News & Opinion

Trinity Mirror Solutions: 'Why we shouldn't trust our gut instinct'

New research from Trinity Mirror Solutions, in partnership with House 51, explores the differences in 'thinking styles' and values between media agencies and the "modern mainstream" people they are targeting.

'Why we shouldn't trust our gut instinct' addresses the differences between media agencies and the modern mainstream. It argues that the advertising industry is dominated by a subconscious, analytical thinking style, which is at odds with the holistic thinking style of the modern mainstream.

Trinity Mirror Solutions and House 51 looked at the differences between the media agency workforce and the adult population of the UK. Although 18-40 year olds represent just over one third of the UK adult population, they account for 84% of the media agency workforce. There are also huge disparities in education and social mobility when comparing these two groups.

A commonly used 'basic values framework' was used to match and compare the values of media agency participants and the modern mainstream sample. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the media agency employees were driven more by hedonism, achievement and power. Whereas the modern mainstream were more focused on tradition and conformity. The impact of this divergence in values became apparent when the agency sample were asked to estimate the values of the modern mainstream. They misjudged views on benevolence, universalism and self-direction in particular.

Building on this, the research describes ways in which people in the advertising industry have cognitive biases that cause them to literally see and experience the world differently from the modern mainstream. They're also driven by distinctive personality traits that aren't shared by the modern mainstream.

Through the use of experiments adapted from various academic studies, the research reveals that media agency people are less influenced by social cues and context than the modern mainstream. There are some key personality differences between the two groups. According to themselves and when compared to the modern mainstream, agency people are:

  • Far more likely to describe themselves as risk takers (net scores 38% vs 14%)
  • More likely to need strong emotions (net scores 21% vs 11%)
  • More likely to declare a strong need for belonging (net scores 29% vs 11%)
  • More likely to exhibit an internal locus of control (a belief that events derive primarily from their own actions)
  • More likely to hold people personally responsible for being on low income or being laid off work

The research puts forward some industry wide findings on day to day attitudes and decision making, finding that: the advertising industry places too much emphasis on newer technologies and media platforms; overly prioritisespeer recognition as opposed to representing the public; has an obsession with 'brand relationships' where they may be weak or not even exist at all and sees personalisation and the expression of individual identity as a universal moral standpoint when in fact it isn't.

Key considerations:

Context matters more than agency people think
At an unconscious level people in the ad industry are highly suggestible to analytical approaches such as programmatic and are less focused on context than the modern mainstream. Creating work that fully leverages context depends on managing the analytical thinking style that’s prevalent in the industry.

It's nothing personal
Hyper-targeted advertising methods are more common than ever and this is driven by the ad industries analytical thinking style, which places greater value on the individual. This isn't what necessarily motivates the modern mainstream. We're innately social creatures with a basic instinct to copy each other and advertising benefits from harnessing this shared experience. This taps into the psychology of social proof, increasing the chances of ads being talked about and forming part of the cultural conversation. Established media can provide powerful, shared experiences for brands.

Don't assume people get bored
People in the media industry have a psychological bias towards risk taking, meaning that they over-estimate the importance of new tech and unproven media platforms. The modern mainstream place greater value on stability.

  • Don't assume people are bored of seeing the same creative
  • Don't assume people are bored of established media

Find out more about the research, watch a film about the findings or listen to Trinity Mirror Solutions' Andrew Tenzer, Manning Gottlieb OMD's Richard Shotton and House 51's Ian Murray discuss the project.  

The research taps into similar themes explored by Newsworks' 'Sample of one' study. Find out more about it here

by Rupert Medler 11/07/18

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