Who do you understand?

by johnmccreery

Award-winning TV commercial creator Taku Tada is often praised for his shrew insights into human nature. In a speech that included in a year 2000 collection of talks given to aspiring ad creators titled My Advertising Technique, Tada remarks,

If we could understand what people respond to, we could create hit TV commercials. That would be simple. Yes, there is that logic….but, at the end of the day, how can we understand what other people are thinking? Please think about it carefully. Do you understand everything that your friends are thinking about? What about your lover? Even if you spend a lot of time with them, do you never find yourself saying, “I can’t understand what they are thinking”? What about your parents or siblings? If you can’t understand what people that close to you are thinking, how can you understand what people you’ve never met sitting in front of a TV set are thinking? That’s impossible.

What, then, is a master manipulator of public opinion to do? What about you?

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6 Comments to “Who do you understand?”

  1. But you aren’t marketing to an individual, but to a large body of individuals in some demographic. Doesn’t that really change the equation, from the perspective of creating a successful marketing campaign?

  2. You would think so. But this is interesting in three ways. First, Taku Tada is a creative, making a claim for the superiority of creative intuition to the marketing team’s number crunching. Second, he belongs to a generation of young Japanese that hates being probed and preached to, quite different from their grandfathers who would, one of them told me, “trample into each other’s hearts with our shoes on.” And, finally, Taku Tada was, around the year 2000, an industry star, who had won the Grand Prix in three consecutive Tokyo Copywriters Club annual ad contests and just been awarded an unprecedented set of Grand Prix awards for three separate campaigns in 2000. When he followed his gut and, as he goes on to say, produced TV commercials that he himself would like, the result was spectacular, at least in terms of recognition by professional colleagues, who only get to vote on the awards because they themselves have previously won some.

    And in one respect, Tada is right. If the marketers’ numbers were an accurate guide to public feeling, making hit TV commercials (or, I observe, designing hit products) would be easy. It never is, and what sales data show is that the majority of new TV commercials and new products however carefully researched and thought out, fail. Pragmatically speaking, the research functions as an ass-cover for those who decided to go ahead with them anyway.

  3. I think of this in terms of what Bourdieu and others talk about as habitus, the pre-cognitive (or ‘intuitive’) ‘feel for the game’ that comes from our always-already embedding in social space. So to go back to Mead with baseball as the analogy, our understanding of both specific and generalized Others may come, on one hand, from having played their positions at some point; or on the other, from understanding their shortstoppiness from the perspective of our first-basiness. Obviously different levels of cognitive reflexivity and imaginative perspective-shifting about this are possible, with Tada being one who sees the whole field.

    The problem with the number-crunchers is not with the accuracy of the data points, but that they’re trying to abstract out effective variables from dynamic social relations in which all of the variables are effective and small causes can sometimes have big effects, as when one piece of junk out of many becomes a fad collectible. I think when we talk about ‘creativity’ and ’empathy’, we’re talking about a kind of wholistic thinking in which all the variables remain interactively in play. You’re still not going to get predictively certain output, but at least you can narrow the probability fan, just like knowing what shortstops do in the context of field and game gives you a better sense of where the ball is likely to end up after they catch it.

  4. Btw, Bourdieu might say that winning industry awards from industry insiders by playing to your own intuitions as, yourself, an industry insider is a little like shooting ducks in a bucket….

  5. Perhaps great results are not achieved by playing the numbers. But reaching out for greatness is only praised when it succeeds, not when it fails disastrously, as it often will considering the kinds of risks being taken. For your bread and butter, isn’t good enough good enough most of the time?

  6. isn’t good enough good enough most of the time?

    Depends on how ambitious you are and the times in which you pursue your ambition. If you’re happy to make a living and the economy in which you make your living is in good shape, you can do OK as a competent hack. If you want to make a lasting mark, good enough is only second-rate. If the economy goes in the tank, lots of just good enough people lose jobs and find themselves stuck where they don’t want to be.

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