Restraint is the Secret To Brand Success
The Ogilvy Consulting partner and UK lead argues why behavioural constraints get to ideas that change behaviours
09 June 2022
I want you to think of all the possible uses of a spoon. Write them down (and don’t be filthy!). On average when we give ourselves a minute, we will generate about 12 ideas. Now I want you to think of all the possible uses of a spoon in the kitchen. Now the bathroom. Now the garage. Now your car. Each of these additional constraints usually generates about 5 additional ideas. These are all thoughts you technically could have had without the constraints of rooms, but you didn’t.
It sounds counter-intuitive that we can squeeze more out of our brains by constraining ourselves more. Blue sky thinking has its limits. Your brain generates ideas by colliding thoughts together and so freedom is not its friend. What you need is to think inside of lots of little boxes to empty your brain of all its goodness.
Now brands aren’t often short of constraints to offer the creative process. We have the budget for one thing, we have the audience insight, the channel will offer its own constraints, as will a surprising number of stakeholder opinions! But all of those are circumstantial constraints.
For brands to be able to achieve the holy grail and change behaviour, they need to ground their efforts in the science of how people think, decide and act. You design a chair to fit the human body, you should design your creative output to fit the human mind.
Used wisely, behavioural insights can open up the solution space. It can be an innovation tool which fills the whiteboard with ideas routed in how their heads are really wired.
Used wrongly and it is creativity’s worst nightmare. It shrinks the solution space to a bland set of obvious ideas, that are smugly correct and creatively bereft. It’s the agency nerds with a clipboard telling you all the reasons why your idea doesn’t work.
But when it’s set up to be creativity’s best friend, wonder flourishes.
Once upon a time we had to find a way to get Mexican young boys to consume healthier drinks at home. Rather than reach for the carbonated beverages they loved, we wanted to nudge them towards fruit juices as a better alternative.
Whilst it would be tempting to take a very sensible celebrity endorsement route, or a packed lunch strategy … instead we pushed to open up the solution space.
Our Behavioural Scientist on the project shared the counter-intuitive insight of the ‘Effort-Reward Heuristic’, where the more effort we put into something the more we value the reward. After endlessly thinking of ways to increase juice consumption we constrained ourselves only to ideas using that heuristic.
And the Arm-Wrestling Juicer was born.
If we can get boys to make their own juice, they would value it more. And if we make it a Lucha Libre character which they can arm wrestle … we have ourselves a behaviour changed.
Had we had let circumstantial constraints lead the creative process we would have had interesting ideas, but not necessarily effective ones. By forcing ourselves to think creatively around behavioural constraints, we liberate brands to go beyond the obvious and towards creative solutions that change behaviour.
So, if CMOs want to get to more effective ideas, they need to start with an understanding of how people operate and to identify the right behavioural constraints. Because behavioural constraints get to ideas that change behaviours.
Nudgestock 2022, the world’s biggest #behaviouralscience festival, is this Friday, June 10th. Curated by Ogilvy Consulting, now in its 10th year, it will stream live for 10 hours and is free to attend. Speakers include top business Influencer Stephen Bartlett, Obama’s behavioural specialist Maya Shankar, Goldsmith’s VR expert Sylvia Xueni Pan, Whitehouse speech writer and author Daniel Pink and many more. Register at www.nudgestock.com
12 uses of a spoon
1. Something to eat with
2. A musical instrument
3. For gardening
4. A sculpture
5. A mirror
7. Escaping prison
8. Killing spider
10. Starting a fire
12. Ineffectively defending yourself and rowing
Daniel Bennett is partner and UK lead at Ogilvy Consulting