On Saturday, as the Cannes Lions
neared its end, a seminar looked at the very fundamental bits of our response to advertising - not as consumers, but as primates.
It was an idea spun out from TED Global
last year; Dr. Laurie Santos
, a member of Yale
's Psychology faculty, asked an audience for help. Her research had already shown primates, specifically brown capuchin monkeys, had the ability to recognize images of other monkeys, and to understand basic value. Since they could grasp images, and the rudiments of commerce, she began to think about what could be learned about their response to advertising.
Dr. Santos needed assistance, though - her research staff wasn't having a successful time Photoshopping its own ads, so she reached out looking to partner with experts. Keith Olwell
, chief creative officer of Proton and his partner Elizabeth Kiehner
, co-founder, Thornberg & Forrester
stepped forward to help Dr. Santos and her associate Nick Buttrick
, the lab manager at Yale's Comparative Cognition Lab
develop a program to bring the idea to life.
'We're approaching this to find the hard wires in the primate brain,' Olwell says. 'We're almost looking back in time, to find what is hard-wired to work a certain way. We're removing the cultural clutter.'
The group hopes, by learning more about how the monkeys respond to various different types of advertising and various deliveries that it can apply those to people. Rather than using human products to measure monkey brand preference, though, the group is creating brands especially for its subjects.
The monkeys will be able to choose, in a marketplace-style exchange program, whether they gravitate toward a logo they've become familiar with, or with a logo that's had no advertising at all. The logo will be on the bowls with their food (two different colors of Jello, to start) and worn on the uniforms of the undergrads helping with the experiment.
'For advertising, one of the most important things you can do is shift preference between two identical products, like Coke
, or Geico
, so we want to have two identical things and see if we can make them switch,' Olwell says. As Santos says in a video the group played at the festival, 'we'll be able to get a window into what advertising does, in its purest form.'
For the group's first experiment, which started a few weeks ago, it sought to learn more about a fundamental premise of advertising: sex sells.
In what might seem eerily reminiscent of comedian Bill Hicks
famous 'Drink Coke
' bit, the group prepared an advertisement for the first round of experimentation: a female capuchin signaling to the males she was ready to mate, exposing her genitals and attempting to catch their attention. The image, with a logo placed nearby, is printed on posters that cover the animals enclosure.
The hypothesis, that advertising works on monkeys, will be extrapolated into other questions: Do the monkeys pay more for the sex-associated brand? Will they work harder to get it? Will they take less Jello in exchange? As the experiments evolve, the teams will push on these questions, and change the relevance and frequency of the exposure to the logo. Further experiments may deal with other broad, motivating topics; images of power, or the family.
'We can take this out of a discussion of subjectivity, we can say this works exactly this much, and we can take that for granted,' Kiehner says. 'Our motivation is to find out exactly how advertising works. We know it works, we just don't know the hows or the whys.'twitter.com/#!/weareprimates