120. Critical Thinking: How & When To Override The Autonomous Mind

04 important lessons from this lecture:

00:00:39 Information pollution in the internet age is that, with freedom of speech combined with the ability to instantly publish anything you want immediately and without verification, as information accumulates in any field of study, how can you survive an environment with so much contaminated information?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In his extremely informative talk Copy, Cut, Paste: How Eveything Is A Copy From A Copy From A Copy…, Andy Baio details out how the internet’s instant publishing is rubbing up against the copyright infringement world and is, sometimes unjustly, ruining the lives and future of entrepreneurs.]

You overcome cognitive biases, mind gaps, contaminated information and heuristics by applying hypothetical thinking.

High-quality information in a particular subject tends to grow in a linear fashion, while the total amount of information on that same particular subject tends to grow as a cube, meaning as more and more information accumulates on that particular subject, it becomes harder and harder to rummage through the useless, polluted information in order to locate the high-quality information because it’s unavoidably mixed in with crap. This will only get worse.

Recall from the lecture Keys To Critical Thinking & Thinking About Dubious Claims where “regardless of how good your critical thinking framework is; garbage in is garbage out,” if we are constantly being innundated with bad information, how can you protect yourself by both finding and identifying the good information from the contaminated?

The illusion of truth principle argues that just merely being exposure to conaminated information and statements, such as ‘Global warming is a hoax,’ even though you don’t believe this, it does increase your belief that it is so, or at least the possibility that the good information may in fact actually be contaminated information.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the origins of global warming, refer to the mini-documentary The Story Of Stuff: How Our Modern Markets Economy Is  Destroying Our Planet by Annie Leonard.]

This is because of the way your memory works: memory doesn’t work like a list of facts and dates – it’s a network of information. And things stimulated in a certain network explode and have a ripple effect on other related networks in your brain’s associations. So it turns out that simple repetition is strong enough to cast doubt on even the most certain of facts.

Fox News, for example, spends so much more time demonizing their ‘enemies’ rather than promoting their own ideals and policies – mud slinging and negative campaigning – that it’s no wonder that anyone who spends half ot their day listening to them will be persuaded to believe what they say. This is the danger of the illusion of truth and mere repetition.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more interesting information on how advertising creatives use the idea of exploding networks and the ripple effect in their brain to create advertising campaigns, browse through my interviews with several notable creative directors such as Rémi Noel, Eric Holden, Steven BrinleeRory Sutherland, Andrei Robu and Gregory Ferembach.

00:06:28 The principle of charity is the idea that when you are attacking a claim or an opponent, etc., don’t attack your opponent’s argument at it’s worst; attack his or her argument at it’s best. Aim to reformulate your opponent’s claim in the strongest way possible before you to address it, attack it, or destroy it: Give your opponent the benefit of the doubt by reframing his or her argument in the best, most logical and correct-possible light before addressing it. Doing this not only increases the credibility of your reputation for objectiveness and fairness, it also take away the from the strength of any rebuttle your opponent may have to your logical argument.

If you’re going to criticize; be fair. Don’t attack a person’s argument at it’s worst; reformulate it in the best, most strongest way possible and then address it.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on how to handle opponents and deal with opposition, read the books:

00:16:30 Recall in the lecture Perceptual & Cognitive Biases – Fast & Slow Thinking, Karl Popper pointed out that one of the biggest weaknesses of all of us is that we always focus on what did happen and not on what didn’t happen; sometimes it’s what didn’t happen that is the most important part to think about. Meaning, just because your prediction came true doesn’t really show you much until you understand what the alternatives would have been.

00:18:51 Karl Popper’s framework for systematic analysis summed up in 6 questions are:

  1. What is the issue or question?
  2. What is the claim? [phrased in conditional form*]
  3. What reasons are offered to support the claim?
  4. How strong is the support?
  5. What would be adequate support?
  6. What reasons might create (false) beliefs in the claim?

The conditional format:

T: If (H & IC & AC), then (P)

Where:

  • T: theory (a description of a hypothetical system)
  • H: hypothesis, the claim that the theory (T) is true
  • IC: initial conditions for evaluating the claim
  • AC: auxiliary conditions that must hold true for the claimed outcome to occur
  • P: Predicted outcome given that the hypothesis is true and the initial and auxiliary conditions are met

Applying the above conditional format to his original example in his lecture on Keys To Critical Thinking & Thinking About Dubious Claims question:

Can a key be bent without physical force by an unknown psychic power? 

