Oh, Behave. Leo Burnett's New Tool Will Tell You Why You Do

An AdAgeStat Q&A With Agency's Research Exec Carol Foley

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As Leo Burnett moved from considering itself a "brand-centric" agency to one focused on "HumanKind," it decided that it should spend some time researching just what humans do. Carol Foley, exec VP-director of research services, and her team set out on a quest to define types of human behavior. After months of digging through academic literature, they realized there really wasn't a good model. One problem was that a lot of psychological research is focused on abnormal behaviors. That's not what drives purchasing decisions. "Most of what we're dealing with is just pretty normal behavior," she said. So they created their own framework.

"Behavioral Archetypes" is based on a review of the theories followed by a series of research and development surveys and more than 10,000 interviews allowing for the classifications of 1,500 to 1,800 discreet behaviors. Based on the data, those behaviors were clustered into eight "buckets" along two axes. [See the diagram below]. The outer rings are behaviors that happen when the behavior we want to engage in isn't possible due to something we don't have control over, such as a recession.

Below, Ms. Foley talks to Ad Age about Leo Burnett's plans for the product, and what it means for advertisers.

Carol Foley
Carol Foley

Ad Age: So you created a lexicon of human behavior. That doesn't sound ambitious at all. What are you going to do with it?

Ms. Foley: What we created was a data-informed way of organizing behavior. Data drove the organization. There's huge quantitative research behind this, but we're not encouraging people to use it in a quantitative way. What we're saying is, "This is a way to help strategists think about behaviors and craft intentions."

The central question that you're trying to ask is, "What are people doing now with regard to a brand?" For example, if you said people are using cash instead of debit cards and we were advertising the debit card. If you interview enough people about why did they go in and buy the Slurpee for their kids and why did they use cash, you would eventually find that they don't know. It's just habit. 'It's less than $20, so I use cash.'

If you use Behavioral Archetypes, "habit" as a behavior sits at the bottom of the wheel [in Preservation]. It's all about status quo. It's about not changing. What you can start to do is define the behavior that they're in and then you can say, "If we wanted to change the behavior, what would we want to change it to?" We want to get people more thoughtful and engaged. I'm just making this up for example: Maybe we would move from habit and say, "You know if you use our debit card, you're really being more responsible with your money." What you're saying is OK, you can budget better and you can plan better and you can see where you're money's going and that's a responsible thing to do for your family.

When you come through a human lens you want to create behavioral tensions -- you want to say you're doing this, you could do this. By having what we call the behavioral enemy, it dramatically helps the planner be able to talk about what the desired behavior is.

Ad Age: How far can advertising move the needle?

Ms. Foley: As we've used this, most of the tensions we've created are not across the wheel. Or sometimes the negative is set up as the behavior you want to push back against, like Allstate and [the Mayhem campaign.] Mayhem is pushing back against. It's saying that the inexpensive insurance you bought that you thought was so great. ...Think again. You've done something that is risky and is making you vulnerable. With Allstate you're going to be a lot safer. What we're doing is pulling you back a bit away from [Change] to something that is more secure.

Behavioral Archetypes chart

Ad Age: How does it work with very similar brands? Are there really different behaviors that lead to buying two types of cookies?

Ms. Foley: There could be 15 reasons that you buy cookies or 15 things that you do when you eat cookies. We're going to be most interested in the one that has the greatest upside potential. Of all those things you do, some we're highly unlikely to change. Some, if we were able to impact a change, it might not have much benefit in the long run to the brand. I guess the other answer is that for every brand, our clients always have different segments of people that they're targeting. We don't have to deal with everybody's behavior, we can focus on segments.

Ad Age: Do you use this in the pitch process?

Ms. Foley: Definitely. It can be very helpful as a simple paradigm to be able to say, the world organizes itself into certain kinds of behavior and you're here.

Ad Age: Do competing brands tend to have the same behaviors driving them?

Ms. Foley: It's all over the map. Frequently you see very big differences. In terms of behaviors that people engage in, as you get into things like consumer packaged goods, you have a lot more habit-driven behaviors. People who have formed simplification strategies don't give a lot of thought to each purchase. As you get into higher involvement ones, you get more differences.

Ad Age: So how would it apply to generics?

Ms. Foley: What you're largely into there is something behavioral addresses but it wasn't so much designed to address. You're getting into behaviors there where people's motives have become very non-emotional. They've just cut things down to good enough quality at a low price. They've made a kind of responsible and rational decision about what they want. They've said, "I'm willing to tolerate perhaps not the best quality but [do it] in order to get the price I want." When you think of those people in Behavioral Archetypes, you're starting to move over into the outer rings of "Surrender" and "Coping." You may have totally wanted to buy some really cool thing that was very self indulgent or counter-trend and rebellious, or if the brand has a lot of badge value that connotes something about power, but you said, "Circumstances being what they are with the recession, I've got to make some trade-offs" and you're now over here in the outer ring, surrendering.

That then might be the thing you start to use as the [behavioral] enemy: Is the surrender worth it?

Ad Age: Of all the things you're going to surrender on, do you really want it to be this product?

Ms. Foley: Exactly. And there's where the brand category starts to come in. if it was more of a badge value type of thing -- it might be OK for oven cleaner, but not this.

This is the eighth in a series of AdAgeStat Q&As with researchers who have extensively studied pieces of the demographic puzzle. Earlier we spoke to Dante Chinni about the role of geography in segmentation, Joel Kotkin about suburbs and immigration, Richard Florida about cities, Paco Underhill about women, Rose Cameron about men, Tammy Erickson about Generation X, and behavioral economist Dan Ariely about how to use everyone's irrationality to your advantage.