Wednesday, 27 July 2016

There's a world of difference between sex and sexism in advertising

Image via iStock

Linda Brennan, RMIT University; Colin Jevons, Monash University, and Glen Donnar, RMIT University

Advertising and sex are two of the oldest professions in the world. Indeed, one of the earliest uses of advertising was to advertise sexual services; prostitutes in Ancient Greece carved ads into the soles of their sandals so that their footprints read: “Follow me”.

Sex and sexism, however, are different things. One is fun and most people do it at some time in their lives; the other is offensive and should never be done at all. But if recent events – from Eddie McGuire to Steve Price – are any indication, it seems sexism, like porn, is something you only know when you see it.

If you need to know how this plays out in advertising, the award-winning Game of Balls ad is sex-in-advertising. The Ultratune ads are sexism in advertising, as is the campaign using pre-teen models in sexualised poses to advertise dancewear.

Given that we do not seem to know what the difference is, let’s start by defining our terms:
  • Sex is an act (no further explanation forthcoming but you can look it up on the internet if you wish). Of course, there are additional meanings, but for the purpose of this article we will use the verb not the noun.
  • Sexism is the assumption that one sex is inferior to the other and/or prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender and/or insistence on conformity to a sexually stereotyped role.
Sex is fun so it gets attention … and advertisers know that attention is the first step in advertising effectiveness.

The axiom “sex sells” has long standing in “adland”. And if only because something old must surely be correct, it is consistently relied on to create ads that sell.

However, we have found numerous studies showing that, in general, sex does not sell. The only exception to this is when the product directly relates to sex and sexual function, including enhancing desirability.

An irrelevant sexual appeal distracts from rather than supports consumer engagement with the advertised product, service or message. If you get people’s attention through sexual references, they will continue to think about sex because it is more fun than shoes, cars etc. But they are not thinking about purchasing your product; they are thinking about sex.

The assumption that “attention equals purchase” drives many award-seeking creative agencies. Any attention is deemed a positive outcome and is called “earned media”, because the publicity gained will count towards the success metrics in terms of space (calculated in terms of the amount of space you would have paid for if it had been an ad). An ad that creates public outcry is assumed to be good.

But not all publicity is good publicity, and sometimes offended consumers vote with their wallets.
Another advertising appeal that works to gain attention is humour. Humour appeals are designed to evoke positive emotions. Hence, many ads combine sex and humour to maximise the fun value of the attention-getting devices and thereby increase positive brand associations.

Humour is most effective when the sender and receiver possess a shared frame of reference and understand the “rules” of the communication. Without a shared frame of reference, the scope for misunderstanding is increased and the recipient may not “get” the humorous intent.

This partially explains why advertising such as the most complained about ads of 2016 often combine sex and humour appeals. The combination of appeals earns attention, but if you are not the primary target market you may be offended.

In advertising, the right target market will “get it” and the wrong target market is effectively excluded from the communication. And being told to lighten up makes the offended recipient, rather than the offensive sender, responsible for the misaligned communication.

See, for example, the growing popularity of the “non-apology apology”: “I am sorry if you were offended”. A review of the responses to complaints made to the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) will demonstrate mastery of this type of apology.

If the measure of an ad’s success is “earned media”, a complaint does not hurt the advertiser. Even if the complaint is upheld – which is statistically unlikely – the outcome is withdrawal of the offending ad only after it has done its job of creating free publicity. It is often only when there is also potential for a commercial loss that reparation is attempted.

It may be unsurprising that the ads that are most complained about to the ASB, a self-regulatory industry board, are predominantly dismissed. But how can a standards board that claims “40 years of meeting community standards” be so out of step with Australian standards?

The answer may lie in a 2013 report for the board in which exploitative and degrading advertising was explored. The issue of sexist advertising was not covered (the word sexist is mentioned once).

The code of ethics that the ASB upholds requires that for a complaint to be upheld, the ad must be clearly discriminatory, exploitative or degrading, gratuitously violent, present sex, sexuality and nudity without sensitivity to the relevant audience, use obscene or strong language, or present unsafe behaviour when it comes to health and safety. Since the code does not explicitly cover sexism, the board cannot act on sexism, regardless of the number of complaints made.