  • T: metal can be bent by unknown psychic powers
  • H: This theory (T) is true of some individuals
  • IC: the unbent key
  • AC: the alleged psychic stokes the unbent key and wants the key to bend.  The physicial stroking is unsufficient to bend the key by psychic force, however the psychic power is enough.
  • P: The key will be bent
  • Proof offered to support the claim for (T): A bent key was displayed to the observers.
  • Ideal, ‘Adequate’ Proof: Had there been clear evidence that the key had not been bent before the demonstration, and could not have been bent by physical force during the demonstration? 
  • ‘Inadequate’ Support: Had it been possible for the ‘psychic’ to bend it during that time while the marked, unbent key was in his possession? The bent key had been marked beforehand to preclude switching. However the key had been out of sight and in the demonstrator’s possession before it was apparently bent. This depends on knowing about the principle of leverage and realizing that the demonstrator had another key in his hand at the same time he also had possession of the key that had been known to be bent. Observers were asked to touch the key to confirm that key was a valid key, and to touch the key in a way which would not physically bend the key, which would have disqualifying the marked, unbent key from being used as proof during the demonstration.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Three very good books I have personally read and would highly recommend are:

  1. Critical Thinking: A beginner’s guide by Sharon M. Kaye
  2. Do They Think You’re Stupid: 100 ways of spotting spin & nonsense from the media, pundits & politicans by julian Baggini
  3. The Full Facts Book of Coldreading by Ian Rowland]

70. Andrei Robu on Typeverything, Paul Rand’s Theory on Consumer Conditioning & Your Branding Strategy

imageDesign director, artist and creator of Typeverything, Andrei Robu has +15 years experience designing logos, typography and packaging design to build brand identity.

Typeverything began in Feb 2011 and now has over 100,000 followers. How did you grow Typeverything so quickly? Continue reading “70. Andrei Robu on Typeverything, Paul Rand’s Theory on Consumer Conditioning & Your Branding Strategy”

66. Julien Chesné on When Good Visuals Meet Bad Ideas & Why Consumers Don’t Have Misconceptions

Art Director for JWT, Julien Chesné has +8 years experience working with brands to build powerful advertising campaigns.

How do you know when you have a winning idea? Everybody can be creative. But the hardest part of being creative is keeping your idea alive and developing it as it makes its way through the creative process of becoming a final advertising campaign. This requires experience; experience and bouncing your ideas off as many experienced creatives as you can get your hands on.

If you tell your idea to an experienced creative or two whom you trust and they wince, then be willing to question your idea and work on it some more.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In our interview, Rémi Noel, Creative Director notes that you mustn’t think that “your point of view is the only point of view. Your idea is your baby, not everyone else’s baby. Listen to other people and be humble – understand their point of view. Sometimes you have to calm down and understand that it takes time for other people to get as excited about your product as you are.”

Also, in his book Hegarty on Creativity, Sir John Hegarty states that “It can be easy to settle on something that feels right. Something that seems to make sense of all the confusion. You’ll feel relief when you get to this point. You’ll think you’ve cracked it. You’ll feel good. But then you have to take a step back from what feels really good and ask: But is it great?”

What are the typical components of a creative brief?

  • Main information about the brand and product
  • A strong insight that is unique to the brand or product – an understood truth about the brand or product that target consumers already have in their mind when they think about the product – the connection between the brand and the target consumer. This is the most important ingredient of your creative brief. The button the advertising campaign will press with the consumer.
  • The target consumer demographic
  • Type of media
  • The budget
  • Competitors
  • Time constraints

What are some campaigns you have worked on? Toyota, Reporters Without Borders, Bouygues, Total, BMW, Nestlé

Ads are either predominantly visual or prominently text, how you decide which should take the lead? It really isn’t a choice. The advertising idea you choose dictates which avenue you take.

How do you choose a visual? Above all, everything you decide to put into your advertising must protect the idea. It often happens that good advertising ideas can come with a bad visual which kills the idea. The perfect ad has a great idea, a great visual and great photo.

Bad ideas cannot be saved with a good visual, but sometimes this mistake can be made.

What are a few of your favorite advertising campaigns? 

What are some misconceptions brands commonly have about advertising? That the more you show your product, the more people will want your product.  Yes, Apple advertisements are known for only showing a photo of their phone, but with the iPhone you really just have to show the screen and it’s an advertisement because the product is so good and unique and all of the ideas are on the product that they don’t have to come up with additional ideas for their advertising. Building your key insight and idea into your product so that the product becomes its own advertising would be your dream goal. But if you cannot do this, then you must put the idea into your advertising.

