Our Reward System is more complicated than we think


(Image courtesy of Emily Blincoe)

I was reading an article from the Guardian on my bus ride home whilst shoving mini eggs into my mouth. I am not one to just have half a bag of anything when it comes to chocolate so when I read this it felt quite relevant to the action at the time. Aside from my mundane chocolate eating habits, all this stuff is really bloody interesting. I think brands can learn a lot from science in advertising (not everything) as also herd mentality comes into it too I know but it made me think.

This article was saying that rewards are when neurochemicals make us feel good in response to stimulus – we go back for more to obtain more

But it seems rewards are two pronged – wanting and liking.

Studies show that to actively want something we require dopamine in our brain, where as liking something (the pleasure part) is something separate – i.e. even if we think we don’t want something sweet when sweetness is administered we still like it. (This was proved in lots of experiments with rats).

Of course the two are closely entwined – we naturally learn we want foods by having liked them. But they don’t always work in tandem

What is also interesting is that many scientists had assumed that liking and wanting (dopamine) would have equal influence, but it turns out that the the hedonic pleasure hotspots are tiny. Pleasure, has “a much smaller and fragile brain basis” than wanting. This clever guy in the article adds “that’s why the intense pleasures in life are less frequent and less sustained than intense desires in life”. This imbalance has existed throughout most of evolutionary history, and that the domination of wanting ensures we find the things we need.

A key use for this knowledge may make us think about the way brands communicate…if wanting is more powerful than liking – how do we create any kind of desire for brands? I think we probably need to work on being brands which attract audiences rather than chasing the whole time. If we constantly chase why would anyone desire us? Think about the old saying  “we always want the things we can’t have”. Why won’t brands think about this a bit more rather than constantly trying to chat us up on social media or target us to death online and do something a bit more desirable….

Brands which attract are those which understand who they are, have a clear purpose and continuously demonstrate that brand purpose through every single touchpoint. NOT just one off campaigns with a meaningless proposition. From their packaging to their customer service to their internal comms to the tiny small print on that email they send to you.

YouTube Film Hack

I recently got involved in the YouTube film hack which you can read about here. It was a pretty good opportunity to meet other agencies, play around with the platform and answer a meaningful brief. The brief was to raise awareness of the Migraine Trust and all the great work they have been doing whilst trying to educate everyone about the serious effect migraines can cause in sufferers’ lives. I was pretty shocked when I found out migraines have more economic impact than heart disease – yet there is still so much stigma attached to a migraine as being ‘just a headache’.

Our team were really pleased to win! Here is the final video:

(Note: we were judged on our skippable pre-roll i.e. how could we try and encourage as many people to not skip as well as the film itself)

The Pre-roll

The film itself

And here’s the ‘making of’ film



This image felt relevant for the type of mood I am feeling. A little dreamy, a little uncertain yet happy at the same time. Things are going to change next week. We are moving to Charlotte Street to work as the digital department at Saatchi & Saatchi. So Outside Line will be saying goodbye to Exmouth Market and hello to a new area with a new name. It is a bit like starting a new job again but not quite as daunting as the position remains largely the same and you move in a big clump rather than on your own.

It should be good. I have been working with them for a while now on some projects and they all seem like a lovely bunch. Merging companies can always be a bit weird at first and I am sure there will be very good things happening and more uncomfortable things to get through too. But that is change I suppose.

Last week I hosted a presentation with two other members from the agency called 5×5. These sessions are to inspire the agency on all the new and interesting things which are taking place in the world of marketing, technology and people’s lives and hopefully be used as a creative reference for the agency.

We are going to record all our references on a dedicated tumblr here to try to be of use to those that couldn’t make it.

The first one went well, I shall post some of the things that I spoke about on here too but in a bit more detail soon. It was nice to stare out at my new work colleagues thinking I haven’t a clue who you are yet but you all seem quite nice. I wonder who I will get along with, who I might just pass in the corridor and hardly ever speak to just smile when I see them, who I will speak to whilst making my tea and doing silly dances around the fridge to get the milk out which has just been put away, who I will spend long hours with in meetings. I wonder if anyone will really annoy me or more importantly if anyone will make me change my mind and perception on things. Whatever the future holds I am looking forward to it.

What’s happening in 2013?

