News Media and Confirmation Bias

Echo chamber

Echo chamber

I read an interesting study the other day on confirmation bias and how our minds pay more attention, way more attention to stories that re-inforce our biases.

We encounter a lot of stories in our daily lives whether through the news, friends, families, overheard on the bus/train, stories are all around us but we don’t remember all of them because we don’t pay the same amount of attention to all of them.

So which ones do we pay attention to and why? Well according to research we pay attention to those that are obviously more compelling and that is based on a combination of variables – the structure, the characters, the storyteller but one of the other variables is that we pay attention to those stories that reinforce our bias.

E.g. We have the TV playing in the background and there are multiple stories being told some are in ads, some are in news bites but once in a while we get pulled away from the work we are doing and notice a particular story.

This could be confirmation bias – our mind is actively searching for content which will validate our world view. E.g. If we believe Black-on-Black crime is a real thing and a major cause for the high levels of violence in the black community as opposed to other indicators such as income, family structure, living conditions, neighborhood etc. then we are drawn to stories that repeat that narrative. Whereas a story about white crime in a low income similar scenario is not as readily picked up and remembered by our minds.

This leads to a situation where our mind has a lot of stories to re-inforce our bias and few to challenge them, so we become more and more biased to where it becomes our opinion and slowly our belief.

This can be seen in the current cable news environment. Though there may be stories that work against a particular network’s stance they are not given airtime because they do not reinforce the bias of the viewers. Biases which the channel might have encouraged and nurtured in the first place. Also there is the fact that if a channel runs too many stories that challenge the biases of its viewers it loses credibility with them and is seen as not reporting the “right” news. If you are a FOX viewer, you want to see stories that tell you there is an immigrant epidemic so stories about immigrants becoming successful through hard work or immigrants not on the government social welfare programs lessens your faith in the channel. Similarly stories that highlight how diversity benefits america and stories of how new immigrants have helped the economy these stories though anecdotal (and most news stories are) will disengage the channels audience and they will look for other news sources. The same can be said of MSNBC or left leaning news.

This has lead to an environment where the news channels instead of educating their viewers are enabling them. So not only do advertisers have an influence but the viewers biases have a profound impact too the content because channels operate on TRP’s and so they give the viewers what they think they want based on their customer profiles and biases.

The problem here is that editors choose news stories based on probable viewership numbers and viewers wants news that enforces or validates their world view. It’s a vicious cycle that makes us all more polarized, biased and discourages independent thinking along with making us less informed about the true state of things.

Also how are we to grow as a society if the sources we look to for truth, pander to our lowest base instincts and enable our biases further for the sake of revenue. I do not have a solution – apart from check your biases, analyze every bit of information and engage in independent thinking.

The morality of online behaviour data

Snooping or Observing?

Snooping or Observing?

When does going through someones online history start becoming online voyeurism?

Now I know this is a stretch but in all honesty it’s something that keeps creeping up when I am behind the scenes looking at data. I recognize that it is aggregated data and not specific to individuals which protects identity and saves against bias. That said, I think it’s too early for consumers to be alarmed by it, but as we start to live more of our lives online this debate and the laws to limit marketers access to data are not too far away.

If good marketing means the ability to comb through peoples online behavior data and find patterns and insights so as to conclude their next steps and their buying pressure points.

Then it to some extent requires the same skills that would make a good voyeur. The ability to go undetected, being one of them, because no one wants to know they’re being watched but it also involves deducing their next steps so that we can intercept them with our products and make it seem like a helpful coincidence.

Is online data snooping or observing? Online behavior is not done in the public realm so it can’t be observing and if it isn’t then is it snooping?

So go forth and snoop! #BuyBehavior #InsightMiner

The many faces of Media.

Is media more divergent or convergent in the digital world?

SharingThere’s no doubt that with the advent of home studios it’s now easier to generate and create your own content. Hence we see that in the media sources side of the business there is a huge increase in the number of content creators and this has had a divergent effect on media generation and story telling.

What is more often missed is how our media consumption habits have changed. I don’t mean the device we consume it on but the fact that though there are soo many new media sources you would expect a scattered playing field with a lot of niche content being consumed by different people based on interests, location etc.