What are some misconceptions consumers commonly have about advertising? Advertising is made for consumers; therefore I would say that consumers do not have misconceptions. If consumers think an ad is bad, is deceptive, or is doing more harm than good, they are right.

So I would say that consumers don’t have misconceptions, they have opinions based on experiences and prejudgments, and it is up to the brand to either conform to those preconceived opinions or work to change them.

I agree with Eric Auvinet that there can be a great competitive advantage for brands using ‘real’ people in their advertising rather than paying professional models to pose in their advertising for consumers to compare themselves to and to aspire to.

Jealousy is a natural human emotion, but consumers today seem to be getting fed up with being compared to ‘perfection’ and are more receptive to accepting who you are.

I want to do your job, any advice? Advertising is like running in a marathon at a sprinting pace. You truly have to be strong and love advertising. It is getting more and more difficult to find happiness when you work in advertising. Every day you must fight against yourself. Deadlines are becoming shorter and shorter. Demands are becoming more and more. You have to consistently come up with better and better and newer and newer ideas. You also have to advise clients because brands have so many options and directions that they can take that they’re always second guessing their decisions.

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? Know your target consumer demographic as intimately as possible. This is the starting point for everything.

60. Emmanuel Lorry on Brand Risk, Photoshop Limitations & Unscrupulous ‘Web Designers’

Creative Art Director for CB’a, Emmanuel Lorry has +6 years’ experience helping brands create advertising, product design, and brand activation campaigns.

How does your job fit into the advertising process? I’m responsible for choosing the type of art used in advertising, product packaging design and brand activation campaigns, launching a new brand, or refreshing or rebranding a tired brand image.

For example, if you’re launching a new product that wants to target a specific consumer demographic, then you need to design the package and supporting advertising for that group of consumers. My job is to give the brand different graphic options to reach and attract those target consumers.

I work primarily on static photos and visuals with in-house photographers, illustrators and graphic designers. If the client doesn’t have a budget for a photoshot, then I work with an Art Buyer who works with image banks such as Getty images, Corbis, or Shutterstock.

When pitching ideas to a brand, an agency usually presents at least three ideas. Any less and the presentation seems poor, the client feels like you didn’t put enough time and thought into their needs and that they didn’t get their money’s worth. But on the contrary if you provide too many options or ideas, it might seem like the agency isn’t confident with their designs and the direction they want to go, which is also a waste of money on the agency’s part.

What are some companies you have worked with? Kronenbourg, PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestle, Bongrain

What are some misconceptions clients usually have about the work you do? Clients don’t always realize that there is an entire process involve behind-the-scenes before we present our final idea(s) to them. Some clients can have a difficult time paying for brainstorming and creation time they can neither touch nor feel, but in the end once we’ve presented them with a final tangible product that is specifically catered to theirs and their target consumer’s demands, that’s when brands are ready and willing to invest their money in it.

Another misconception is thinking that a little modification to an artwork would take only a minute. The general argument is “I could have done this on PowerPoint in less than a minute.” The client doesn’t realize that sometimes changing a little thing involves changing the whole artwork.

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[EDITOR’S TRANSLATION: ‘The house is super, but you must move the window just 30 centimeters to the right.’ ‘So I have to redo the entire wall.’ ‘No, keep the wall, just move the window.’ ‘I always panic for nothing.’]

Sometimes we even have requests that are impossible like “could you rotate the person’s face 30°” without realizing that they are talking about a photograph, which would mean redoing an entirely new photoshoot.

The only way brands can avoid these problems in post-production is to anticipate every possible situation and have the photographer take the additional photos just in case or more effectively, present temporary artwork to the client during pre-production and only proceed to the shooting or illustration phase once everything has been approved.

A third dilemma is that with every most of the original briefs agencies receive, brands often want an idea that is absolutely revolutionary – the next big idea that really pushes the envelope and pushes the brand to the next level!

Fair enough. But as the campaign moves through the various stages (pre-prod, prod, post-prod…), the closer and closer to a finished product we get, coupled with consumer testing, and brands start to wonder if that ‘risky’ attitude outlined in the original brief slowly dissipates as the thought of “what if this risky idea actually ruins our brand!” starts to sink in.

If our advice runs contrary to what the client wants, we obviously provide what the client asked for, but we also include an example of how we suggest they should do it, that way they can compare and have a choice. But after that it’s the client’s choice that matters and he certainly has a good reason for his or her decision.