Creativity Fluid

The surgical attachment to our phones isn’t going anywhere
A brand trying to reaching people who are stuck to their mobiles 24/7 is quite tricky – it has to be a really compelling offer for us to take any notice

Choose your channels wisely
There are no set platforms any more – delivering messages is harder and constantly evolving as new tech emerges. That said the emotive nature and scale of TV and cinema is not going anywhere yet. Our viewing behaviour is changing which means opportunities with VOD will keep going up.

Simple, beautiful stories
Story telling is still important but with the fragmentation of media they must be Simple and beautiful

Beware for content puke!
We will see a rise in urban spam – content everywhere, on every screen demanding out attention. If it is good is may get a glimpse but most will be largely ignored. Being relevant, entertaining or useful is crucial to cut through

Mobile and the shopper experience
Shopper marketing will get interesting with the data and mobile advances to get clever and interrupt people’s journeys in store

You snooze you lose
Brands that don’t react to the speed of culture will die. Brands that keep moving, keep adapting, are nimble and flexible and do things quickly will survive.

If adland had a to do list for 2013 it would be:

#1 Educate and inspire clients to demonstrate digital can be at the core of an idea (not just matching luggage)
#2 Employ more makers in an agency
#3 Make user journeys and brand experiences simple to follow
#4 Be quicker – react fast
#5 Do one brave thing for your client

Lego for Adults!

Technology will Save Us (TWSU) is a brilliant organisation which exists to educate and enable people to make and experiment creatively with technology. Their philosophy is all about showing people how to produce, not just consume technology. Their workshops allow you to buy some arduino kit at each session (or bring your own) to be able start to build and create little devices. I explained to my Dad who wasn’t  familiar with arduino that it is a bit like lego for adults, although now having attempted to use it I would say it is a tiny bit more complicated than that but the enjoyment of building and connecting objects is equally or more thrilling!

I am definitely guilty of not having a true understanding of how simple bits of technology work. After seeing some brilliant projects exploring what Russell termed ‘the internet of things’ a while back like this and this I think it is time to start trying out my own projects too. Many  of us don’t really have a clear understanding of how the future will look and feel because of a lack of understanding about how technology really works and how it will affect our lives.

I am sure if we do, we can come up with some interesting solutions for brands that we may have not initially considered possible. As a creative industry we cannot make the mistake to just attribute these projects to the ‘techies in the corner who know how to do all that coding stuff’ (not that it is all about coding). Another company LittleBits recently launched in New York urging the education system to take electronics seriously which highlights this is not just important for ad land, but also important to teach young people about applying this thinking in art, design and music where the boundaries are becoming blurred when creating and developing new ideas with technology.

So I went along to a TWSU introductory course to start to try to get to grips with this stuff. My aim is to learn and develop my understanding of basic coding and Arduino to be able to experiment with concepts and ideas myself.

I read a great piece from a guy in Wired who explained why it is important to do this in a far more succinct way, he said we all need a higher TQ – technology quotient – to adapt to rapidly changing technological conditions.

Technology will shape us as much as we shape it and it will be interesting to understand how to shape it. Oh and this quote helps too if you are interested in having a go:

“Once people have cleared the initial hurdle of experimenting with new technologies or behaviours, the barrier to repeating them is lowered as they have a clearer understanding of the benefits, and the confidence to use them again. We expect to see more evidence of these sorts of behaviours in the future.” 

I am working developing some arduino projects with my sister who is an artist/designer/film expert about to embark on an MA at Chelsea Art School where the lines between technology and art are becoming more and more blurred. We have set up a tumblr to record any useful bits and bobs dedicated to this area. It is here  and here is our twitter too. Do follow us!


What I found really fascinating was watching how a piece of Arduino kit placed in the hands of architects, artists and designers and even dentists (I sat next to a dentist who was interested in Arduino after he had seen a TED talk on it and wanted to find out more – he ended up picking it up ridiculously fast) had different interpretations and ideas to solve a problem. Each person making and re-imagining gadgets and devices in a different way ends up being a lot of fun!


First box of kit


@victoriatrinder learning to code using the Arduino software

Success – making two LEDs flash!

Berg’s Charming Disruption

We hold ‘planning brain food sessions’ at DDB where planners from TribalDDB and DDB get together to discuss ideas, work and industry news. A while ago now, I spoke about the debate about the possible futures of media. We discussed Russell Davies’ morbid forecast which he wrote at the beginning of 2011 for the Observer. He discussed a future of aggressive media messages plastered on every surface we see, each one fighting for our attention – a headache from all the brightly lit cheap screens which will start to intrude on us in our lives. Berg’s ‘incidental media’ videos on the other hand, explore the future with media in a less sinister, positive light. They picture a possibility of media being able to travel on surfaces unobtrusively playfully and charmingly sitting in the background our lives. This is a future where ubiquitous computing has been able to reach an age of ‘calm technology’ as Mark Weiser proposed in the 80s. A much friendlier future with media, one where as he put it ‘technology recedes into the background of our lives’.

