We're All in Marketing: What Evolution Tells Us About Advertising | Ethan Decker | TEDxSMU

We're All in Marketing: What Evolution Tells Us About Advertising | Ethan Decker | TEDxSMU



I am a scientist so I want to start with an experiment but I need your help so everybody pay attention wake up I'm gonna sing the first line of a song you're gonna sing the next line ready put your books down pay attention ready I don't want to grow up good next one my bologna has a first name okay last one this should be really easy for all of you like a good neighbor any agents okay no agents have appeared those songs are all indelibly stuck in our heads we can thank Barry Manilow for that last one he wrote it the year I was born so we have all clearly grown up with advertising in our lives and we are inundated with it you probably feel one of three ways about advertising there's a group of you out there that thinks advertising is entertainment it's fun it's LeBron James and some kind of pump up sports ad it's some kind of tear jerking story about a mother and the way she relates to her daughter or its hello ladies look at your man now back to me the back of your men the back to me the second group of you think advertising has no effect on you at all you do not buy based on brand you buy based on what you believe in and we know who you are because you're not very fashionable sorry the third group of you thinks advertising is evil advertising is full of snake oil salesmen that lie to you and of course you think about Big Tobacco more recently Volkswagen I don't know if you know the story they actually coated their computers on the cars to lie about their emissions when they could sense they were in an emissions test so they're 10 or 20 million cars on the road that are belching out 10 times the emissions compared to the clean diesel that they promised snake oil salesman I was in that group I totally thought advertising was evil I went to a Quaker high school I went to a liberal college I decided I wanted to help the planet so I got a PhD in ecology I was going to make a difference and advertising was evil and it was all about superficial things that people wanted us to buy that we didn't need so unexpectedly of course I find myself in advertising the irony of this was not lost on my friend Chris he gave me a bottle of snake oil you can't see what's in there yes it is a real snake I'm not gonna sell this to you but it will cure your rheumatism and your addiction to Facebook well once I got the job I needed to get good at it I'm a scientist now doing advertising so what's the science of marketing turns out there isn't much turns out the best people could say about the theories of marketing was connect to the hearts and the minds of your audience and I thought wow that's kind of medieval that's like saying we're gonna use all four elements of the periodic table air earth wind and fire so I wasn't gonna learn from the science of marketing I thought well what can I learn from my past that's relevant and around that time I read an article by Rory Sutherland he heads up Oh golly a big agency in London and he said we spend so much time thinking about how marketing works and how Direct Mail works and how social media works we've taken our eye off of a more important question how do people work and I thought well hey I'm an ecologist I might know something about how people work based on how animals work how nature works well it turns out there's a lot we can learn from nature take the majestic elk these are abundant in Colorado where I live and every rutting season the male's grow these beautiful huge antlers the thing is they have to grow this in about three months and they weigh 40 pounds and they are made of bone imagine growing 40 pounds of bone in three months just to say hello ladies so this is a conspicuous amount of consumption conspicuous resource used to advertise on a smaller scale the Australian peacock spider is about half the width of your thumb your thumbnail it's tiny but as its name implies it has this beautiful coloration peacock like on a flap on its back and during its it's a courting dance it flips the flap up and it does a little dance it even raises two of its legs and it does this cute little thing to try and impress the ladies if it does if that beautiful precision and conspicuous level of detail and precision impresses the ladies they mate they get to reproduce and if not she eats him so hopefully there's one thing you take away you realize that your dating life is a lot less risky flowers are nothing but advertisement they are an advertisement to pollinators to come get free food and unknowingly as you can see they get covered with pollen and when they go to the next flower that pollen hits the stigma goes down to the ovary and the flower gets to reproduce so all those beautiful colors out there and even things in the ultraviolet spectrum that you can't see are advertisements by the flowers to the pollinators so advertisements are abundant it's not just about sex though of course low advertisement is usually about sex it's also about violence the Western rattlesnake the western diamondback rattlesnake as its name implies has diamonds on its back it has a head that's a little bigger than its body and it has a very conspicuous rattle and if you hear that that's advertising that if you try to eat me I will kill you so violence is being advertised but there's also deceptive advertising in nature the bull snake doesn't have venom but it looks just like the western diamondback and it even makes the rattling sound the way I do with this mouth false advertising in nature flowers I'm going to end with one more flower story there's a whole family of orchids that rely on wasps to get pollinated and they're beautiful but here's the thing that flower looks and smells just like a female wasp so instead of spending all this energy producing pollen to give away to these wasps this orchid deceives them into thinking that this is a female the males get all hot and bothered it drives them nuts they come over and try and meet with the flower and in all the jostling that top little petal bloop drops some pollen on the back of the wasp and the loss goes off thinking woohoo more females and mates with the other orchids and the pollen gets distributed and the orchids reproduce genius so there is a lot of advertising in nature what are they advertising they're actually not advertising the antlers or the colors or the rattle they're advertising their genes good quality genetics are vital in choosing your mate they're advertising your health how healthy are you as a potential partner they're advertising their nutrition how much nutrients are in the pollen and of course they're advertising their venom all these things can't be seen and that's because what matters