Marketing Science: life between two stools… Agile working / Change / Communications / Employee communications / Events / Leadership communications

Every marketing problem is fundamentally a behaviour change problem

Imagine two stools.

One is marketing (represented in the cover image by Don Draper).

The other is science, behavioural science to be precise (represented in the cover image by Professor Daniel Kahneman – author of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’).

In-between sits marketing science – the application of Dan’s world in Don’s world.

Even though every marketing problem is fundamentally a behaviour change problem, until recently, the two worlds have had little to do with each other, as there are key differences between them. One of them is how they report on their work and results.

The currency of science and academia is peer-reviewed papers published in scientific journals. They’re dry, rigorous, disciplined, fully referenced and as interested in recording what didn’t work as much as what did.

The equivalent in Adland is the campaign case study. It reports only what was successful, rewrites the objectives to match the results and brushes everything that didn’t work under the carpet. It is unashamedly an ad for the advertising.

In recent years, the highly produced video case study has taken ad case studies to the next level. Music, animated titles, carefully directed vox-pops, graphics about a social media frenzy and professional voiceovers make the flakiest campaign look like a game-changer.
So how should marketing science tell its case studies? The marketing way or the science way? It’s early days for the field but already we see a real danger of marketing science doing neither and laying itself open to criticism and ridicule from both sides.

Agencies claiming to use behavioural economics in their work are just changing the language of a standard Adland case study  – e.g. saying ‘framing’ instead of ‘positioning’…

Or ‘saliency’ instead of ‘relevance’…

Or ‘minimising cognitive load and optimising perceptual fluency’ in place of ‘keeping it simple’.

This is not helping.

If we do this, marketing won’t take marketing science seriously and neither will scienceMarketing science must find a way to report its work that is credible in both worlds and not shoot itself in the foot with common sense dressed in pseudo scientific babble. Even though we were awarded both the ‘best insight’ and ‘grand prix’ awards at the inaugural MSiX (Marketing Science) industry awards, we admit we too still have some way to go.

We believe in the long run, all marketing will need to embrace elements of behavioural science and there will be no two stools to fall between because the marketing stool will have shifted. But we’re not there yet by a long way.

Marketing will always have too many variables to be evaluated in a truly scientific way, but we need to find a way to talk about the impact and importance of marketing science that is both credible and consistent. And we need to find it soon.


This article was first published by Oliver Shawyer from Behaviour Change Partners via LinkedIn and was presented at Sydney’s Behavioural Economics Network meet up by Paul Fishlock


Paul Fishlock, Principal from Behaviour Change Partners is one of our 3 panelists for the IABC NSW June 16th event Utilising Behavioural Insights; Communication that delivers results.


Paul set up BCP devoted to the idea that every marketing problem is a behaviour change problem. One of Paul’s mottos is that: ‘marketing is not a science but its more science than most working in it realise’. Paul’s agency was built around the principles of behavourial economics and he will showcase what it has meant for his agency and marketing approaches.