Since this discussion I have been following Berg’s blog quite closely as they experiment with new ways to play with digital through physical things. Their latest creation named ‘The Little Printer’ made me smile for most of the day. The new experiment is a palm-sized printer (with hands and legs and a smile) which prints out the digital activity you value. Partners include the Guardian and Facebook. It prints out your preferences on a slip of paper, the size of a receipt. This invention naturally generated debate and comments in the agency, ‘it is fun’, ‘it is too niche’, ‘it is great but what’s the point, I have my phone to do that’, ‘yes but would you really buy this?’. All valid comments.

After this discussion I was advised to read this in relation to the idea of the Little Printer which made me like what it stood for even more now. It is the fact that The Little Printer turns the future of the ‘finger swipe’ on its head. It points to a future where the interface doesn’t have to be a screen. In fact this rant argues that a future of screens is far from visionary. A future with screens ignores our capability of being able to manipulate objects without even realising we are doing it, it ignores the feelings we get from touching and playing with physical objects. The finger swipe stifles creativity. Ok, our future may not be full of Little Printers but it could be something which enables us to be more expressive with our hands and body than a flat surface?

The Little Printer would certainly fit with Weiser’s vision of quiet, calm communication. It allows a person to see the content which resonates with them personally. They could stick this content on the fridge, leave it on someone’s desk, use it as a book mark. Acting like a personal filter for the chaotic web on paper, the Little Printer presents the parts of the web which only really value anyway. I doubt very much we would get a headache from this smiling machine.I will end with this great quote from a journalist at CoDesign which  struck me the most:

“I imagined setting it on my nightstand next to my alarm clock, tearing off my little “mini-newspaper” in the morning–a much more physically satisfying interaction, perhaps, than rotely grabbing my smartphone and pecking at Twitter” 

Don’t be a turn off

Ubiquitous computing, blended reality, the internet of things, web 5.0 – it is getting pretty obvious that thinking about digital as a separate channel is a silly idea. Over the past decade we have made giant technological leaps with today a billion people connecting to the web via a mobile phone (last year that figure was 500 million, next year it is estimated to be 2 billion!)

Digital technology has not changed us, it has just enabled us to be more social and with the ability to connect almost everywhere at any time we are leaving a digital shadow wherever we go. It is easy to forget how many posts we have uploaded, how many status’ we have made or how many photos we have uploaded. Technology is enabling us to create a public diary sometimes without thinking twice about the information we are sharing with each other. It can be scary how easy it is to access someone else’s identity.

At the same time digital technology is allowing advertisers to target people by taking advantage of this digital exhaust we are leaving behind. This is great news for advertisers who now think they have the right to talk to us and bombard us with as many messages as they can capitalising on our context, timing and browsing behaviour (we now receive anything up to 5,000 ad messages every day!)

Because brands have more access to consumers’ personal doorways than ever it is tempting to talk to an audience at any given chance. A good tip I read the other day was to think about what you are trying to do as if it were a conversation you were having with someone. This should be a good measure as to whether you are really coming up with something engaging for the audience. If you met someone in a bar you wouldn’t want the conversation from that person to consist of them standing in your way giving you a detailed analysis of exactly why you were right for each other and that you shouldn’t be persuaded otherwise that you are a match made in heaven because you share the same interests. This person would be rather off putting as you would have no room to discover for yourself what this person was about as they will have already told you.

This is what some brands are doing. Brands that try too hard, that get the targeting spot on, in the right context but just end up blurting out too much information. They might ask you to play a game with them, spread their viral or like them without thinking about the reward in doing so for the consumer. People are not stupid and they won’t be persuaded. In fact they will find it a bit weird and annoying.
If we are going to have all this wonderful data at our hands because of the digital exhaust which people are leaving in their trail this is great as it helps us to better understand customers. But the downside to this is that the data can be used in completely the wrong way which in turn means customers become weary of giving information to people who they think might end up abusing it.

Brands need to think about their activity like a decent conversation. If they can’t have a decent conversation then they shouldn’t try to make one. They could think about facilitating them instead. Or just listening and attaching themselves to other things which are relevant in people’s lives. The best brands often look like they are not trying.

