Cognitive dissonance

I’ve just seen a great poster, but I’m confused. It’s a six sheet poster at a bus stop in Frankfurt. It’s just a simple picture of a plate with a knife and fork on either side.

At the bottom is the client’s logo: Fisch Franke. Then the line “Fresh as can be”. But the thing that makes people stop and stare is the poster has live fish swimming around inside it.

See it’s basically a big fish tank and the poster is at the back. And it’s a great poster. It’s got impact, memorability, talkability, communication, and persuasion in spades.

I didn’t go the Frankfurt to see it. My daughter sent me a link to it on YouTube, so it’s even gone viral. Not bad for a 6 sheet poster at a bus stop in Frankfurt. Brilliant poster and I wish I’d done it.

Except. What I found strange was that everyone thought the fish were cute and fascinating and watchable. Clearly these people loved fish. Children were trying to attract the fish to the front of the glass so they could make faces at them.

Probably they even give them names and come back to the poster, again and again, to look for their favourites. But the poster is promising to kill fish just like these for you to eat. Isn’t that strange?

We really find the fish cute, and yet the poster’s promise is to kill fish exactly like these and put them on our plate, asap. And it works because it powerfully demonstrates the most important aspect of buying fish to eat. Freshness.

I think it’s a great poster, and I’m a vegetarian. So I’m confused.

I was on a radio show once, being interviewed by Lorraine Kelly. She asked me if I didn’t feel guilty at the way advertising portrayed animals. I asked her what she meant.
She said that advertising always made fun of animals. As an example she said the PG Chimps campaign trivialised monkeys.

I asked her why that was a problem. She said it wasn’t fair to trivialise animals, as it would encourage people to disrespect them and treat them badly. I asked her if she was a vegetarian. She said she wasn’t, but what did that have to do with it?

I said if I was an animal I’d rather people laughed at me than killed me and ate me. So I thought her attitude was hypocritical. She said she didn’t mind killing cows and pigs and sheep because they weren’t cute. But monkeys were cute and she wouldn’t kill and eat them.

What she said made no sense to me, but it made perfect sense to her. And vice versa.

People don’t conform to a universally agreed set of rational beliefs. People aren’t as simply predictable as we’d like to believe. They don’t always fit onto the one-dimensional PowerPoints we use for client presentations.

Sometimes things happen that shouldn’t happen. Sometimes things just don’t make sense, but they work anyway. Sometimes it’s hard to understand people.

And that’s awkward when that’s our business. That’s why we have to reinvent the wheel every time. That’s why briefs can’t be done on auto-pilot. That’s why the creative process starts before the brief is written, not after.

In fact confusion may not be a bad place to start. Come at problems out of a question, not out of an answer.

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    Any communication must make an immediate and recognisable connection with the consumer. In the case of the particular six-sheet poster (thanks, I had forgotten that nostalgic usage) you refer to, the consumer does not expect to see live fish in it. That’s the novelty, but it does not support what clearly needs to be communicated. Effective use of such a medium such as OOH requires exploitation of what seems normal, but is not, thereby drawing attention to the key message.
    To illustrate my point, here is a link to a recent example from India that reminds me of the classic ‘cars-stuck-to-hoarding’ Araldite campaign that ran in London decades ago.

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    Nice post Dave.

    Thanks for bringing the poster to my attention as i didn’t know of this. Really simple and lovely ‘ambient’ poster. Spot on in that it became viral. Suppose everything is documented and filmed to be put online I suppose.

    One thing…why is the strapline in English eventhough they are in Frankfurt?

  • Ed McCabe had a new product idea for our pet food client, Ralston Purina, at Scali in Toronto. A cat food called Birds Fish & Mice. Ed liked it a lot. But while cat owners misapply all sorts anthropomorphic virtues to their pets, the fact that moggy is partial to ripping the heads off furry animals is something they generally prefer to ignore.

