The four-letter code to selling anything | Derek Thompson | TEDxBinghamtonUniversity

 

  • Why do we like what we like?

    • Is there a formal for beauty? For popularity? 

      • The ancient Greeks said yes, the Golden Ratio. 

      • Enlightenment thinkers said it was Kant’s theory of aesthetics 

        • Today we don’t use either of those. We use Google and Facebook. We have advertisers. 

  • In the advertiser formula, the first variable is always novelty. 

    • This is science

    • Several decades ago they studied all the words in all ads, and the most common word was not buy, now, risk-free…. It’s NEW.

      • We are living in a cult of novelty. 

        • Companies want us to want, like, buy, crave new things. The truth is we don’t like novelty, we hate it. 

  • According to the exposure effect, the mere exposure of any stimulus to you over time will bias to towards that stimulus. 

    • Familiarity, good. 

      • i.e. Music: We seek out new music, but we most reliably enjoy those with familiar chord structures and timbres.

      • i.e. Movies: Every year this century the top films are sequels, adaptations, or re-boots. Familiar. 

  • The power of familiarity is best proven by the power of your own face.

    • People prefer the face they see in mirrors to the face they see in photographs.

      • This is the exposure effect.

        • You prefer this version of your face not because it’s you at your most beautiful, but it’s you at your most familiar. 

    • The evolutionary theory for the preference for the familiar is that if you’re a hunter-gatherer, trolling the savannah, and you see a plant or an animal and you recognize it, it’s a good sign that it hasn’t killed you yet. So of course you prefer it. 

  • This creates an enormous problem for creators and creative types. 

    • People only like new things if they’re just like old things. 

      • The question is: How do you balance familiarity and surprise? In such a way as to design hits? Things that people love?

        • Is it possible to engineer a familiar surprise? 

  • Raymond Loewy - Industrial Designer - "designed the 20th century" 

    • A French orphan who came to the U.S. after WWI, 1920s

      • Expects to see a world that is beautiful, round, feminine. The NYC he sees is grungy, noisy, the hulkiness of the Industrial Age.

        • He says I'm going to devote the rest of my life to beautifying America in my image.

          • He designed the 1953 Stutebaker. The Pennyslvania Railroad GG1. The modern Greyhound Bus, the modern tractor, the modern Coca-Cola fountain, the modern pencil-sharpener that looks like an egg. The logos for Exxon and USPS. He designed almost all of 1950s Americana. 

    • What did this man understand about human psychology that he knew what we wanted form planes, trains and automobiles. 

      • He was like Don Draper meets Steve Jobs ​

      • He had a grand theory of everything, called MAYA: 

        • Most advanced, yet acceptable. ​

          • Human preferences are torn between 2 opposing forces: ​​

            • Neophilia - a love and appreicate for the new, a need to discover​

            • Neophobia - a fear of anything too new, a deep conservativeness

            • Hits live right at the intersection of the familiar surprise

      • To sell something familiar, you have to sell something surprising. ​

      • To sell something surprising, you have to make it familiar. 

  • Academics: To become a star in your discipline, you need to get your work published by the most famous publishers. 

    • You ​are essentially giving up your research to people who are essentially your audience 

      • In 2014 researchers from Harvard wanted to figure out the formula for a "hit paper" - most likely to be accepted by the NIH ​

        • Not extremely novel​

  • Same with fashion trends

    • Skinny jeans are fashionable, then not, then fashionable again... ​

  • Same with how people name their children 

    • Marketing is impossible in the marketplace of first names. ​

    • All exist, all cost the same price. 

    • Follow the same lifecycles as clothes 

      • People prefer names that are familiar but surprising. 

        • Name popularity follows these rising and falling curves (work of Stanley Lieberson) ​

  • Politics -- in the age of hyper partisanship / polizariation 

    • Can't say "Don't like Donald Trump because his policies are cruel to Hispanics."​

      • The people that support him probably like his discriminatory policies. 

    • Invert the process: Appeal to their own code of ethics:

      • Piggy-back off of their familiarities ​

      • The Moral Foundations Theory

        • When you're debating with someone, it's always more beneficial to begin with their code of ethics and slow-walk them towards the center

          • Show how their ​position might leak into your position. 

        • All debate involves a form of ideological advertising. 

          • In polemics and products both, to make it MAYA, make it familiar. ​

      • i.e. "One of the things that I've always respected about the Republican party is their emphasis on patriotism, putting country over self, and seeking service. Help me think through times in Donald Trump's business career when he's been a paragon of these values." 

        • You'll get a lot father than if you first put forth principles that the person you're speaking to disagrees with.