April 05, 2007
Are Successful Radio Advertising Campaigns "Born" or "Made"?
Are hit direct response radio advertising campaigns born (ideas that once conceived will just be successful no matter what)...or made (built methodically through courageous, challenging work)?
There's a new book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success written by Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck that sheds an interesting hue on this question. She asks the question in a different way: are successful people born or made?
You've seen us write about the role of failure in direct response radio advertising success (see also here). The mindset of embracing failure, not chest-pounding at the avoidance of it. The idea of failing forward, failing early and inexpensively, and failure as the yielding of learning that when applied to a radio advertising campaign results in huge success. As this Business Week article points out, human nature surrounding the selective recollection failure is a fascinating irony. Our society places success on the highest of pedistals, yet does any success on a grand scale result without a foundation built on failures?
Most people naturally seek positive outcomes and set about trying to prove that an experiment works. But designers, inventors, and scientists, all models for companies struggling to be more creative, take the opposite tack. They try to prove themselves wrong. That focus on potential flaws makes failure, and the lessons that come with it, happen earlier. Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied how organizations learn from failure, says managers would do well to think more like scientists. "Failure provides more 'learning' in a strictly logical or technical sense" than success, she says. "It's a principle of the scientific method that you can only disconfirm, never confirm, a hypothesis."
You've also seen us write about the interaction between client and agency and how the client can negatively impact the agency by demanding certainty and asking for what they want verses what the agency believes (based on their experience) will be successful. (see Mistake #5 here)
Dr. Dweck's work seems to tie these two concepts together. And it suggests, ultimately, about human nature some of the same things we suggest about direct response radio advertising campaigns. They're built into successes, not successful at the birth of the idea behind them - provided you have the right mindset.
Consider the mindset that embraces failure as the path to huge success. Compare that approach, as we and others have written about - and then compare it to the Growth Mind-set as described on this diagram. The Growth Mind-set applied in this context is one that embraces challenges and believes in the ability to tackle them.
Now consider what we'll call the "over involved" client. That is, one who hires the agency and then asks not for what the agency believes will produce success but what they (the client) believe will work in radio advertising. Now, it's the client's money, so she has every right to ask for what she wants, right? Right. However, the over-involved client can easily push an agency into something like the "Fixed Mind Set" that is described in this diagram, where the focus of the effort switches, undetected by most, from building a successful radio advertising campaign to looking smart to (or otherwise pleasing) the client. This is a risk-aversion mindset.
Notice that we've illustrated Dr. Dweck's ideas from two directions - one is the positive mindset that we might have (or create) out of our own self-awareness and/or long term conditioning. The other is a case where our mindset is negatively influenced - perhaps temporarily - by a more immediate set of circumstances.
Beyond our application of Dr. Dweck's ideas, this article about Dr. Dweck's work states, the applications span sports, business, interpersonal relationships, even child rearing. Guy Kawasaki found a way to apply them to employees in his recent post, and then posited this interesting thought about successful businesses:
"Here's some food for thought: perhaps this explains the inexorable march toward mediocrity of many (temporarily) great companies. Let's say a startup is hot. It ships something great, and it achieves success. Thus, it's able to attract the best, brightest, and most talented. These people have been told they're the best since childhood. Indeed, being hired by the hot company is "proof" that they are the A and A+ players; in fact, the company is so hot that it can out-recruit Google and Microsoft.
Unfortunately, they develop a fixed mindset that they're the most talented, and they think that continued success is a right. Problems arise because pure talent only works as long as the going is easy. Furthermore, they don't take risks because failure would harm their image of being the best, brightest, and most talented. When they do fail, they deny it or attribute it to anything but their shortcomings.
And this is the beginning of the end."
Embracing failure means taking risk, and as any finance professor will tell you, there is a highly acknowledged relationship between risk ... and reward. One of the many challenges involved with consistently building profitable direct response advertising campaigns is maintaining that Growth Mind-set described by Dr. Dweck. As an agency, we must both cultivate and protect our Growth Mind-set at all costs.
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Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
Made to Stick, Heath & Heath
The Power of Persuasion, Robert Levine
Influence: Science & Practice, Cialdini
Words That Work, Frank Lutz
My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising, Claude C. Hopkins
Or Your Money Back, Alvin Eicoff
Being Direct, Lester Wunderman