Though usage of niche media is rising, we are also seeing a greater rise in everyone consuming the same media story. The collective conscience is more aligned than ever before. We’re consuming the same shows, the same news stories, even the same underground news stories. It’s almost as if certain stories / narratives have been able to fully utilize the reach of the internet by spanning across categories, interests, location, language and all the other usual barriers to captivate the entire globe’s (or at least those with TV & internet) attention.

Is this simply good craft or marketing or a mix of the two or are we just social creatures and will gravitate towards what everyone else is talking about so that we are informed and can participate in groups.


Children are chalkboards

Impressions made aren't easily unmade

Impressions made aren’t easily unmade

Children are extremely impressionable, what they see as youngsters stays with them for ever. If you teach a child a rose is a tulip. He’ll believe it till he goes to school and is told otherwise (most likely with jeers from his peers).

Children are like chalkboards in that sense. The first time you write on a new chalkboard it’s fresh and the lines are clear, the impression is crisp and clear. As time goes on and the chalkboard is erased the board gets greyer and no impression is as crisp as it was the first time.

Also the impression is never completely erased, it’s silhouette is still there and the harder the impression was the clearer its silhouette remains.

This is what it’s like with us, hence be careful what you say around your kids and what message you’re sending them as kids cause it stays with them for a long long time.

Why we’re all taught to like the same thing, Or at the least within a range of things.

The Choice Equation.

The Choice Equation.

From early childhood we are made to aspire towards the same goals and covet the same things. Individuality is encouraged but within confines. It is a false acceptance of Individuality because in reality true individuality is discouraged and sometimes literally beaten out of people.

The Mantra can be rephrased as – Be the best that you can be (do the most that you can do) vs. do whatever you want to do.

The individual self is a threat to the mass produced nature of the corporate complex. Individuality means variety, but the systems of mass production can only profit on large numbers of the same objects — A limited range of desire is required and hence a conformist desire is projected.

E.g. Forget getting to design your own car you can’t even pick any color. You can only pick colors from those offered by the car company. Now sure you can get it painted in any color you like.. but why not then sell a blank car at a discount. Do I hear the universal echo of “economies of scale” being shouted by business people everywhere, not to mention law enforcement that might need to describe the color etc.

This seems practical and it is.. for products though not for people. The thought that a range of options is the same as true individuality when made towards a lifestyle and choice of career is what is truly stifling for the human condition.

This is the case because if we did not in some way confuse conformist desire with true desire we would see through the mirage that is consumerism and its promise of fulfilling our inner desires with products.

Hence we are confused into thinking we are individuals when in reality we are being cajoled into conforming to pre-molded roles that can then be categorized, segmented, marketed to and finally capitalized on.

Think Differently

When Product overtakes Soul – Are brands better liked than people?

Bowled over by Products

Bowled over by Products

As Icing on the cake of how consumerist we’ve become is an interesting new study by Innocean which highlights how the carefully managed personalities of brands are winning the likeability race against their very creators. People are preferring brands over humans!

This raises some interesting questions – Is the collective better than the individual.

Considering that brands are managed by a group of individuals who are all trying to do the best thing for the brand and hence cancel out each others bad decisions.

When we covet thy neighbors product! Are Products what we covet over companionship?

This is a trick question because the answer is in a gray area. We prefer some products over some people. But no product can even come close to those we genuinely love. I guess in a nutshell we’d all trade a bad friend for an apple product.

Thought Provoking none the less.

Click here to read the article.

Superbowl hysteria gets a kick in the B****s

Newcastle Beer Ad

Newcastle Beer Ad

Content will always be king. A classic example of how to ride on superbowl hysteria without paying the price for it. Mocking superbowl hysteria should be every ad creative’s first route but gets discarded because it would be biting the hand that feeds it. Kudos Droga5 & Newcastle for having the bollocks!


Is there a social media saturation point?

Not everything is worth sharing.

Not everything is worth sharing.

