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Changing Beliefs Vs. Changing Behaviors

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Relaxed Man's hands on paper
Monica Rodriguez/ Stone/ Getty Images

Advertising agencies across the world have this one problem in common; they are tasked by their clients to change the beliefs of consumers. And that is an almost impossible hill to climb.

But changing behavior, that's relatively easy in comparison.

Unfortunately, the lines between the two are blurred and many creatives, planners and strategists try to launch a campaign hell-bent on changing beliefs. This is almost certainly doomed to failure.

Understanding Human Nature

To understand this conundrum, you have to understand human nature. As a race, we don't like change. We fear change, actually. So when we've spent years, or even decades, forming an opinion or "attitude" about something, it's not going to be something that is changed overnight. It takes time, or something momentous.

As Al Franken said in his documentary movie "God Spoke:"

"My dad was a Republican until 1964. And he was a Jacob Javits Republican. You know, he grew up in New York, he voted for Herbert Hoover. And he voted for every Republican…and then in 1964…during the civil rights struggle, my dad would say ' that is so wrong. No Jew can be against civil rights.' And my dad was a card-carrying member of the NAACP, and a Republican. And so in 1964 they nominate Goldwater, who was against the civil rights bill, and that was it. My dad was a Democrat for the rest of his life."

When Convictions Collide

That change in attitude came from something that had two deep-seated convictions wrestling with each other. One was a moral conviction, the other was political (although some often mix the two together). The moral conviction was stronger, and Al Franken's father changed his political affiliation. And thus, that change in belief created a change in behavior. He was voting Republican, his paradigm was shifted, and after that he voted Democrat. It's simple cause and effect.

But that's rare. Most of the time, it's much more difficult to overturn such strong convictions and beliefs. Advertisers, when faced with this challenge, would have better luck nailing Jello to a wall.

We Fear Change

It's sad but true. Most of us don't like radical change. We also don't like to make the effort to change our attitudes or beliefs. In fact, we'd rather go out of our way to prove that our belief is right than to change it. Think about some of the beliefs you have about popular brands. You've probably had them for a long time. Maybe you prefer American-made cars to imports. Perhaps you're a Coke person, not Pepsi. Maybe you always buy Apple and refuse to buy anything Microsoft. Can those beliefs be changed? Doubtful. But can your buying behavior be changed?

Yes, it can.

Make Them An Offer They Can't Refuse

Companies spend millions rebranding but don't fix the problem at hand. A fancy TV campaign promoting happy-happy-joy-joy feelings is probably not going to get people to drop Coke and buy Pepsi. But go into the supermarket and see Pepsi on sale for half the price of Coke, and you may very well take home a Pepsi six-pack instead of your usual Coke purchase. Your belief hasn't changed. You still think Coke's the best. But hey, for half-price, Pepsi tastes almost the same. And Pepsi hopes you'll get a taste for it, and become a Pepsi loyalist.

Similarly, the recent Old Spice campaign may have got a few people to try it, or notice it, but I say the phenomenal results are more attributed to a coupon campaign that was running in parallel. You may have switched to Old Spice from Axe or Dove, but not because it smells better. You did it because it smells ok, but the price was great. These are easy examples of changing behavior without changing beliefs.

If You're Really Want To Change a Belief, Do Something Radical

Here's a great example of a client asking for a change in belief and an advertiser delivering on it.

Dominos pizza chain was not doing well. It was floundering. Pizza Hut and Papa John's were crushing it, and the Papa Murphy's Take-N-Bake model was firing on all cylinders, winning awards every year.

What could Dominos do? Well, they went to Crispin, Porter & Bogusky and asked for help. CP&B knew that this was not about creating a slick ad campaign, or offering coupons. People didn't like what Dominos had to offer, and offering a free pizza wasn't going to help if they didn't like the pizza. Even if they took up the offer, they likely wouldn't return.

So, CP&B told Dominos that they had to go back to the drawing board. Start from scratch, find out what people don't like, what they do like and make a better pizza.

Then, admit that the old pizzas weren't good. Be honest.

To say it worked would be a massive understatement. After the ads aired, the wait times for Dominos pizzas were up to 2 hours in some areas. Sales went through the roof. And they changed the consumers' beliefs about Dominos pizzas. Yes, they were bad, but now they're brand new and taste way better. It's a story, and a successful one at that.

As an advertising agency, changing beliefs will be something you're charged with on a regular basis. But changing behavior, that's a much easier nut to crack.

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