The board’s attempts to defend itself show that there is societal harm in conflating sex with sexism. The ASB clearly doesn’t get it when it comes to the difference or why it matters.

The act of sex is usually not harmful, but sexism always is. The lack of recognition of sexism in all its guises – humorous, covert or overt – colludes with the system-wide culture that permits and therefore encourages behaviours such as we have seen recently in the media.

Attitudes and behaviours many consider sexist can be invisible to those with a vested interest in maintaining their privileged positions. The perpetrator simply does not “see” their sexism as sexism.
Sexism is not always obviously violent, exploitative or degrading. It can be unintended or disguised innocently as humour, but it is always insidious, offensive to and exclusionary of its victims.

Sex may gain attention, but sexism will not build a 21st-century brand. And perpetrators of the latter cannot be relied on to know when they are being sexist, unless told consistently, clearly and often. So the ASB must review its code to specifically include sexism and bring it into alignment with broader 21st-century community standards.

And it’s time the advertising industry went back to ad school and found a new measure of success beyond attention-seeking. Sexism in or out of advertising is never “just a joke”, it is offensive – and everyone needs to see that.

Linda Brennan, Professor of Media and Communication, RMIT University; Colin Jevons, Associate professor, Monash University, and Glen Donnar, Lecturer in Media and Communication, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Overconfidence is responsible for a lot of mistakes, here's how to avoid it

by Adrian R. Camilleri, RMIT University

People are notoriously overconfident. Regardless of the context - sports, finance, politics - people believe that their judgements and decisions are better than they really are. The shock comes later after Steven Bradbury wins a Winter Olympic gold medal, Brexit destabilises financial markets, and Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination.

Overconfidence has been blamed for everything from the sinking of the Titanic to the Great Recession. Research into overconfidence implicates it in impairing judgements across a range of situations including investors’ over-trading behaviour, managers' poor forecasting, their tendency to introduce risky products, and their tendency to engage in value-destroying mergers.

Overconfidence is one of the most powerful cognitive biases because it is so ubiquitous, and causes us to make important judgements and decisions without a sensible degree of consideration. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to reduce overconfidence.

How do you know when you’re being overconfident?

Overconfidence is typically measured in terms of judgement accuracy when estimating a range of plausible outcomes. For example, when making a judgement about BHP Billiton’s future share price you could probably imagine a range of plausible prices within which you would be fairly confident the future price would fall. Scientists call this a “confidence interval”.

A confidence interval comprises of two numbers – a lower bound and an upper bound – that together create a range that you are, typically, 80% sure will include the true answer. For example, you might guess that BHP shares one year from today will be $25 and produce an 80% confidence interval with a lower bound of $15 and upper bound of $35.

In this example, you would be asserting 80% confidence that BHP shares in one year will be somewhere between $15 and $30. If asked to create a number different 80% confidence intervals for several different questions then 80% of these confidence intervals should turn out to be accurate and contain the true outcome.

Typically, however, accuracy rates are much lower than they should be. For example, in one comprehensive study, peoples’ 80% intervals contained the correct answer just 48% of the time. Therefore, people’s judgements are overconfident because the range of outcomes they consider plausible often misses the truth.

Why are people overconfident?

Although several theories have been proposed to explain why people are so overconfident, none of them explain all of the observations that scientists have made and so currently there is no overarching theory of overconfidence.

According to one theory, when making a judgement, people make an initial best guess that serves as the starting point and then estimate the range of plausible outcomes by expanding outward from that anchor. For example, if asked to give a plausible range for BHP’s future share price you might use the current share price, which is around $20, as the starting point, and then expand outward from that based on other factors.

According to this anchoring theory, people’s final range of plausible outcomes remains too close to the starting point and, as a result, they appear overconfident because their expected range often does not include the truth.

This theory predicts that setting an explicit anchor by having people first stating their starting point should increase overconfidence and yet research has found the opposite.

A second theory states that, when communicating with others, people prefer being informative to being accurate. For example, most people would prefer to guess BHP’s future share price to be between $15 and $25 than between $1 and $100. The latter is certainly more accurate but is relatively uninformative and not practically useful.

