Archive for November, 2013

How to communicate effectively with a conspiracy theorist (or why you should use empathy in your communications)

November 22, 2013

JFK or JR Ewing? Whichever J you prefer, Dallas, assassins and controversial circumstances bind them together. My colleague at TCC (Charlie) forwarded the latest Gallup poll which shows that well over half of Americans (61%) today think that JFK’s demise was part of a wider conspiracy. There is no poll on JR. 

Everyone from the CIA and Russians to the Cubans and the Mob have been fingered as part of a plot to eliminate the 35th US President. If you are the US Government or the CIA or the Mob how do you defend yourself in the face of conspiracy theorists? 

There is a big problem, any evidence that you submit for analysis is not trusted. You are, in the mind of your accuser, capable of subterfuge and conspiracy. Each time you restate your case or present new evidence you are ‘up to your old tricks again’ – aren’t you? 

A rather tenuous link but there is similarity to local authorities who are trying their best to deal with ‘the cuts’ (not quite as remarkable as JFKs assassination but will be talked about for just about as long). A recent TCC poll indicated that 27% of people blamed the coalition government for the cuts, 19% the previous Labour Government and 12% the local council – 31% blamed them all equally. What is real is that people feel hard done by, as councils communicate the bad news day in and day out. 

To avoid conspiracy theories councils need to be open to what people are saying, that means understanding the narratives that surround the issues and the values that are driving them. This insight is important if you are to get the messages right. Authorities shouldn’t respond with facts and figures or continuous reference to ‘block grants’. If people don’t trust you they don’t trust your figures. The way to take people with you is by being honest but also empathetic, reflecting the reality that people are facing.  

When people recognise you are on the same page as they are, they are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt (and less likely to put you behind a grassy knoll).

Graeme Wilson is Chief Executive of The Campaign Company. You can read more about our communications strategies here.


What the public sector can learn from the John Lewis Bear and Hare advert

November 12, 2013


We had a water cooler discussion in the office this morning about the John Lewis Bear and Hare ad.  Two of us liked it, one just growled in a thick Scottish accent, one burst into tears and one hasn’t got a TV (sick superior bastard).

I loved it and it would seem churlish to criticise John Lewis’ for the similarity to the Bear Stays up for Xmas story (although it is almost identical).

John Lewis could always counter-sue Boots for their rather clumsy 2013 ad where John Lewis’ boy from their Please, please 2011 spot has become a surly hooded teenager.  But it is exactly the same premise – we are supposed to be emotionally jacked by the reveal.  Instead of robbing people he has been going round giving out presents – not sure which is the more believable – that or the Bear and the Hare.

Whilst the John Lewis original works, Boots bottled it and (to paraphrase Phil Rumbol who commissioned the ultimate ad in this genre for Cadburys) were unable to resist ‘telling us the lyrics’ at the end rather than just ‘letting us listen to the song’ by displaying the instruction – ‘Let’s feel good’. I really don’t need Boots telling me how I should feel!

The public sector needs to wake up to the power of emotion in human behaviour and recognise that to focus too much on information without reference to emotion is a big, costly mistake as we all walk round well wadded with emotional filters.

If John Lewis can spend £7m just trying to hit our emotional sweet spot, then those involved in behaviour change need to jump to it and resist the safer-feeling but ultimately money-wasting utilitarian option.  As government sponsored research has shown, emotional resonance is the passport to changing behaviour just as much as it is the gateway to higher sales.

David Evans is the Director of The Campaign Company. If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here

Have our lives improved since the financial crisis or are we just more optimistic?

November 7, 2013

The OECD published a fascinating report this week on life satisfaction across the OECD. Whilst some results we’re predictable – satisfaction in Greece has dropped as steeply as its unemployment rates have climbed – others were surprising.

In the Better Life Index, Britain performed alongside the Nordic countries, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as one of the top performing countries. Why after years of economic doom and gloom and declining living standards is this case? Many of the other countries on the high performing list survived the global recession with their economies relatively unscathed and their public finances intact. And how have countries such as Germany who whose economic model and stewardship are often lauded, performed lower than us on issues such as life satisfaction?

As is often the case with statistics, the devil is in the detail – what people were asked, when, and in what circumstances. As The Guardian noticed, a lot of the data in this was collated from the period of relative calm before the spending cuts began to hit home in 2010/2011. But there’s also another potential answer to this.

The life satisfaction indices where we edge German 6.8 to 6.7, and the happiness index where we score 85% compared to Germany’s 81% are measures based on subjective self-reflection. As the OECD describe, life satisfaction asks participants to rank their “general satisfaction with life”.  This works by respondents selecting there general satisfaction with life on a scale of 1 to 10, or in the case of happiness selecting what ratio of positive to negative experiences they experience on an average day.

This data is fascinating and I thoroughly recommend reading through the report, but as we’ve argued before, subjective questions are often a reflection not just of their actual life experiences but of the psychological state through which we perceive and reflect on our lives and experiences. This is not a criticism of the data, but a challenge for its interpreters.

Time and time again through conducting research where we use our segmentation tool Values Modes, we see how people’s perceptions are refracted through their key psychological needs. Whereas a young immigrant in East London who fits the values group Prospector may work long hours in an unfulfilling job and live in grinding poverty, they may view their life more positively than their next door neighbour, a retired Settler, with a comfortable pension and a higher standard of life.

This is because our memories and our self-perceptions are notoriously unreliable. The way our brains take in information relies on a variety of heuristics that interpret our experiences. We often can see what we want to see; remember what is easiest to remember.

With life satisfaction, a crucial subconscious factor is optimism. For optimistic people’s hard experiences are more likely to be shrugged off and positive ones dwelt up as reinforcing examples to ourselves of how jolly good our life is. As the heat map below shows, those who are pessimistic are more likely to be Settlers. This means they are more likely to be sustenance-driven, motivated by an unmet need for safety and wary of change; whereas the socially liberal Prospectors or Pioneers are more likely to be optimistic.


On a population level, areas with a values profile with higher amounts of optimistic residents often produce higher levels of satisfaction irrespective of the realities of life. As a country, the British Values Survey has show British values to also be shifting in this direction.

Is this behind the OECD results? And if so, what does that tell us about the Germans?

Daniel Jackson is a Senior Project Officer at The Campaign Company.  If you want to see what your own primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here