CLUSTERING: LESS REALLY IS MORE

When I was a junior copywriter at BMP, one of the first commercials I did was for Pepsi Cola.
“Lipsmackin,thirstquenchin,acetastin….(etc)……”
I asked the account man, David Jones, how it was doing.
He said, “Well it’s certainly caught on. But I’m not sure how much good it’s doing us.”
I asked him what he meant.
He said “Well, I was at a motorway services at the weekend, and a father came in with two young boys.
The father said “What do you want to drink?”
The boys said “Two cans of Pepsi.”
The father said to the man at the counter “Two cans of Coke please.”
And the man gave him two can of own-label cola.
And no one noticed any difference.”
That’s how it is in the real world.
We like to think the public inspect all brands under a jeweller’s eyepiece.
The truth is they don’t.
Sheena Iyengar is Business Professor at Columbia University.
She specialises in the way people make choices.
In her TED lecture, she talked about conducting research groups in Russia.
As you’d expect, her team provided refreshments for the respondents.
First the basics: cans of Coke.
But, as some people prefer Pepsi, they had cans of that too.
Then, for people watching their weight, cans of Diet Coke.
And, again, Diet Pepsi for people who preferred that.
Then some cans of Sprite, which has a lemon flavour.
Cans of Dr Pepper, which has a cherry flavour.
And cans of Mountain Dew, which has a fruity flavour.
So they laid out a choice of 7 different canned drinks.
The interesting thing was that the Russian respondents saw it as one choice. Cans of fizzy drink.
For them the ‘brands’ were artificial, just different labels on the can.
They hadn’t been ‘educated’ in brand preferences.
For Sheena Iyengar this was surprising.
She’d grown up in America, the land of the brand.
So she’d assumed infinite choice was everyone’s goal.
The more choice the better.
For the first time she saw that was just an artificial construct.
That the mind doesn’t see, or need, infinite choice.
In fact infinite choice can be unsettling, disorientating.
Recently, I heard about an experiment conducted in a supermarket.
They set up two displays of spaghetti sauce.
One display featured 6 different kinds of sauce.
The other display featured 24 different kinds of sauce.
As you’d expect, thirty per cent more people stopped to look at the display with more kinds of sauce.
But here’s the bit you wouldn’t expect.
Thirty per cent more people actually bought sauce at the display with less kinds of sauce.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about choice on TED.
Gladwell says the fact is, the mind doesn’t need and can’t handle infinite choice.
The mind works on ‘clustering’.
When the choice is over a certain size, the mind clusters the choices into groups.
Because 24 is too big a number to handle, we need to reduce the choice to something manageable, say 6.
So we look for similarities and create, say, 3 or 4 clusters.
Then we choose one particular cluster and we choose from within that cluster.
What was difficult for Sheena Iyengar, was the realisation that clusters take precedence over brands.
People don’t choose a brand first, then see what they make.
They create clusters first, and then brand preference may make a difference.
The truth is we don’t want infinite choice.
With infinite choice it’s almost impossible to choose.
It’s too much.
So we are always looking for a way to reduce choice.
To find ways to knock options off the list.
To get it down to manageable size.
That’s what clusters are about.
When I was a youngster, some of my friends used to go to the wasteland near the Thames and collect eggs from birds’ nests.
I said I thought it was cruel.
They said it wasn’t cruel if there were more than five eggs in the nest.
I asked why.
They said “Birds can’t count beyond five.
So if there are 7 eggs in the nest and you take one, she won’t notice.
She’ll continue to hatch all the eggs as if nothing’s happened
But if there are only 4 eggs there and you take one, she will notice.
Then she might abandon the nest and all the eggs will die.”
Living beings naturally think in clusters.
That’s how the mind works.
That’s what makes thinking manageable

The trick isn’t just to increase choice.
The trick is to manage choice.

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    So true Dave that’s why I hate going to Top Shop, I always have to cluster – when I should just be thinking ‘I don’t need anymore clothes for heavens sake’
    But I have to say I LOVE your first TV ad and had no idea you did it (so did my mum at the time I remember) I also still love Pepsi and Malcolm Gladwell.

