Inattentional blindness, Absolut advertising & marketing

Episode 05 Andy Warhol, vodka
and an unexpected cologne

The Von Restorff Effect tells us that brands who behave
like their peers are condemned to invisibility. This episode explores
how Absolut leveraged this principal to create distinction within
the category and turn the iconic shape of its bottle into
a cultural phenomenon.

00:00 / 12:00

Episode Transcript

  • MichaelAaron: Today on the Behavioral Science for Brands Podcast, we are talking Andy Warhol, vodka, and an unexpected cologne. We are diving deep into Absolut vodka and we are going to reveal some science behind their marketing. I'm MichaelAaron Flicker.
  • Richard: And I'm Richard Shotton.
  • MichaelAaron: Let's get into it.
  • MichaelAaron: So we've chosen Absolut Vodka today as one of the most iconic, uh, beverage alcohol advertisers globally. And Absolut really has taken the idea of using the product itself as the icon, that they built their entire marketing around Absolut in America is a relatively newer brand. Growing up in London, what was it like for you, as, was Absolut always a brand that you knew about?
  • Richard: No. That was completely new in the 1980s. I mean, previously vodka was Russian. And then suddenly there was this Swedish brand on the, on the scene. So yeah. Breath of fresh air.
  • MichaelAaron: Yeah. And I would say in America it was known as a brand that really could be so dynamic. It was a piece of art and people looked for the ads and were excited to see what they were gonna do next.
  • MichaelAaron: Really a golden age of advertising for the brand. So let's start with the ad that started all Absolut perfection. 1980. This ad comes out and it really thrusts the product itself on the center stage. So much so that one night at dinner, Michel Roux who is the American importer of Absolut from Sweden is having dinner with Andy Warhol and Andy Warhol is talking about how he's in love with the bottle.
  • MichaelAaron: He's inspired by the shape. He even, although he doesn't drink, uses it as cologne. He's a, he's a big fan of Absolut, and he says, you know, we could do something with this bottle and really, and really make more out of it. And they're inspired to have Warhol draw the bottle and it becomes yet another iteration of how they use the bottle at the center to really become a distinctive part of their campaign.
  • MichaelAaron: Okay, so let's take a quick break, hear from our sponsors, and when we come back we're gonna dive deeper into this topic.
  • MichaelAaron: Behavioral science for brands is brought to you today by Method1. Method1 builds digital first marketing systems to help brands grow. They're behavior change experts who solve business challenges by creating meaningful connections with consumers with deep disciplines in many brand categories.
  • MichaelAaron: Reach out to them if you'd like to be leveraging behavioral science in your marketing or advertising. So let's dive in and take a look at some of the print advertising that Absolut did. It's an amazing campaign, 25 years, over 2000 ad variations. It's the longest running print campaign in the world.
  • MichaelAaron: Richard, why don't you talk through some of that you see here and what's interesting to you about them.
  • Richard: What's so interesting about this campaign is it is so distinctive. If you remember back in the 1980s, the other vodka ads were completely different. Now Absolut draws attention to its Swedishness, you know?
  • Richard: Now everyone else is talking about how Russian they were. The bottle, the squat bottle is right at the center of the campaign. They treat these print ads like little works of art. They look completely different from anything else, and from a behavioral science perspective, it's that distinctiveness that is so important to their success.
  • Richard: Now, one of the biggest ideas and longest standing ideas and behavioral science is if you want to grab someone's attention, you'd need to be distinct. Uh, this goes all the way back to the 1930s. Uh, there's a wonderfully named German psychology called Hedwig Von Resol. She was at the University of Berlin, and in 1933 she runs her classic study.
  • Richard: She recruits a group of people, gives them a long list of information. So let's say it was a page of information with 30 lines on, and on each line, there are three digits. So to begin with, first line, three letters, k, p, f, next line, another three. and she keeps on going down with letters, after letters until sooner or later she throws in three numbers.
  • Richard: Say 1 6 4, and then she goes back to her letters again. She gives people a few minutes with these lists. She then takes the lists away, and then she asks people to recall as much as they can. And her key finding is that if you give people long lists, mainly composed of letters. It's the numbers they remember?
  • Richard: Whereas if you give people long lists, mainly composed of numbers, it's, it's the distinctive letters they remember and we are hardwired to notice what is distinctive. Now, this became known as the Von Resol effects or the isolation effect. And for an advertiser, it's one of the kind of key findings from behavioral science that you really should apply because unfortunately what most advertisers do
  • Richard: Is the complete opposite of what happens. Absolut did they identify their category conventions and then they cling to them? But Von Resol would say that is a big mistake. You are condemning yourself to invisibility if you behave like your peers.
  • MichaelAaron: There is a great heavy metal poster. Yeah that you and I love, yeah. And maybe you could explain the Von Resol. or fact in one image.
  • Richard: Yeah. Got it. So, there's an amazing image. It's from a heavy metal fester in California DeathFest. And what you can see is pretty much every brand behaves in the same way. They just look like spidery squiggles, apart from one.