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    The poster likely used goldfish or tropical fish rather than the actual fish being caught, killed and sold by the company because a) they’re cuter and b) Its easier to disconnect the idea of killing the fish from eating them if a variant is used.

    Most meat-eaters are hypocritical, they dont mind seeing lambs and finding them sweet whilst eating lamb at the same time. They simply switch off to the process of slaughter as long as the final product is presented in an appealing way.

    I think packaging and presentation are critical factors – helping the consumer to focus on the positive elements of the food rather than the negative elements of how it got to your plate.

  • Dave, why don’t we push the moral relativity to its logical conclusion and put live human beings inside ads on a billboard? You know, people who are mentally ill, or even criminals; perhaps helpless foreigners we could trick into participating; or just people we don’t like? After all, the ads are about people and for people. And, as long as it’s not us inside the ads, it doesn’t really matter, does it? It’d be a great laugh. And probably win a design prize. What do you think?

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    Mark – interesting suggestion. I could even see this happening, although maybe with paid participants! Not sure what it would achieve, but I’m sure someone, somewhere will find a good excuse to do it, if it hasn’t been done already?

  • Live posters. Thailand for Axe (Lynx in the UK) had a guy in the centre of a poster with girls crawling towards him (in velcro suits). Created dwell time, water cooler debate and crucially demonstrated the brand promise. Perfect for youtube and mobile pass on via photo (except that it was done about 7-8 years ago!)

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    @ Andy Knell

    Why is finding lambs cute, and also being happy to eat them, hypocritical?

    The two facts have nothing to do with each other.

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    You don’t think it’s hypocritical to stroke something, cuddle it, be kind to it, say how cute it is and how much you love it, and then kill it for your pleasure?

    This illustrates the dilemma I’m talking about, that you and I can’t understand each other.

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    …You know, people who are mentally ill, or even criminals; perhaps helpless foreigners we could trick into participating…

    Mark; I’m sorry, I misread this as “topless foreigners” first time through. My mistake. Carry on.

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    Hi Dave,

    To answer your question, no, I don’t. I know what you are saying, but I think it’s a fallacy that there is some disconnect between liking animals, and liking eating them. I don’t think the animal should be mistreated while its alive, it should be kept in acceptable conditions and when the time comes for it to be killed it should be done in as humane a method as is practicable, but ultimately, it’s been bred to feed us.

    Are you a hypocrite if you admire a beautiful forest, with magnificent trees, and then go home to eat your dinner off your wooden dining table?

    Anyway, we’re drifting from the point of your thoughtful article, which I do agree with.


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    I love to eat meat and fish, and yet I have the utmost respect for wildlife. How can I live with myself? I come from a long family of farmers and trawlermen. I believe in cultivating food for mankind to eat. The process of responsible farming ensures healthy cattle and sheep will graze our land for generations to come because where there is a demand there has to be a supply, and so agriculture ensures the survival of farmed species. Basically, I get over it by telling myself: “If it’s good enough for Jesus and his mates, it’s good enough for me”.

    On the other hand, I went diving in the Red Sea every weekend for two years, dived with Sharks, Barracuda, and met a 40 ft monster eel 120 feet down, 16 miles out in the sea who I never want to see again, but I never took even a knife with me. Why? Because I respect nature and accept I am powerless over it. If it’s my turn to be on the menu, then so be it. My friends decided one night to go night diving and hunting. I went with them, but refused to take part in any spearfishing. However, when it came to eating the fish, I felt it would be wrong not to eat it after it had been slaughtered. This would just have been a total waste of good food.

    Having been brought up in a family of Catholics who constantly reminded me of the starving millions in Africa, it was a mortal sin to leave anything on a plate at all.
    Gratitude to livestock has been embedded in my psyche to the point where I have no moral dilemma eating meat or fish. The only question I have is whether the killing is appropriate or necessary. When diving, I used to feed a one-toothed Puffer Fish in Jeddah. He used to follow me like my old pet dog around the sea bed. I loved that fish. Crazy as it may sound, we formed a bond. I also nearly had my right hand ripped-off when we were doing a beach clean 20 feet down, when underneath a sheet of scrap metal was a very angry 9 foot Eel I unknowingly evicted from his scrap metal home. Was it morally right to clean the beach?