most in life is invisible so we use the visible to grasp it it in nature advertising is a visible way to communicate the things that matter most now over time things that get duped will die off like if all you do is mate with flowers and you're a wasp you're not going to pass on your genes right if you're a female elk and you pick a male elk that's got like you know the the grinch style antlia fake antlers tied to its head and it's not actually a healthy male those females will die off too so those that get duped and those that deceive will die off and in a weird bit of foreshadowing in my own career one of my professors and advisors from University of New Mexico wrote a paper with his wife about this in nature called truth in advertising so does this have any bearing on how we live absolutely we don't have antlers but if you want to impress the ladies you get a stretch Hummer for that special event it's about eight miles a gallon so conspicuous amount of energy going into that if you uh if you don't have a carapace covered in a peacock like bunch of coloration you go shopping and I did some research with these guys picking out their clothes and I was amazed at the level of detail in the embroidery and their shirts and the stitching in these very expensive boots that they had and even in their sideburns they had these amazing little patterns and you know folks who take a lot of time to put their hair in just the right way this is peacocking quite simply it's a conspicuous level of detail this is not lost on advertisers of course Rolex knows this so when they're marketing a $15,000 watch this beautiful Daytona they talk about the precision timepiece that it is doesn't really tell time any better than a $50 watch but the precision the conspicuous precision is just like the peacock coloration of that spider now it's not all about more and better and more expensive because luxury goods are not the only kind of advertisement and in fact it really depends upon what invisible things you're trying to communicate if on the one hand you are the head of Morgan Stanley and you manage a trillion dollars and resources then yes you want a beautiful Italian suit you want expensive ferragamo shoes a tie that's in fashion and you wear that Daytona watch and you get the stainless steel one because that's all the rage on Wall Street right now on the other hand if you wore that on campus if you are Harvard professor you'd be laughed off campus they think you're so superficial you're not caring about things that matter because if you are the world's best ant biologist then you wear you know a frumpy suit maybe it's 20 years old you don't care you wear a tie and maybe it matches or it doesn't you a swiss army watch because it's you know reasonable functional and that's because you want to communicate that what you care about his scholarship science research knowledge ants you care about ants that's how you look and this take took me to another unexpected realization because here i was an ecologist who wanted to save the world and now i'm an advertising selling stuff and I used to think advertising was evil and I used to think all of this stuff was superficial and what I realized was we aren't superficial creatures we are symbolic once the ant biologist is just as focused on his outward appearance as the head of Morgan Stanley it's just he chose very different things to communicate what matters most to him and those things are invisible those things are his trustworthiness his intellect his caring and you all care about those same things you want to know if someone's going to be a good spouse a good business partner a good friend and all those things are invisible because you know it stinks to get burned and all I have to do is think about Bernie Madoff or Lance Armstrong to know how much that stinks so we are not superficial creatures we are symbolic ones today I want to convince you to change the way you think about advertising I had to it's your turn you those songs are stuck in your head anyway so you might as well enjoy them and you might as well see them in a new light this is the light you should see them in it's not just entertainment it's not irrelevant noise that you're above and it's certainly not evil no it's useful and you use it every single day to navigate the invisible how do we use this when you're standing in front of ninety linear feet of laundry detergents in a store that has 45,000 different products on average I know the math you're trying to guess which of those will actually clean your clothes best that's invisible you can't tell just by looking but you have to use the visible to guess at it you have to use the advertisements to try and guess which detergent works so you use oxy where you use plant power or whatever it is they're throwing at you to try and guess when you're looking at the eggs and you want to know whether organic eggs from vegetarian fed hens yes they are very principled hens they started when they were teenagers of course when you're trying to decide whether these eggs are going to be really healthier for you and your family and certainly whether they're going to be worth paying twice as much you can't tell by looking at it because visibly they look just the same as any other egg so you're guessing at the invisible and you need to use the visible to grasp it it just like every other species and I want to see a show of hands here how many of you have ever had a day where you got up and you stood in front of your wardrobe and you Hamden hard over what to wear because you wanted to make the right impression with what to wear how many of you have ever had a day like that okay there's one gentleman over there has never had a day like that apparently no yes you have hemming and hawing about your clothes okay good I think that's about a hundred percent I know I ham and haw about what to wear and I'm relieved having learned all this that I'm not superficial for having more shoes than my wife does but I will also impress upon you that you should take an extra minute not just to communicate what you want through your clothes because that's what we're doing we're trying to choose what to communicate through our clothes but make sure that what you're wearing is a little unique because you don't want to look just like everyone else in the office so in closing what matters most in life is invisible and we use the visible to grasp it it every species on the planet does that and there's some deception and advertising but that should get weeded out and we should hate the deception in the lies totally hate on that but don't hate on the advertising because we use the visible to grasp at the invisible which means we are not superficial creatures we are symbolic once and enclosing that means advertising isn't evil its nature thank you you

