Beyond The Nudge: creativity meets Behavioural science
Ogilvy's Jules Chalkley and Dan Bennett on how brands can use behavioural science for effective creative strategies
25 January 2024
Last summer the Mayor of London’s office launched a campaign telling men to ‘have a word’ with themselves and other men who are behaving problematically towards women. Created by Ogilvy UK, the campaign asked men to ‘say maaate to a mate’ if they witness misogynistic behaviour - drawing on research that found young men feel they don’t know how to intervene or what to say when they do see that kind of behaviour, even among friends or family. Informed by a ground-breaking and in-depth behavioural science study conducted by Ogilvy Consulting, the campaign helped men and boys confidently step in when they witness misogyny.
The much awarded campaign (Including a D&AD Pencil and a Gold Effies for effectiveness) was a refreshing solution to an age-old issue still embedded in modern-day society and squarely put the onus on men to question their own cowardice and to speak up to get their mates to shift their behaviour and their misogynist biases. It's the kind of work - behavioural science that informs commercial creativity to boost its impact - that Ogilvy UK want to make more of.
"This is just one example of the how to achieve creative impact by hard-wiring behavioural science into the very beginning of the creative process. It starts with making sure you’re focusing your creative energy in the right place, which is identifying and understanding the behaviour you’re really trying to change. And we want to do more of this with our clients," says Jules Chalkley, chief executive creative director at Ogilvy UK. The agency is famously the torchbearer of behavioural science, with copywriter-turned-behavioural science expert and and vice chair of Ogilvy UK - Rory Sutherland, who set up the practice at the agency. Chalkley and Dan Bennett, UK lead of the behaviour science consulting team at Ogilvy, are now trying to pull behavioural science into the very heart of its creative process - and in the process help brands turbo-charge creativity through behavioural science. "With huge disruptions coming from AI, the overload on our CMOs and marketing leaders is only looking like it will increase over coming years, and so it’s critical we understand how our brains work, how behaviours work. It is about how best to unpack our messy world and how marketing can thrive in it with creativity at its heart," according to Bennett.
Creative Salon sat down with Chalkley and Bennett to understand how the agency is going to "formalise" bringing behavioural science into its creative process and what that might mean for its clients.
Creative Salon: Behavioural science meets creativity. Are you merging two disciplines in what you call a "new way of working"?
Jules Chalkley: One of the things that we've been seeing is that creative and strategic process has been evolving to meet modern times, so what we've been increasingly doing is pulling behavioural science into the very heart of our creative process. We're talking about the intersection of disciplines here - we're going to hardwire behavioural science into the creative act. As we go into 2024, it's gonna be quite a big deal. And when you see the impact that it has - in our work and for our clients it's almost insane. So we're going to formalise it this year in a very big way. We are going to put some science behind understanding why do people behave like the way they do? What are the triggers? What are the reasonings? As creatives we like to observe, we like to understand these motivations and desires - but behavioural science when used creatively can expand the range of possible solutions to problems. The Mayor of London campaign is a great example - it demonstrates the power of one word to stop low level misogyny in its tracks.
Another example is our work Philadelphia Cheese - which brings alive the insight that Philadelphia is seen as an inherently comforting and social way to connect. In fact we won the pitch primarily on the behavioural science insight unlocking why we eat cheese, how we think about milk and soft cheese products and how cheese can help anchor key moments throughout a friendship. It sounds quite mad but actually it was fucking brilliant. It helped us win the pitch and produce some great work.
Dan Bennett: Philadelphia is an interesting example - one of the reasons we're so deeply comforted by cheese products is that we have them so early in life. And that creates all these positive associations early on, so with cheese it's what's happening in the head rather than what's happening in the mouth that is important - and these insights can be quite stimulating for the creative process.
We've had the behavioural science laboratory for 11 years, and like Jules said, together with the creative department we've got some great things off the ground. Remember there are hundreds of levers in the brain that you can pull to get people to change. And I think the creatives find that very liberating.
CS: You could argue that most creatives delight in exploring multiples avenues and endless opportunities. Are your creatives embracing this process where behavioural science meets creativity?
Dan Bennett: When using behavioural science, we can be much sharper defining the problem. And tighter the brief, obviously, the better the solution. We know that creatives are possibility seekers and that's the magic of the brain. Behavioural science tells us that we have the conscious and the unconscious brains - the System 1 and System 2. (System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 is associated with the subjective experience of choice). Within that unconscious brain, psychologists have identified over 150 different principles and levers that when pulled can change behaviour. Our instincts only really cover about ten of those. So what's nice is that we're giving more springboards to the creative process.
This intersection is also a testament of egoless leadership. It's not easy to put two different types of departments together where everybody thinks they know best. But when budgets and deadlines are tight, what behavioural science does is it gives us some tools and frameworks about how the mind really works, rather than how we think it does work. And that leads to impactful creative work.
Jules Chalkley: For me the definition of creativity is that when you come into contact with it, it leaves the audience changed. That is kind of true of music and art and film, but it should definitely be true of commercial creativity.
A creative is always trying to create something that changes the audience somehow, yeah. When you add the science of behaviour to that you're just given more useful levers to make that change happen in the audience. Let's use the Mayor of London's campaign example again. We know that young men are aware of acts of misogyny, they know what it looks like. And they know when it's in front of them, they just don't know how to stop it. So creatively we could have come up with all sorts of interesting slogans. But fundamentally you've got to arm men with something that they can use to solve the act. And that actually is something that behavioural science provides, rather than the creative brain because I think the creative brain wouldn't get to the exact deep lever. I don't want to call behavioural science a bolt on to our creative department, because that sort of undermines it. It's a really interesting new relationship that we're building into our creative process. Our creative department is loaded with real variety of a cognitive skill sets - a very unique and impactful offering.
CS: How will the CMOs and their brands benefit? Would they need to brief you differently as an agency? Will this offering attract a different type of client to the agency?
Dan Bennett: We know marketers wouldn't know how to go from their business objective to their behavioural objective, and they are not trained to ask behavioural scientists questions about how to reach their objective. But that is the point of Ogilvy UK having this approach where creativity and behavioural science sits together and we help define the problems that our clients have. I remember working on a project for Kimberly Clark to reduce the stigma around adult diapers. In that instance, if you called the condition manageable bladder weakness rather than bladder weakness, then people realise that they could do something about it. It's one word, but when we get to work together and find the right lever to pull, then we start to have winners even in the categories that doesn't really usually win. With huge disruptions coming from AI, the overload on our CMOs and marketing leaders is only looking like it will increase over coming years, and so it’s critical we understand how our brains work, how behaviours work. It is about how best to unpack our messy world and how marketing can thrive in it with creativity at its heart.
Jules Chalkley: So the guys had a really interesting brief around site safety in a manufacturing plant, about people losing their digits in machinery. You could have gone around putting up loads of posters saying fingers will fall off if you don't watch it. But the creative answer was actually to make some work gloves with the outline of the bones in your hands. So you knew that you're putting something very fragile on into these machines. Creatively that's a really clever and a very effective solution. That is the hope that we build behavioural science into broader narrative of what we do as an agency - be more effective and impactful and be much more unexpected and creative.
For clients the advantage is clear- there is a huge business advantage.