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    The trouble with choice is I always make the wrong one

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    Many years ago (10) I created a training experience for a top five bank and the premise was that choice was fogging the view of the consumer. Too much of anything is negative. Did they go with it? Did they bugger. Deeply satisfying to me me though that they’re all now jumping on this ‘ere brandwagon.

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    Christmas. I can recommend an unorthadox ‘trust and train your gut programme’. Read the horse racing cards in the morn. Choose. pay no heed to riders, tariners, form in any sense. I’ve been doing this for a while now…and I win.

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    Hi Sue,
    I really like that you describe yourself as a Creative Director and Brand Strategist.
    I’ve never heard it before but thinking strategically is what all real creatives should be doing.
    One quibble (IMHO) I’d drop the word brand,
    Great Creative Directors are always strategists, but not all strategies are brand-strategies (COI for instance).

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    Dave, when choosing my favourite line of the day u have given me no choice whatsoever – “Birds can’t count beyond five.” Thanks.

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    Hi Dave. I get your point and no quibble from my end. However. The folks on the client side (on the whole) in my experience need hangers they understand, hence brand. When I’m ‘in’ I say I’m a creative strategist, which is closer to the mark.

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    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7vfl5iRueU

    look at what i found. they don’t make them or write endlines like that anymore. just brilliant.

    think i used to know a bloke like that too 🙂

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    Hi Dave,
    Russians don’t warm to Pepsi or Coke because they’ve been brought up on Kvas. It used to turn up like a mini petrol tanker in the street and a lady would pour out Kvas as and when her Comrades asked for it. Kvas is like an alcohol free beer made from black bread. The Russians always manage their choice.
    I walked around Moscow one day with a lady and her heavy bag. I took her bag for her and my arms almost touched my knees by the end of the day. Walking back to my flat with her and a friend, I said: “Come up and have something to eat you both must be starving”. To my amazement she said: “Ah good, I knew I’d eat somewhere today, but I wasn’t quite sure where”. Then she opened her bag and pulled out a bag of Karpusta (Sourcrout) Sleivki (Cream), a Pork Belly, an Aluminium Pot, some Condiments, a bayleaf, and a bottle of Kvas, for all of us to share. She coudn’t carry the cooker, so she borrowed mine! (I’m most thankful to say).

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    Kevin, great story, you have had some amazing adventures.
    Sue, both your comments are very perceptive.

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    Another excellent post. It reminds me of a cut scene from the Borat movie. Borat goes from shelf to shelf of an American supermarket pointing at different displays. “What is this?” The manager says “Cheese”. “And this?” “Cheese”. “And this?” “Cheese” and so on for display after display. Too much can be as bad as too little.

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    I can assure you I didn’t plan any of it Dave, It just happens.

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    Choice is vastly overrated, you can tell because politicans bang on about it endlessly.
    I used to employ my own ‘strategic planning’ with bands when presenting their album artwork. However many concepts the designer had done I only ever showed them 3 maximum and only ever talked at length about 1 (the one I liked). Nearly all of them chose that one or could articluate why not. Prior to that when an act (of 4 individuals) were shown 6 it went on for weeks and weeks.

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    Hi Chris,
    I worked in a place once where the boss got everyone to vote on the work.
    It was like some crummy local government by-election.
    I nearly walked-out, but I had a mortgage to pay, and I was 6000 miles from home, so it wasn’t that easy. It was so frustrating to have a panel of self-appointed experts dictating to you
    what you could and could not do by concencus of bad opinion.
    The only way out was to trash everything and start again, or walk around permanently with what Viv Walsh and I used to call ‘The Hood of Doom’, an imaginary black Death Hood worn by someone awating the gallows or beheading for Turkey of the Week.
    This is also the point where number-crunching research falls down in evaluating and judging real Creative Work. Not everything can be taken at face value, but many still favour number crunchers even against their own common sense. It sticks out like a sore thumb when the final product appears because everything is unnatural, uncomfortable, and shoe-horned in to answer a brief rather than to solve a problem convincingly. The best advertising doesn’t even look like advertising. It goes way beyond that. It’s a knockout punch you realise once you’ve been hit by it.

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    Just read the second half of your blog again Dave.
    Thought you may like this crazy fact:
    People can’t retain short term memory well beyond 7 digits.
    That’s why all telephone numbers are the length they are.

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