Is behavioural science a fancy expression for marketing?

Natália Costa
Oct 24 · 4 min read

The psychology of selling and paradigm shift

Don Draper, Mad Men’s leading character, presenting the pitch to Jaguar.

If you used to watch Mad Men, you certainly remember the pitch to Jaguar. One of the best things about the TV series was the whole creative process until they found the right line and ideal illustration to make that memorable ad that would stick into the client’s imagery.

When preparing the pitch to Jaguar, Mad Men’s creative group had to think deeply on what was the motivation of the client. Jaguar was not only a symbol of status and a way to attract everything that a man could possibly want*, as it was extremely beautiful. A luxurious car owned by few, but admired by all.

The request of the client was that no women were used in the ad, as this would be a typical approach of a luxury car brand during the 60s. Creatives were puzzled with this condition as they had to think deeply on the motivations to purchase such a magnificent article. As they took their own client as a perfect example on the subject, they realised the behaviour was in accordance with what the underlying motivation to buy such a car would be: to own beauty or, in other words, to attract women. Now, the exercise that the group makes in order to understand this and achieve the Jaguar ad, is it marketing or behavioural science?

What is behavioural science?

According to the definition, “behavioural science explores the activities and interactions among human beings or animals”. The work within this field might include the investigation and analysis of human relationships through the behavioural aspects, using biology, geography, law, psychiatry, psychology and political science. The goal of behavioural science is to accomplish legitimate conclusions through observation and systematic analysis and investigation about human action, often seeking to generalize about human behaviour in relation to society.

What is marketing?

According to the definition “Marketing is the study and management of the process of creating relationships with satisfying customers. With its focus on the customer, marketing is one of the primary components of business management.” At its essence, marketing is an activity focused on making products or services attractive to the public or to a specific targeted audience through the creation of tools (such as ads) that will ingrain the purchase in people’s heads.

How are the two interrelated?

If we understand the psychology or any other relevant aspect behind what leads people into buying a product or service, we — as a company — will highly benefit into using this knowledge to our advantage. Therefore, we can better present our product explaining why it will add value to our client and ingraining in his/her head the “need” or “wish” to consume it. This is the core of marketing. So if we have a good marketing campaign, we will implant an idea in our potential customers, similarly to the movie Inception, an idea that will lead them into hitting that “buy” button and closing the sale.

Now if behavioural science aims to reach conclusions through systematic analysis about human action in relation to society, it is easy to see how this can be a powerful marketing tool. If we know how consumers behave when exposed to certain stimuli or circumstances, we can communicate (A.K.A. sell) more efficiently why our offerings add value to our clients.

For example, I am from Portugal and I live in Norway. In Norway, it’s quite common to see single bananas being sold on convenience stores or even the supermarket. They are as appealing to the buyer as bananas sold in packs. Maybe even more at times, because you may just want to eat one single banana on the go. In Portugal, on the other hand, you don’t see bananas on convenience stores and the ones you see on the supermarket are more appealing to the customer if they are in a packed group. Lose bananas are seen as not worthy of the consumer’s money. This exemplifies two different paradigms when it comes to the way we consumers see a product such as fruit. So marketing is to present a pack of bananas in Portugal and remove the single ones from the shelves and present single packed bananas in Norway. Behavioural science would be to study the underlying causes behind this behaviour related with geographic and cultural differences on the relationship with food.

Paradigm Shift

Now when these two areas effectively meet, they may cause a paradigm shift, meaning it is possible through consistent incisive marketing change the way people perceive something. A great example were the ads lead by Volkswagen in the 60s where the copywriting was notorious and this campaign changed people’s perception about cars overtime.

So back to Mad Men’s Jaguar pitch: the exercise the creatives did in order to understand the clients wants and needs, including analysing the imposition, but contradictory behaviour the client had in a perfect example of actions speak louder than words, was behavioural science. The way they turned all of that information into a “simple, but significant” line that was catchy and reached the client’s vision… That was marketing.

*Note: the episode takes place during the 60s when the main client of a brand like Jaguar would be a man.

Natália Costa

Written by

When she’s not passionately typing the keyboard, you’ll find her energizing by the beach. @Energy_Ambassador

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