Why conventional wisdom isn’t always that wise

OK, here’s a question for you. Who lives longer – heavy drinkers or non-drinkers? Easy, right? We all know that the occasional glass of red wine helps reduce heart disease, and that moderation is the key. If you have a little of your tipple and you keep things in proportion, you live longer. But what if you really hit the bottle? Well then you’re on the fast track to cirrhosis and an early grave. Better off not to touch a drop, and you’ll live longer. Which reminds me of a joke a (big-drinking, big-smoking) friend told me a few years back. “They say that if you don’t drink and don’t smoke, you live longer,” she said in her low, husky drawl. “You don’t – it just seems longer.” Cue much hilarity. Now, it seems, she may be right – after a fashion. According to new research, non-drinkers have a higher mortality rate than heavy drinkers. Moderate drinkers (beaming, no doubt, with smug self-righteousness) die last. Why? Well the answer, as with most things in life, is simple. And just a little bit complicated. Non-drinkers, it was found:
  • are less sociable
  • consequently don’t have as much fun
  • often come from lower socio-economic groups (and don’t drink because they can’t afford it)
  • tend to have more stress in their lives
  • have fewer support networks
So while big boozers are obliviously happy, non-drinkers are sober and miserable. And shuffle off this mortal coil earlier. Counter-intuitive but true.

About turn

Assumptions can be dangerous – because they’re based on things we think we know, but have never bothered to verify. And often, these mistaken assumptions guide and inform our marketing. And we’re surprised when it doesn’t work. One of the most common marketing assumptions is that change is good. If you don’t change, people stop noticing you, runs the conventional wisdom. They develop brand blindness. So you must change. Not necessarily. Remember the ill-fated British Airways tail campaign? In the late 90s, they thought it would be such a funky idea to put ethnic designs on the tails of all their planes. What they forgot was that people looked on BA as the quintessential example of Britishness. So Ndebele or Aboriginal art simply didn’t hit the mark – as Margaret Thatcher made very clear, when she covered one of the ethnic tail fins on a model BA plane with a handkerchief, declaring, “We fly the British flag, not these awful things.” Two years later, BA was once again flying the Union Jack. A costly mistake that could easily have been avoided with a little common sense. And the takeaway? It’s that more often than we realise, people don’t want change. They want consistency and dependability. And that means signs, logos and taglines they can recognise. As Gap found out recently when it changed its logo. There was such public outcry that they scrapped the new design after just one week. So not all change is good – or even necessary.

Topsy turvy

Here are just some of the assumptions I’ve recently questioned. Context-sensitive advertising works better. Sometimes. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was on the Ryanair site looking at flights from Stansted to Malaga. And there, in an AdSense box, was an ad for easyJet flights on the same route. Bad move for them. Good move for him (he went to Spain on easyJet). People have short attention spans on the web. Some people do. And others don’t. I chatted to the other day to somebody who has a huge hit rate for his 2,500-word articles on the web. Yes, some people bail. But others stay, and read. Because he’s written something worth reading. People are essentially selfish, asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ Not at the Ogori café in Japan. There, you don’t get what you ordered. Instead, you get what the person before you ordered. It’s an intriguing idea. So what would you order? Would you go for the bare minimum, assuming you’d come out ahead, or splash out, in the hope that the universe repaid your kindness? Mailshots have a 2% response rate. Yes, on average. But I know somebody who regularly hits 10-15%. He works for one client who pays him handsomely (so don’t ask me for his name). So what assumptions do you make in your marketing? And have you ever questioned them? If not, why not? Find out more: