The most important idea in marketing is “new”. We’re always looking for the next big thing, searching for the latest new products to buy. Everywhere we look, we see evidence of consumer beliefs and behaviors are constantly changing, as we invent new technology and cultural norms. We forget that many have a vested interest in making it seem like everything is changing. Markets move on fear or greed. Change instils urgency, gets you to take action before it’s too late. Charts only get included in presentations if they go up or down. But most things don’t change, not really. Our brains evolved over millions of years, and it takes tens of thousands of years for them to even vary. If you were to take a prehistoric human baby and raise them in today’s society, they’d be indistinguishable from you and I. So it stands to reason that absent short lived fashions or fringe behaviors, we think and act pretty much how we always have.
As per the Lindy effect, the best predictor for what non-perishable things – ideas, information, and technology – will last is how long they have already lasted. Books that make it onto the NYT Bestseller list on average stay on the list for 5 weeks. However those that have lasted past 5 weeks, on average last for at least 5 more. The older something is, the more conditions it must have been fit for to survive this long, therefore the broader range of possible futures it is fit for, meaning the longer it is likely to survive. Take the crocodile, an apex predator whose basic design has remained unchanged for 200 million years: they’ll probably outlast us. The Lindy effect works across space, as well as time. For example a book that does well in only one country, is unlikely to thrive in others. However if it is translated and does well in another country, that dramatically increases the odds that it’ll do well in the whole world. Rather than the latest fashions and trends, it’s these things that have been in used by a lot of people for a long time that we should be curious about, because as Jeff Bezos puts it “you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time”.
Advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty studied TGI survey data spanning from 2000 to 2020: two decades containing 9/11, Iraq and Afghan wars, Obama, Trump, the Great Recession, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, COVID, and the rise of the internet. Each one of these events ‘changed everything’, so you’d expect to see nothing stable in the survey, but you’d wrong. Over this tumultuous time period 45% of topics saw opinion change by fewer than 5 percentage points, and 74% changed less than 10. Opinions on the future, debt, authority, family, aging, gender, even eating out at restaurants are virtually unmoved over two decades. The only notable changes to attitudes in the anaysis are on newspaper use, TV ads, cannabis legalisation, contactless payments, and bargain hunting. “It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.” – Bill Bernbach
Bill Bernbach and the beginning
CHARTS THAT DON'T CHANGE
Jeff Bezos’ Rule: What will not change?
The Carousel - Mad Men
The Lindy Effect: what is it?
What Emotion Goes Viral the Fastest?