Welcome to The Effectiveness Partnership.

We are the world’s marketing effectiveness company.

Warwick Cairns, Strategist, The Effectiveness Partnership

Effective advertising is truthful advertising, but truth only works if audiences recognise it as their truth.

Here’s a truth for you.

Beer advertising has historically been heavy with male bonding tropes. Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser has put out some of the most famous of them. For years, it had men all around the world saying wassup! to each other. And it got them drinking Bud.

Here’s another truth.

The world moves on, and attitudes move with it. Unless they are shaken up from time to time, tropes can lose their power and become tired cliches.

Bud Light is lower in alcohol, carbs and calories. Its drinkers are younger, less traditional, and less exclusively male than drinkers of regular Budweiser. Those are all groups that would represent a big win for the beer industry, if they could get more of them in. And so, in 2023, the brand’s marketing people set out to find a fresh, new way to represent Bud Light in a modern, diverse world. They came across an on-trend social media influencer by the name of Dylan Mulvaney, who entertainingly challenged perceptions of what it means to be male. And indeed female, because Mulvaney is transgender. With over 10 million followers on TikTok and nearly 2 million on Instagram, it was undoubtedly true that Mulvaney was popular, and especially so with Gen Z.

So you can see what Bud were thinking when they signed Mulvaney up.

But many drinkers didn’t see things in quite the same way.

Singer Kid Rock, for example. His opinion was F*** Bud Light and f*** Anheuser-Busch! Turns out that others shared his opinion.

With a near-instantaneous $4 billion hit to Anheuser-Busch’s market capitalisation, the company screeched into an about-turn. Mulvaney was quickly ditched, to be replaced by an uber-patriotic commercial featuring a Clydesdale horse galloping in slow motion through all-American landscapes, while manly men gave each other firm handshakes or stood in awe to watch the raising of the star-spangled banner at the Lincoln Memorial. You get the idea.

The question is, how can people see the same things so very differently?
And what does it all mean for marketing?
As with many facets of human nature, the psychologists have been there first.
Back in 1951 there was an American football match between Princeton and Dartmouth. It was a rough game. There were fouls on both sides. There were broken bones on both sides. Three years later two researchers, Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril, showed a film of the match to students at both universities and asked them a series of questions on what they saw.

What Princeton students ‘saw’ was the Dartmouth team making more than twice as many rule infractions as were seen by Dartmouth students. The Dartmouth students, on the other hand, ‘saw’ the opposite.

The researchers concluded that there’s no such thing as objective and unbiased perception. Out of all the different things that happen in a game, people notice and interpret their own version of it.

The game, they said, was actually many different games and that each version of the events that transpired was just as true and real to a particular person, as other versions were to other viewers and fans.
It’s known as Selective Perception.

So Gwyneth Paltrow told a court that she was just skiing along innocently when a man recklessly crashed into them from behind, and when the man told the exact same story, except that it was him who was minding his own business and she who was out of control, it’s probable that they both actually believed what they said. Selective perception means they both may have perceived and processed different facts differently. Either that, or the Specsavers people missed a trick in not signing up the retired optometrist when the jury found against him.

Whether that makes it true that Meghan Markle was telling her truth when she told Oprah Winfrey she grew up an only child, I don’t know. But her sister Samantha clearly believes otherwise.

We all like to think that there is objective truth in the world, and that we personally are the ones in possession of it. On the important debates of the day, we like to think that we act according to facts and logic, while the other lot are dishonest or gullible, or both. But the answer from psychology seems to be that truth is a big and multifaceted thing, and all of us can’t help but latch on to different aspects of it, as suits our beliefs and dispositions.

The job of effective advertising isn’t just to tell truths about a brand – it’s to present those truths in such a way that they connect and find fertile ground in the hearts and mind of audiences. Your truth has to sit with their truth better than do the competing truths of rival brands.

First published by Warc.com on 3 May 2023