    The ad mentioned works. It’s a great idea. Could I put goldfish in a 6 sheet poster and sleep easy with it? I think not. But who knows how the goldfish feel? Maybe they’re having the time of their life until some drunken moron smashes the glass.
    I’m not too sure how the German mentality would view it, but I think you’d have animal rights activists over here going mental.

    People pander to cats and dogs over here because they’re “sweet” which I believe means they remind them of themselves, and therefore make them inedible as it seems like a form of cannibalism, while in the Far East there have been stories of live monkeys being eaten at a restaurant as a delicacy. For me it’s all about knowing where to draw the line and on this one the line is confused.
    That’s why it works for me. It’s food for thought.

  • Only yesterday, we were moving furniture around the office and someone yelled, “Coo-eee Mr Shifter. Light refreshments?” It must be 20 years since that particular PG Tips ad ran.

    The use of live animals doesn’t make for a successful ad. A ‘live idea’ does. The fish in the poster were as fresh as they’ll ever be. I have eaten every kind of meat served up to ‘civilised man’. I have also turn vegetarian. I love meat. Raw meat, offal and skin. However, I can no longer deal with how mankind assumes it can do what it likes, where and when it likes. Because we are the superior being. I don’t feel that way. I didn’t when I ate meat. But slaughter is slaughter. What the hell, I’m going to quote Morrisey (God help me), meat is murder. My daughter had a goldfish. A typical 15 year old. She neither fed it nor cleaned it out. My wife and I did that. Anyway, eventually the fish died. My daughter wouldn’t go near the fish. Not because she was sad, but because dead things make her queasy. We live by the sea. Rather than flush it, I took it outside and tossed it on to the back lawn whereupon a a waiting seagull swooped and swallowed it in one. My daughter (and my wife) accused me of being cruel for fascilitating what happens in nature to live fish. The idea of the fish was cuddly. The stark realities of life are not so cuddly. Absolutely guys, I’m as confused as the rest of us.

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    There are many great logical reasons for vegetarianism, both for the future vof the planet and for personal health.
    But none of them affected me as much as Jeremy Bentham’s remark.
    He was the founder of Utilitarinism in the 19th century.
    He was asked why he advocated vegetarianism when animals can’t even think.
    He said, “The question, sir, is not ‘Can they think?’ It is ‘Can they suffer?”

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    Spoken like well fed people.

    Someone once said, “I’d eat you if I was hungry enough!” Glad I didn’t know that guy. Yech.

    It is because we have moved past the state of nature and have access to grains and fresh veggies year round that we can even consider the option. We shouldn’t forget how lucky we are in that, I mean compared to the 99% of humans who have lived and died on this planet so far. I think it very important to keep that up front in my mind during debates such as these. I just can’t judge hungry, desparate, parents.

    Just an entirely new realm we are in here. And yes, an entirely new realm of issues facing us. In short: I don’t quite follow the moral argument for vegitarianism. But I do readily understand the ecological argument for it. Very much so.


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    I agree and,if we had no grains and had to eat meat, I’d be the first to do it.
    But we don’t have to eat meat, in this country, for food.
    We do it purely for pleasure, so we don’t get to hide behind need.
    We kill other living creatures, and make them suffer for our pleasure, because we like the taste, that’s all.

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    So lets take the cruelty/suffering out of the equation and agree to sacrifice our animals humanely. Every farmer knows you don’t want to scare the animal as you approach it.

    I think, then, that we agree. Eating Meat/Not Eating Meat is a luxury of our times. There is no compelling need for it.