I want to save money by taking my own photos and then hiring a graphic designer to edit them… If you aren’t an experienced photographer and have neither the necessary camera nor the know-how to take the right photos of your product from the start, then I would honestly recommend paying the person you hire to handle those decisions for you. In the long run it will save you money and your finished work will look much better.

What are some typical questions you ask clients from the outset? That depends entirely on the brand’s objective(s). Sometimes the client may have a difficult time putting into words what they really want – and then there is the matter of distinguishing what they want and what they need.

When clients don’t really know what they want, our job is to present case studies of what their competitors have been doing or what other interesting campaigns have been going on around the world to elicit ideas to help the brand express what they want. This involves a bit of strategic planning.

Where do you go for inspiration? Pinterest is my image bank for finding specific photos relative to my client’s projects. For me, Pinterest is better than a general Google photo search because Pinterest is social so the best photos tend to rise to the top.

Don’t use the actual image, of course, because that would be a violation of the owner’s copyright. But use what you find as inspiration to create your own twist.

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What are a few of your favorite packaging designs?

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I want to do your job, any advice? A lot of graphic designers come from art school and have the expectation that they will create masterpieces, have their pieces showcased in MOMA and other exhibits around the world. If you want to make money, you should probably go into advertising or a similar service industry. If you want to do what you like and don’t care about money, become an artist and sell your own art.

Secondly, as a graphic designer and creative art director, your artistic decisions should benefit the client, not your artistic preferences. You can add your own artistic signature in the little details, but keep in mind you’re commissioned to do this project for a client.

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? For the initial brief, don’t go too much into detail. State what your end goal is for the campaign and then leave plenty of room for creative imagination.

“I want to launch my new product.” is a good starting point for a brief that we can work with.

“I want a campaign that uses the color green.” Well, why do you want green? Because green shows nature, organic, etc? Then “I want to show how my product is natural and organic” is a better brief that we can work with because there are thousands of better ways to show natural than by simply using the color green.

That being said, a brief objective of “I want to generate buzz” is too broad of an objective.

Lastly, get out there and promote yourself! People aren’t going to magically find you and give you money and promote you for free. You have to promote yourself – hand out flyers, advertise on facebook, etc. Create a community and promote sales and giveaways. A static website is useless when nobody knows you exist.

Inform yourself and understand the business and the industry you’re competing in.

A small business I once worked with had a ‘web designer’ walk into his newly-opened store and offer to create, maintain, house, and update his store’s website for 700€/month. The small business owner actually signed the contract thinking that the web was really important to attract consumers. I was shocked when I heard this because he refused to pay for the branding and identity work I did for him. This was a bad decision on money spending; his website received fewer visitors than a regular Facebook page typically would have.

53. Julien Hérisson, Freelance Artistic Director

Freelance Art Director, Julien Hérrison has +7 years experience helping brands portray their unique selling proposition and distinguish themselves from their competitors.

How does your job fit into the advertising process? I find ideas for brands – mostly parity products such as food products(products/services that are not different than their competition). I manage advertising campaigns from idea generation through to the final project.

How do you advertise parity products? By helping consumers see a difference.

The brand will usually have an idea about how they want to position their brand or product: i.e. funny, serious, etc. which emotion they want to elicit, demonstration, brand’s tone. This is noted in the brief.

Even if the brand’s products and services are relatively the same as its competitors, each brand has its own unique history and story that makes it unique from every other product or service in its industry. Certain French and American cheeses, for example, may by all accounts taste identically; however it is the brand identity that makes them different in the consumer’s mind.

There are many different techniques advertisers use to differentiate your brand from your competitors. For example, you can create your very own unique selling proposition (USP) by focusing your advertising around your brands:

  1. Product/Brand name
  2. Physical characteristics
  3. Logo/Identity
  4. Packaging
  5. Taste/Flavor
  6. Heritage/History/Reputation
  7. Price
  8. How your product is eaten or used
  9. Competition
  10. How your product is made
  11. Key ingredients
  12. Product lifespan
  13. Personality
  14. Attitude
  15. Already existing advertising
  16. Your consumer
  17. You, the owner or your staff

These approaches and techniques won’t always lead you to the best advertising campaign, but they definitely get you thinking about all the possible solutions and gets your mind wandering; which is crucial to the idea brainstorming process.

[EDITORS NOTE: I would recommend reading the book The Advertising Concept Book by Pete Barry.]

What are a few campaigns you’ve worked on?

