to challenge who we are and what we believe, we react and can dismiss the ideas even if they sensible.

What appears to lower this resistance is getting people to actively think or talk about their personal values or what seems to interest them—called self-affirmation. Self-affirmation appears to anchor and solidify our sense of self so that we don’t feel as threatened when a change is proposed.

A universal value relates to aesthetics. In general, we all value beauty and attractiveness, even if it’s just on an unconscious level. So, by exposing individuals to something which is more aesthetic is a way of reaffirming one of their core values.

For example, in one study individuals were shown a university guidebook which described and showed the campus. One group of participants were exposed to an aesthetically pleasing campus. Another group looked at a campus with a focus on functionality and efficiency.


Aesthetically pleasing


Not aesthetically pleasing

After reviewing the guidebook, participants were presented with options that were either advocated by the researcher or not.Participants exposed to the aesthetically pleasing campus were more inclined to endorse the advocated option. In other words, they were more easily influenced after viewing the aesthetically pleasing material.

In a related study, the researchers found that being shown these aesthetically pleasing products led to increased openness. Participants stated they were more likely engage in certain behaviours like attending a service of a religion they did not practise.

So, spending that little bit of extra time working on the look and feel of a solution isn’t just for your own satisfaction. It could actually make the the difference in persuading someone to your cause.

New Bond film hooks us in with nostalgia

in Film & TV Psychology by



The new James Bond film looks like it might be jumping back in time. It’s called, Spectre, which was the criminal organisation from the early Connery films (remember the dude with the white cat?).

So, why do new films end up going back in time to revisit old ideas? 

Batman Begins took us back to Batman’s origins. Star Trek (2009) introduced us to the early days of Captain Kirk. Superman recently returned to Krypton in the Man of Steel 
and James Bond has saved the day in 24 films.

If you prefer your Bond stirred not shaken, you might like to see something unexpected and different. You might like some of the different approaches used in the Dalton movies, believe that George Lazenby’s one outing was superior to most, or love the more edgy and serious Daniel Craig films.

If you reminisce about the good old days of Connery and Moore, you might prefer your Bond shaken not stirred. That is, you prefer your Bond to be the way he was in the beginning: good humoured womaniser with lots of interesting gadgets to get him out of trouble.

If it’s the latter, your preference might be influenced by nostalgia. 

Nostalgia triggers emotional responses that make us feel more connected to our past, relationships, and promotes feelings of warmth, self-esteem and optimism. 

Filmmakers who tap into nostalgia can connect instantly with an audience by unlocking feel good emotions and memories.

Because we all grew up with Bond at different times, we tend remember those early memories of Bond with fondness. This explains why some people were put off by the absence of Miss Money Penny and in the first two Daniel Craig movies and welcomed them warmly when they returned in Skyfall. 

 Let’s look at some of obvious uses of nostalgia in Bond films.

M confronts Bond for being a misogynist

In GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan was introduced after two decades of Roger Moore’s Bond seducing women one-third his age. M (Judy Dench) blasts Bond for his misogynist ways in a self-aware wink to the audience who have grown up expecting Bond to seduce at least one woman and partner with a second. What happens in Goldeneye? He seduces a woman and partners with another… 

Throwback to Ursula Andress’ iconic beach scene

The iconic beach scene from Dr No(the first Bond film) has been recreated in several Bond films. Halle Berry had a go in Die Another Day, the film that jumped the shark by literally having James Bond jump a tsunami and drive an invisible car–another nostalgic link to the absurd stunts and gadgets in the early Bond films.

As a sign of the times changing, it was now Daniel Craig leaving the water, generating the same nostalgic feelings of the past but now telling the audience we had matured as a species by treating a man like a piece of meat rather than a woman…

The return of the Aston Martin

In the most recent Bond, Skyfall, one of the most overt homages to classic Bond was the return of Bond’s Aston Martin from Goldfinger.

They even use the classic Bond theme, and reference the old ejector seat and machine guns.

Skyfall ending…return to the past

In the symbolic return to the past, Skyfall ends by returning James Bond to M’s classic office with Miss Money Penny now secretary (or is that Personal Assistant now?). 

M is now male again. No doubt director, Sam Mendes, was attempting to pull in the nostalgic good will of the early Bond films. 

The question is whether Mendes wants to continue delving into the past in his sequel,
SpectreGiven this means the return of the evil shadow organisation, Spectre, we might even see a return of the classic Bond villain, Blofield.

Nostalgia is a powerful tool to resonate with the audience but it relies on the good will generated from previous films. I’d prefer to see a new story and for the writers and directors to take some risks.


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