Insights from what I’ll suggest is the “emerging” field of behavioral economics are providing interesting clues to marketers.

The question is, are they (or us) listening?

In this AdAge article, Tom Hinkes suggests the very behaviors which prevent consumers from buying (overvaluing things we own, a tendency to reject “facts” that don’t fit our worldview, etc) are handicapping marketers. Which means it’s handicapping copywriters too.

Hinkes says:

But because successful marketing requires using only those messages consistent with the consumer’s existing worldview, most educational messages are doomed. There’s growing evidence that “educating with facts” may have the opposite effect on strongly held beliefs. People resist facts inconsistent with one’s belief system, and they may simply strengthen the resolve of the true believer. Some have compared this phenomenon to an inadequate dose of antibiotics; the bacteria emerge stronger than ever.

When I wrote copy for high-tech products in the Silicon Valley, clients selling technical products insisted advertising didn’t work; all they wanted was a media buy and “bullet points” of the facts.

Naturally, the ads with nothing but bullets pulled a fraction of our more Utopian ads touting the after-effects of the product (which hopefully solved a pain point; technical people are always struggling with the limits of their technology).

In other words, the story trumped the bullet points almost every time, yet marketers were reluctant to abandon a wholly product-oriented sell.

Hinkes suggest mainstream advertisers are similarly reluctant to embrace what behavioral economists are telling them, and while I’m not 100% clear on his examples (they seem a little fuzzy), his idea seems clear: Marketers will keep doing what they know how to do regardless what the world is telling them.

Once we own something, we tend to overestimate its value. Every parent thinks his children are special because they’re his. People also consider their ideas to have more merit than the ideas owned by other people. The “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” campaign tried to overcome this effect with humor, with a strong assist from Microsoft Windows. Marketers can be extremely possessive about their approaches to branding and extremely reluctant to admit some ideas are no longer the best.

Keep marketing, Tom Chandler.