OPINION19 January 2015

A Choice for MR: Folly Prevention or Fame Promotion?


As BrainJuicer marks 15 years of business, CEO John Kearon argues the case for researchers supporting System 1 marketing and where that may lead.

It was BrainJuicer’s 15th Birthday last week which prompted me to consider what was different today compared with when I started the company, as well as what the coming years would bring.

It may surprise you that I feel very little has changed in the past 15 years and yet I’m predicting Behavioural Science will change everything in the next 15. 

The vast majority of the $35 billion spent annually on MR is still spent on flawed models and over-rational research that’s a poor predictor of marketing success.  Yes, there’s been a data collection revolution in the past 15 years, but being able to deliver faster and cheaper research is hardly the answer to helping clients with famous brand building, if the research itself continues to be flawed.

When I started my career in 1986 at a large multinational, my boss proudly told me, “Look John, you have to realise, our job in research is to stop marketing doing stupid things”. Today, too much research is still designed and deployed for the prevention of marketing folly rather than in the service and promotion of marketing fame. 

Behavioural Science is showing us how people really make decisions and it’s massively more emotional and irrational than classic marketing theory had it. Instead of a left-brain, right brain model that assumes great marketing is equal parts emotional and rational, we now know, our one million year old System 1, emotional, intuitive brain holds sway over our 100,000 year old System 2, rational, analytical brain. The plausible but flawed era of persuasion-based marketing is giving way to a seduction-based era of behavioural marketing – when people feel more, they buy more.  Homo Economicus is dead; long live Homo Emoticus.  

In research terms, System 1 research predicts famous marketing, System 2 research doesn’t.  Or, as we put it in a book of illustrated poems designed as a Birthday present for the industry:

Two systems, say Amos and Dan

Explain the decisions of man.

The slow system skives

While the fast system drives

So we don’t act according to plan


The behavioural sciences reveal

What standard research will conceal

So what must be done?

Embrace System 1!

Just measure how people feel.

In the past year there seems to have been wholesale adoption of the language of Behavioural Science which is a great start. But practising behavioural marketing is much harder because it means letting go of some much loved marketing truisms and changing how we do research.  Here are a few of the new behavioural marketing truths and if you want to see them in action, just watch the world’s best ads of 2014 in the recently announced FeelMore50:

  • Seduction not persuasion is the swiftest route to fame and fortune
  • Penetration – not loyalty – drives growth
  • Universal human truths [UHT’s] not USP’s are the basis of great advertising.

The more poetic version can be found in: The 15 Things Every Modern Marketer Should Know About Famous Brand Building .

Now bad habits are hard to break – just ask anyone who’s given up smoking.  Making a broad scale change from over-rational research to System 1 emotional, intuitive research takes a great deal of vision, skill, patience and creativity on behalf of senior clients. But it’s possible and it’s happening at some of the world’s largest companies. Where they lead, others will follow.

If we can genuinely help clients do famous marketing and accelerate brand growth, we’ll quickly find ourselves in demand as a key contributor, with a voice at Board level.  To achieve that, researchers need to get out of the prevention business, peddling outdated, over-rational measures that add little value and, instead, get into the promotion business, offering modern, emotional measures that directly contribute to famous brand building.

John Kearon is CEO of BrainJuicer