The incoming president of the IPA, Rory Sutherland, recently laid out his vision for the future of the advertising industry. He said a lot of positive things (more on this bit another time, so hold on to your cynicism for the moment):
“In promoting what we do, we should never underestimate the value our thinking can bring to wider society. Indeed part of the answer to the world’s environmental problems may lie in our hands. ‘Making people happy with less stuff’ is one of the fundamental challenges of the next 20 years, and it is, at its heart, a problem we are rather well placed to help solve. Intangible value is probably the most sustainable form you can create.”
Other tit-bits, however, would have been harder for the hardened ad-man to swallow:
“It concerns me how limited is the current understanding of how advertising changes behaviour – assuming it acts through conscious, rational persuasion and not much else… it alarms me that I can now learn more about the fundamentals of human nature from buying a £15 book than I seem to learn from the millions spent on conventional market research.”
But fear not, Don Draper, for Rory has a plan:
“…expect to see the IPA more deeply involved in related areas of consumer psychology, behavioural economics, herd theory, social theory and so on.”
To someone who may end up investing his career in this business, this is a good, honest, reassuring assessment. There is clearly a lot of progress to be made though, and perhaps the best I can hope for is to get a head start. In that spirit I spent much of this afternoon flinging myself from one blog to another, trying to approach behaviour change from angles other than ads. The most promising lead I found was when I took a run and a jump into the world of ‘Design with Intent’ by Dan Lockton:
“The variety of approaches to designing behaviour change, from different fields and disciplines, might loosely be described as Design with Intent, that is, strategic design intended to result in certain user behaviour.
While applied in very different contexts – choice architecture of supermarket shelves, default cycles on washing machines, avoiding assembly errors in manufacturing, making it safer for pedestrians to cross the street – the DwI techniques can be abstracted to a set of possible ‘tools’ (both physical and psychological) which can then be applied to other situations where a certain target behaviour is desired on the part of the user.”
For the last couple of years Dan has been working on a P.H.D at Brunel University, where he is developing a toolkit – a taxonomy – of ‘DwI’. He intends this toolkit to be employed in the design of sustainable behaviour and his website is bursting at the seams with case-studies that slot into the model. It will take me a good while to familiarise myself with the outline of the thing (v.0.9.), but I am convinced it will be time well spent.
And to help ensure that I do invest the time, I engineered the first dose of ‘design with intent’ into the blog this afternoon. By telling friends of its existence, I have now made my future commitment, or lack of commitment, visible. Like an exercise routine on Nike+ or the publishing of MPs expenses, failure is now failure for everyone to see.
Dan Lockton would file this kind of cheap trick along with CCTV in ‘surveillance’: “If people think others can see what they’re doing, they often change their behaviour in response, through guilt, fear of censure, embarrassment or another mechanism.” So, keep your eyes peeled.