However, when people judge only a narrow set of outcomes to be plausible, they appear overconfident because their expected range often does not include the truth. This theory predicts the degree of overconfidence to change depending on the context (for example, how important accuracy is). However, there’s no evidence that such changes in context affect the degree of overconfidence.
A third theory states that overconfidence actually reflects extremely poor starting point guesses. For example, if you did not know the current BHP share price then your starting point might be way off, say $2,000. In this case, no matter how wide you expanded your range of plausible outcomes from this starting point, you will appear overconfident because your expected range would not include the truth.

This theory has support in laboratory contexts where judgements are made about chance events where the researchers can work out the correct range of plausible outcomes. However, this theory is impossible to test in most typical circumstances when the correct range cannot be calculated.

How can overconfidence be avoided?

Although overconfidence is one of the most powerful cognitive biases, there are some strategies that can be used to reduce it. The most effective strategies encourage consideration of more information and possible alternatives.

One strategy is to conduct a “pre-mortem”. To do this you make a best guess, then assume that guess is inaccurate, and then generate plausible reasons for why the guess was inaccurate. Research has found that overconfidence is reduced after asking people to list arguments that contradict the reasoning that led to the guess.

Alternatively, you can assume that your first guess is wrong and then think of a second guess that is based on different reasoning. Research reveals that averaging these two guesses tends to produce starting points that are more accurate than the first guess alone.

Another strategy uses the “wisdom of the crowd”. The strategy involves collecting the best guesses from others and then using the average of these guesses as your own starting point. Research shows that often the more estimates that are averaged the better, so long as the underlying reasoning (and hence, the errors) are different.

So, when making judgements, be humble, seek out new perspectives, and expect to make mistakes.

The Conversation
Adrian R. Camilleri, Lecturer in Marketing, RMIT University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Can you see the opportunity you are looking at?

by RMIT Entrepreneur-in-residence, Marcus Powe

Ideas and opportunities are at the beginning of the entrepreneurial process. The tools of innovation that help the entrepreneur establish whether ‘it’ is just an idea or indeed an opportunity. The tools of innovation are simple yet powerful. You use them to determine whether your idea might be the basis of a great commercial or social opportunity. Once you have learned and applied the tools of innovation you ‘see’ many opportunities that often challenge your comfort zone and at the same time enhance your ability to succeed.

Let us start at the beginning.

I wonder whether YOU can see the opportunities?

If your idea remains JUST an idea after the tools of innovation have been applied to it – fantastic. There is no point investigating the idea any further. Park (do not abandon, just park) the idea then go on to the next idea. Save your energy, passion and money for an idea that will turn into an opportunity that you can really deliver.

Most people who start a business or work in an organisation often concentrate on what has to be done. They often have tunnel vision. They can only see what is directly in front of them. If you have seen horses racing you may notice they wear blinkers. Blinkers give a racehorse tunnel vision that stop distractions and keep it focused on the finish line or the successful completion of a task.

The problem with tunnel vision is that if you only see what’s in front of you. You will miss all the ideas on the periphery. Many ideas are turned into opportunities and then into reality by people who can make connections in the market or organisation that others didn’t, or couldn’t see as they STILL have their blinkers on.

So what is the chance of success in taking a new idea to market if you haven’t removed your blinkers, that’s easy, think of a number less than one. With your blinkers removed, the first thing you will see is the COMPETITION. People frequently claim, ‘There is no competition.’ It seems their blinkers are well and truly on! Knowing your competition is critical. Why would your competitors let you enter, survive and thrive in the market place – because they are nice? After all, you are taking their opportunities for growth, their customers and their MONEY. If you can’t see your competitors you won’t even see the Driving Forces, which are even further out on the periphery. These are the environmental forces that can create and destroy opportunities instantly – their impact is certain, total and not controllable by individuals or organisations.

Removing the blinkers does not hurt! If fact there is no surgery required.

Taking the blinkers off and looking at the environment, the market and inside your organisation will provide many opportunities. You will be surprised by your new ability to expect the unexpected and find opportunities everywhere. You will look for and understand that gaps occur in the market place constantly. Removing the blinkers – could it be that easy? To remove the blinkers you need to separate yourself from your idea, park your ego and become pragmatic. You may think I am suggesting an approach that is boring, mechanical and no fun at all. Quite the contrary – you need passion and pragmatism, not idealism and optimism in the entrepreneurial process. Do this and I wonder what will happen next?