Social Media survives on people living and announcing loudly their lives on all the different platforms for that is the content that people log in for. The whole thing relies on people announcing the good and the bad thats going on in their lives for the amusement and bemusement of others, which is ok for kids who have little concept of privacy or need for it but as you age privacy becomes more important and making all your decisions and whereabouts public becomes more expensive (employers, family, people whose opinion matters) e.g. partying pics, too many selfies, regular bar check-ins, drunken status updates they can come back to haunt you.

Now there are those who would argue that in todays age even bad behaviour is acceptable and quite de rigueur if you want to stand out from the clutter. This is suitable for celebrities and reality TV stars but for working professionals it can be the death knell.

Already we are seeing a tapering off from social media usage because of perceived fallout and user burnout. Not everyone is reliving their partying days (or nights) as vociferously as they were before as a result of the reality that your employer might have access to the same information. Does this mean social media is close to its saturation point?

Naysayers would argue that Humans are social creatures and will always need to communicate and socialize, this is a given but the preferred medium for distributing a message is constantly changing and forever fluid. Once it was vocal traditions, then a written tradition and now a digital written/audio/video tradition but just as those platforms have outlived their purpose so must this.

So no doubt that social media has a saturation point, the big question is when will it come and will it be a sudden (a new platform) or gradual (slowly losing members and fading out) decline.

Social media biggest plus (it’s global reach) is also it’s biggest flaw (privacy is lacking).

The old adage : keep your cards close to your chest flies in the face of active social media participation and hence might be it’s achilles heel.

As if to prove me right – this article is in todays Nytimes –! 

Stories sell..

Why this will never work.

Advertising and Marketing is sales. It’s not one-on-one sales, it’s sales via a brochure, a radio spot, a tv ad or a billboard, but it’s sales. It convinces a large group of people to buy a service or product through the story conveyed via the chosen marketing medium.

We’ve used stories to help sell ideas, products, services, political movements, revolutions, uprisings and everything else from time immemorial. E.g. The story of a fruit vendor who immolated himself led to the Arab Spring, Dove uses Testimonials (stories) to prove and build trust that their product moisturizes skin, Coke shows us stories where people “Enjoy Coca-Cola”, Axe shows us stories where before using the product the protagonist couldn’t secure a date but after using it he has the “Axe Effect”.

It isn’t just CPG products – Car companies regularly use stories of status or adventure, Politicians use Joe the plumber or Mary the single mom working 2 jobs… Everyone uses it to pitch and sell an idea.

The length of the story never really mattered it was always about the content, but in order to establish a story one needs a little time to build and weave the message into the story. There’s been a concise-ing of the story in the past 50 years or so. Before the print medium most stories were told via verbal form and were one-to-one or one-to-many recitals.

With the advent of print we told a sales story via long copy, but then long copy died because we could tell a story in a shorter period of time through an image and supplementary body copy.

Then came the TV spot and we told stories in 30 seconds. Now we have Social Media and it’s ever shrinking format 15 seconds on instagram vs. 6 Seconds on Vine, From status updates of 140 characters to hashtag’s its all taking a toll on the quality of the story.

As marketers ask themselves how to fully utilize the reach and power of new media and technology, the biggest obstacle will be how to tell a convincing story in this ever shrinking format.

Some would argue that in a short attention span generation this is not a concern. I would argue the attention wanders only when the content is boring, the same consumers we say have small attention spans tend to spend a lot of time on things they like e.g. video games, blogs that interest them etc. If your content speaks to them they will read it / watch it / hear it / interact with it.

Moral of the story: We’ll always need a story to sell a service or product and you’ll always need a little time to craft a good story that sells.


Hot Stuff

Even an Iron is Hot, that doesn't mean you latch onto it.

The Latest trend in marketing is Newsjacking. Using a current trending news story and attaching one’s product / service to it and riding the social media wave.

When done well and when there is a clear connect between story and product I am not against this, but to simply try and attach a brand to an unrelated or irrelevant news occurrence is both irresponsible to the brand and annoying to the audience.

I hope to see greater restraint from brand custodians in the future than to simply use reactionary tactics as this does not further the brand’s strategy or business goals and does little to increase brand salience.