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What trends have you noticed in your job that are more effective on consumers? What’s important is that your advertisement touches a definable emotion: funny or sad, etc. Because advertisements have such a short amount in front of the consumer’s eyes, every advertisement you create must:

  1. Capture the consumer’s attention
  2. Surprise the consumer with something funny, sad, etc.

Fundamentally, advertising boils down to two elements: form and content.

1.) FORM: If you made a list of every advertising technique used throughout the ages, certain patterns would emerge. You could then theoretically apply those same techniques to your brand and come up with a list of effective advertising campaign ideas which would ‘statistically’ give you a higher guaranteed chance of success.

One agency actually created software that takes their briefs and ‘automatically generates’ advertising campaign ideas based on the different techniques. In the end it didn’t really work any better than a creative team did, but it was an interesting idea and a nice try. Perhaps the advertising industry will one day find itself out of business and be replaced by software as technology improves and we develop a deeper understanding of how the consumer mind operates.

[EDITORS NOTE: The book Creative Advertising by Mario Pricken takes a good stab at this by “unraveling the creative process behind some of the most effective campaigns of recent years.”]

2.) CONTENT: The content refers to the experiences, observations, and insights that you apply to the form. Having content involves constantly exposing yourself to new and fresh things in the world. The content you have in your head will only be as new and fresh and powerful as the ideas and experiences you expose yourself to. Your content comes from both inside the world of advertising, but more importantly outside of the world of advertising.

So to summarize, first learn all the techniques (the form), then play with the ideas (the content).

In 50 years cheese brands will probably still be advertising to consumers using very similar techniques like those used today (the form), what will change will be the ideas behind the campaigns as well as the presentation (the content).

How do you find the content that you use to apply it to the form? It depends on your references, and your frame of reference has to be diverse. Be like a sponge. Talk to everybody, exposure yourself to everything as varied and diverse as you can.

[EDITORS NOTE: Refer to The 22 Immutable Laws of Advertising by Michael Newman for more on expanding your experience.]

You must do this because consumers have to be able to recognize themselves in your advertising. If you only draw inspiration and references from a small niche of life, you may be able to attract that particular niche of people, but you’ll be missing out, and even alienating, everyone else.  So create advertising that everyone can see themselves in and relate to; even if your product is for a niche market. This is how advertising campaigns go viral.  Think about it. How often have you shared advertising for products you have never bought, but appreciated the idea behind the ad that you had to share it with your friends?

Where do you go for inspiration and idea brainstorming? I’m predominantly offline. But creativity is an everyday job. You can’t think in terms of “I’m going to take this idea from an exposition I saw and use it for my next advertising campaign.”  Personally, I keep particularly striking ideas in an organized folder near my desk. I may not use it now, but I know it will be a source of inspiration somewhere down the line.

I want to do your job, any advice? Have side projects. On my professional website I keep a folder of illustrations I make just for fun.

Also, don’t go directly to advertising school. Instead, consider going to art school, do internships with agencies, and then move abroad to get different perspectives. Go to London and to Asia – that will make you a killer in the industry when you come back.

What are some of your favorite advertising campaigns?

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? It depends on what you want to do. Find and pitch to freelancers individually.

For example, I was contacted through my website by a small business with a relatively small budget wanting a video. I did the illustration and contacted a friend of mine with a good camera did the filming, and yet another friend of mine in production who did the cutting and editing. In about two weeks, we combined our areas of specialty to create a high-quality video for the small business.

In the end, we delivered an agency-quality advertising video with illustration, music, good editing, and with several formats: 20 second films, 10 second teaser films, and 30 second longer films etc. ready to be delivered to the television channel they wanted to advertise on.

On a small budget, I think it’s better to go with freelancers – you’ll get a better deal and the end the product will be more or less the same.

How can I identify a good freelancer among a sea of bad and mediocre freelancers? First, learn to tell the difference between good and bad advertising ideas. Once you can spot the difference, look at the freelancer’s portfolio. Don’t just look at whether their work is ‘good,’ look at the idea behind the ads in their portfolio. If the ideas aren’t good for the selection of projects he specifically chose to show you, then you can assume that the idea he’ll choose for your project will be just as bad.

Secondly you can’t necessarily rely on the prizes and awards the freelancer may have been a part of. This is because freelancers cannot enter their ads into award competitions – only agencies can. This means that if the freelancer has been freelance for several years, an award he or she may have won several years prior only reflects the quality of that freelancer’s work back then while he or she was working with a team of other qualified professionals at an award-winning advertising agency. That particular freelancer may have been the weakest link in the agency, which is why he or she no longer works at the agency… It’s something to think about.