Unobvious Observations: Motivation is overrated

Briefs all too often focus on building motivation, something that's frequently unnecessary or impossible, writes Adam Ferrier. But if they're not focusing on creating desire, what should marketers and their agencies be paying attention to?

Aug 18, 2015 09:29:00 AM | Article | Adam Ferrier Share - Share to Facebook

Do you believe that a marketer’s job is to increase people’s motivation to buy or do things? It’s an easy mistake to make—to believe we are trying to increase desire, or create 'Lovemarks'.
It’s easy to be tempted to believe that we are in the business of creating communications that makes people desire our brands further, increasing their motivation to seek them out vis-a-vis their competitors. However, this is rarely the case. If you believe a marketer’s job is to increase motivation to consume, you may well be missing out on the most important 50 per cent of your marketing thinking.
Most advertising has little, if anything, to do with increasing motivation to buy your brand. I don’t need more motivation to buy chocolate, for example; I kind of want some most of the time. Nor do I need motivation to go onto Google to find the best search results. I don’t need my motivation increased to drink more tea, and even if I did it wouldn’t work—I don’t like it.
Very often, increasing motivation to buy is not the brief. Very often the brief is to make it easier to buy our brand versus competitors.
This is where the concept of ‘mental and physical availability’ comes to the fore. When someone wants a chocolate bar, ensure it’s your brand that is in their head and within arm’s reach. Make it easier for them to choose your brand over a competitor's. The primary task here is not to motivate people to eat the chocolate (that looks after itself); it’s to make it easier for them to choose your chocolate bar over the competitor. This is obviously something the Mars corporation knows all to well, with its long-standing relationship with the Ehrenberg Bass Institute.
However, take another example, one that’s closer to home for me. My agency has a client in the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. They’re in the business of encouraging people to donate blood.  They’ve found that over the years, and across multiple countries, the motivation to give blood is high. Parking the very small percentage who will never give blood as they are scared of needles, or for religious reasons, people by and large think it’s a good thing to do. And most people when asked will intend on giving blood in the future. Further, those who give blood will intend on doing it more often.
However, around the world the percentage of people giving blood is incredibly stable, and very, very small, around 3 per cent of the population.
When trying to develop ideas to get people to give more, never did we think we would have to increase people’s motivation to give.
However, our brief was to create ‘advertising ‘ to get more people to give. Distribution of blood services, mobile clinics and so on would address the ‘physical ease’ of donating. However, what about the ‘cognitive ease’, how do we make it feel easier to give blood, and thereby tip that motivation into action?
We focused on making the act of giving blood feel as everyday and normal as possible. We did this by heroing the end of the giving blood process: the simple biscuit one receives once they’ve given blood.
We explained to viewers that this biscuit is a very satisfying biscuit to eat, as it’s the biscuit one eats after they’ve saved lives. We believe that by highlighting the ordinary biscuit in our communications it will give people the impression that giving blood is a normal, everyday thing to do. We also think it’s a creatively engaging way to ensure people watch the TVC enough to get the message.
Similar to eating chocolate, people are already motivated to give blood. We just needed to make it seem like it’s easy to do so.
Advertising is a blunt instrument to build motivation, and the concept of using advertising to create an emotional connection is almost laughable. However, reminding consumers to do something, getting them to think about you a little more often? That feels achievable. Biscuit anyone?
Editor's note: Campaign Asia's Ad Nut covered the Red Cross campaign last week. Please see:

Adam Ferrier (@adamferrier) is global chief strategy officer and consumer psychologist at Cummins&Partners. See all of his 'Unobvious Observations". He is the author of The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behaviour (Oxford, 2014).
(This article first appeared on 


Drive action before emotional connection: Adam Ferrier

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Drive action before emotional connection: Adam Ferrier