Pi Attitude Zone: Flexibility

Not Kicking The Habit

We humans would like to believe that everything we do is the result of careful thought and reasoned consideration.  In reality, our choices are overwhelmingly driven by habit.   If they weren’t, the daily business of making decisions would occupy most of our waking thoughts, and would quickly drive us crazy.

Over a century ago, American philosopher and psychologist William James observed that “All our life, in so far as it takes definite form, is but a mass of Habits”.  In the 18th-century Dr. Samuel Johnson held that “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken”. Both these wise commentators were on to a fundamental fact about the human condition.  Habits die hard, whether we’re aware of them or not. No wonder, then, that the advertising industry wants to influence our habits, and if possible introduce a few new ones.

Meet Claude Hopkins, one of America’s first 20th-century advertising geniuses:  (he it was who introduced a stunned world to the idea that Puffed Wheat cereal was “shot from guns”).  Hopkins’ greatest triumph was inculcating a massive new habit, that of Brushing Our Teeth.  Called on by the fledgling Pepsodent company to launch its product, this gifted adman realized that the greatest impediment to the brand’s success was the fact that most Americans never cleaned their teeth at all.  He set about explaining that a “cloudy film” forms on teeth left un-brushed, impairing your smile.  A new habit was quickly born.  Before the Pepsodent launch, only 7% of Americans had a tube of toothpaste in the bathroom cabinet.  Ten years later, product penetration had topped 65%.

What if your message is about breaking habits, instead of creating or promoting them?  Alcoholics Anonymous proved themselves masters of the art by the way a bad habit was tackled – that of getting pickled.  AA found a way to replace one routine (going to a bar and getting hammered) with a better one: going to AA meetings and talking about your addiction.

Speaking of meetings, another habit was embedded into the lives of millions of Americans when Rick Warren and his Saddleback Church introduced the idea of marketing prayer meetings.  Once again, a habit was born, and became part of people’s daily lives.

We really are creatures of habit, then.  And the advertising industry is profoundly grateful.

Zone: Flexibility Country: Multiple Geographies Product –