How do you get hired in an impossible job climate?

Interesting and clever way to promote yourself with social media as Claudio did. A bit of extra effort meant he was able to cut through the standard pdf format clutter. He got the job!

Or is the new way to become an infographic experience?

I think this one might be one of my favourites because it has such stand out. I don’t like people putting their faces on a CV but this one is so compelling and bold who wouldn’t want to find out more about this person? Conveniently placed over his mouth when the recipient scans the code, they are brought to the video of his mouth speaking to the potential employer. Clever stuff.

I want to pick your brain but how do I do it?

Went to a brilliant APG debate with Rory Sutherland, the Herdmeister Mark Earls, John Kearon at Brainjuicer, Nick Southgate and Gemma Calvert.

Each speaker debated how best to understand who we are and what we need to be aware of working in this industry to guide our approach as planners. The success of the event was largely due to each speaker articulating their stance clearly, directly and with energy.

Each speaker presented a model/way of analysing consumer behaviour.

The idea that market research can be more a hinderance than a help was raised in most discussion. (John claims that “we are gloriously emotional” so it is just silly to treat market research as the be all and end all)

John Kearon used the example of the Gorilla ad – it failed Millwood’s Brown pre-testing yet was one of their most successful campaigns. Surely this suggests we need to stop treating research as the Holy Grail and start thinking about communications which make people feel something too?

He talked about a particular technique they use at Brainjuicer show people’s facial expressions with particular emotions and asks people in research to choose a face they identified with the ad the most.

A nice quote from John:

“Emotion is massively more effective and efficient as a measure…if you stop people from feeling you won’t get good work”

Gemma Calvert looks to the role of the subconscious for the answers. Neuroscience is a relatively new model (20 years-ish) but it is causing a a substantial amount of stir within the industry. She talked about the fact that although we think we are in control of our actions, there is in fact so much stuff that happens below our awareness.

She thinks we can use brain imaging to find out what people think – this is the way to update our traditional research methods as opposed to measuring human behaviour on an emotional scale which John Kieron discussed before she spoke.

“Although we think we can feel things like John said, it feels like we have a running commentary that we are in control, I don’t think this is the case”

Rory began his 10 minute slot explaining that there is no single truth in any area of marketing (which immediately made me feel better).

What he did say was that the model whereby

Brand preference + rational persuasion = purchase behaviour


Although not many of us instinctively believed this, it has been a convenient fiction contrived to defend the advertising industry against accusations of working in an underhand fashion.

“If you want a realistic model of what effects human behaviour we have to acknowledge there are more forces than brand preference at work”

This is where I personally become interested by behavioural economics, by Mark’s ‘Herd’ theory amongst others. I think they all point to interesting ideas about the way we behave. It is often irrational, yet advertising still insists many times in that it isn’t. Choice architecture, praxiology, framing effects all these operate very powerfully at a short distance from the moment of purchase. If we get this wrong then the advertising will be less effective.

The tiny biases in human behaviour, the very small changes in the way one can frame a question have a massive effect on the answers people give. A good approach Rory highlighted would be to start as close to the point of decision or purchase as one can, think about the context then work your way back from there.

Whether it was Mark arguing that we are social creatures and need to stop seeing people as calculating machines or Nick Southgate who charmingly stood for his belief that without empathy and addressing our own prejudices first we are doomed if we think we can understand others. All debates pointed to the need for planners to explore and remain interested in a diverse range of disciplines.

The conclusion to the evening? Don’t just use traditional research, it is outdated. It can still be useful if you use it to prove a point but it is chiefly there for clients to feel safe and feel confident in what we are doing. This often doesn’t lead to very exciting work though.

Nick Southgate had a point, we do probably need to start with ourselves first. If we are supposed to be planners and work with the aim to turn human understanding into business advantage then being empathetic and self aware is crucial. Empathy as others have discussed already can be an extremely powerful tool. If one is not empathising with the people they are trying to talk to then they are in the wrong job.

As an industry we are getting better at investigating new models – but it is about time to put them into practice and change the way we work. This is not happening enough yet. When it does things will get very interesting.

What a bloody good idea

I love this. I am one who always does toast like this. I pop it up and realise that due to my impatience it needs to be popped down again for a bit longer.

So Breville have recognised it is clearly not only I who share this experience with a toaster and have introduced the ‘a bit more’ button.

A simple observation of a human habit. Brilliant and I bet they have sold a lot more toasters after introducing this tiny bit of usability design on their products.