    I think, though, that when we talk like this that we are becoming too divorced here from our own nature, and are showing our urbane (bourgeois, sorry) distaste for blood and guts our own inexperience with the wild look of animal eyeballs – excepting the conference room. We are becoming divorced from our physical animal nature beause of the times we live in. It’s that old Carteasian mind/body distinction again! I swear Rene gets on my nerves. His world view distances itself so, sets itself apart, from the meat and sinew of life.

    It’s not like the mind is over *here*, and the body is over *there* Rene. Jeez.

    I think we need to identify a little more with the blood and guts and shit that are coursing through us. Maybe try not so hard to separate the all-out sacrifice and renewal we see in nature, from our own mindful nature. Its not such a bad idea to sacrifice one’s belief-systems on a regular basis – why is this a bad thing in the corporal realm? Just saying the dissonance which underlies this discussion is based on a false *Cartesian* distinction and is begging for a more unified approach.


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    Very interesting Michael.
    Maybe the confusion lies in Kant’s synthetic a priori.
    We create the world in our mind (without even knowing we do it) assume we’re living in a seperate external world (Descartes) and then interpret that world (Locke) totally subjectively, without any proof at all that it exists (Berkely) and live as if our deductions were fact (Hume).
    Lots of places for confusion to happen.
    As Buddha said “All there is is mind”.

  • Matthew Alderwick

    Good article, nice joke…  Though I’m not sure clicking on a banner ad for a free £100 some how belies the lack of value in banner ads.  At least the internet is forcing creatives to realise ROI, and business people to recognise the competitive edge often lies within the creative. 

  • Richard Evans


    To “the creatives who like to pay their mortgage” add “the creatives forced to realise ROI”.


  • nick chaffe

    If a banner ad is saying “£100 free if you click here” it looks like a hoax.

  • mike fromowitz

    Please, don’t stop your model:  “Rant rant silly joke rant rant.” We all take ourselves far too seriously in this business.
    A guy walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says, “A beer please, and one for the road.”

  • Gareth Abbit

    As a ‘creative’ this quote fascinates me: “creative endeavour will never fully flourish when the only imperative is profit”. Cracknell seems to be saying that great creativity comes at a cost. True, but he’s not saying at a cost to the client, he’s saying at a cost to the agency. In other words, reduced agency profits will allow more creativity. This statement seems to completely under-value creativity, saying that the client shouldn’t have to pay for it.
    Of course return on investment is the focus for every business, profits are what keep us doing
    what we’re doing.
    And that is producing the best creative that money can buy.

  • Andrew Cracknell

    There’s an erroneous assumption followed by a non-sequitur in Gareth Abbits reaction to my quote above. Of course the client should pay – it’s not being done for the sake of it, it’s being done for the client.
    “Reduced agency profits will allow more creativity” is not only non-sequitorial, its bewildering. Agency profits could be reduced for all sorts of reasons, none of them to do with the cost or otherwise of creativity – like, for example, the weight of the Chairman’s wedge.
    Earlier in the piece from my excellent book, “The Real Mad Men”, I’d made the point that advertising had painted itself into a corner where there is no appetite, let alone budget, for failure. This is a contradiction for a creative endeavour; creativity by definition is a trip into the unknown and that must from time to time incur waste and failure. But that is not permissible when “the only imperative is profit”. Voila.
    As to ROI – but of course, we must have it. But let’s not make the mistake of believing that creativity is a servant of ROI. It isn’t – it’s part of it, it’s an Investment, just like new products and new premises. As such, it contains its own risks – and like all risks, they can occasionally be costly.
    Anyway, I was reminiscing with Steve about when he used to keep sea birds. “Egrets, wasn’t it?”
    He looked into the distance for a moment; “Egrets?” he said; “I’ve had a few… but then again, too few to mention…”  

  • ian mcarthur

    Very fair point about banner ads. Clients seem to think they are some sort of new creative holy grail – “Can you do banner ads” they ask as if someone has told them only the chosen few can. Explain the technical limitations etc etc and then ask if they think we could put them on TV or a dps in the S Times then they start to get it.