24 thoughts on “We're All in Marketing: What Evolution Tells Us About Advertising | Ethan Decker | TEDxSMU”

  1. Yeah!!! Actually telling us the true nature of advertisements. Really impressive. We are not superficial creatures but we are symbolic…

  2. If you have an ethical stance, always seek the truth inherent in each product and tell this truth, advertising will not be harmful. It will helpfull.

  3. Ethan makes marketing sound fun innovative and gives you a different perspective. He gives great examples and visuals that allow us to comprehend marketing at its roots. Using real life examples like spiders and even flowers. Using the rattle snake example was creative.

  4. argument that there is unethical advertising vs. necessary advertising doesn't make sense. must absolve advertising of ethics to get closer to that which we can't grasp. students interested in these topics should look into rhetorical theory

  5. He's an impressive talker, and confident, and funny. But rattle snakes and peacocks advertise themselves, cuz they need to survive. No matter how natural self-promotion is, his industry is complicit with a consumer culture that is massively outa whack with the ecology that he came from.

  6. Want a crack to make money on the web. There's a shortcut to find all web based working methods. Just go to google and type: "TheMakeMoneyOnlinePro".

  7. Consider what you hear when a car company makes a vehicle? High performance! Sleek design! Comfortable interior! A product of art and engineering! The advertising glorifies the marvels of a new car to a target audience. What are the qualities? Luxury! Sport! What about the people who made the car? It’s hard to ignore the fact that people make cars. The engineers use precise measuring instruments and the artists have various materials, paintbrushes and a sculpture and together they produce a car.

    The universe is no different.
    “Lift up your eyes to heaven and see. Who has created these things? It is the One who brings out their army by number; He calls them all by name. Because of his vast dynamic energy and his awe-inspiring power, not one of them is missing.”
    Isaiah 40:26 reads like an advertisement.

    What you don't see?
    “For his invisible qualities are clearly perceived by the things made even his eternal power and Godship so that they are inexcusable.” Romans 1:20

    Evolution advertises unaccountability.

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