  • Richard: Down the bottom right, there's some day glow childish writing for Party Cannon, and they stand out like a sore rum. You know? And I think brand should learn a bit from Party Cannon. What you need to do is identify all the conventions in your category, and there are normally loads, and then split into two groups.
  • Richard: Now what are the conventions that are there for a very good reason?
  • Richard: Leave those well alone. But what are the conventions that are there just for tradition? And it's those ones that you should break because if you do, you're tapping into the va. Rest of effect, you'll be noticeable. And actually behavioral scientists would say you will also gain from another idea called the Red Sneaker effect.
  • Richard: If we see people breaking conventions, we assume they are higher status. Because often it takes some kind of social capital to breaking intervention. So not only will you be noticed, you'll also be held in higher esteem if you break your category conventions.
  • MichaelAaron: And you raised something here that I've always found to be like a really critical part of getting behavioral science right in marketing.
  • MichaelAaron: You have to develop, uh, a point of view. That separates the two. You have to be clear what you can break and what you can't break, because this idea of distinctiveness could be easily applied to just do everything different. Uh, but what we know is that if you go too far, you're gonna do, you won't do yourself any benefits.
  • MichaelAaron: You might do some harm.
  • Richard: Yes, you're absolutely right. So this is where I think the skill and art comes in. You have gotta work out smarter. What codes are necessary for consumers to identify you as a vodka, as a whiskey, as a, as a wine, and what ones are much more peripheral. So there's a big opportunity, but I think you're right to emphasize the risk.
  • Richard: And one of the best studies in this area is by a psychological called Steven Mostyn. So back in 2000, he ran a study where he recruits people into his lab and he pays them to sit in front of a computer screen and count the black and white crosses that come across the screen. So these are big, black and white crosses.
  • Richard: Halfway through the experiment without any warning, a big red cross comes across. Now if you were a fly on the wall and you were, couldn't miss it. You couldn't miss it. Now this is a, this is a big red cross. Yeah. But a third of the participants do. They are so laser focused on the task. They are so intent on looking for black and white crosses.
  • Richard: They missed what should be unmissable stimulus. Now he calls this inattentional blindness, and it's basically the idea that if we are going. And looking for something in particular, we will never notice what seemingly very obvious signals. So if you're in a supermarket, crowded, busy area, lots of brands, and you are not immediately recognized as part of your category, there is a danger that you might be ignored and might not be able to convert interest and desire into into sales.
  • Richard: Now, that should interest brands because. If you think about a consumer going to a supermarket, they might well have a, a category in mind they're looking to buy, and if your brand is in that category, but it breaks the major conventions of that category. People will be staring at you on the shelf, they won't know it's you because those, those subtle cues aren't present.
  • MichaelAaron: You know, it's so funny that you, that you explain it this way. Uh, in 2014, we're working on, uh, a very popular American bourbon brand. The bourbon booms happening. There's more and more American consumers getting into whiskey, getting into bourbon, and this particular. Isn't getting the same rate of sales as everyone else.
  • MichaelAaron: And the question is, why? Why are they not winning in the bourbon boom like everyone else? So we go to research and we listen to consumers talk about it, and there's nothing wrong with the brand. They love the taste, they love the advertising. There's no reason they would not try the bottle. And we dig deeper.
  • MichaelAaron: And what we realize is that the problem is with the shape of the glass. Literally, if you put it in a line of bourbons, nobody thinks it's a bourbon. They say it kind of looks more like a rum bottle. Yeah. And so this is a problem where it's in intentional blindness. They're just skipping right over the product when they're thinking about it.
  • Richard: Yeah. And I think this gets to the kind of core of behavioral science, which is too many marketers people are making considered well thought through decisions, but that isn't realistic. If you're in a supermarket, you have hundreds of decisions to make in a very short amount of time. You cannot weigh them all up.
  • Richard: You're making very, very fast snap decisions. And because those decisions are fast, things like in intentional blindness come into play. So you've gotta design your products you put design your adverts for how consumers actually behave rather than how you want 'em to behave.
  • MichaelAaron: Okay, so let's wrap it up.
  • MichaelAaron: What are the quick things we want marketers to take away from this?
  • Richard: Main thing. Work out what your category conventions are. Split them into two groups, which are the peripheral conventions, and break those. Be distinctive and you will be noticed. That's the Von Resol Effect. But leave those core category conventions, which consumers use to navigate the products. Leave those alone.
  • MichaelAaron: So this brings us to the end of our episode. If you liked what you heard today, please give us a good review, give us a good rating. Until then, I'm MichaelAaron Flicker.
  • Richard: And I'm Richard Shotton.

Episode Highlights

Absolut perfection

This campaign thrusts the product on the center stage so much that Andy Warhol fell in love with it.

We are hard-wired to notice
what is distinctive

This is known as the Von Restorff Effect. For an advertiser, this is one of the key findings we have learned from behavioral science.

Inattentional blindness

If a brand ignores all of its category conventions, there is the danger it could be overlooked or missed by the consumer.