Marketing Book Recommendation: Predictably Irrational

Review: Predictably Irrational

A Book By Dan Ariely

How do you write a rational book about the irrationality of human nature? Dan Ariely does a good job in Predictably Irrational, The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, published by Harper Collins.

I’ve been a big believer in this premise long before I started my marketing career. As an undergrad English Lit major, one cannot read most of the classics of our language and not know that human nature is frighteningly irrational.

Ariely takes a scientific approach to the topic, conducting all sorts of psychological experiments to measure our rationality, or lack of it. Not surprisingly, he finds that people just don’t make sense with their choices. Why is this significant?

Marketers must have an excellent grasp of this fact to be really good at their work. And rookie marketers seem to make this mistake all the time; they think their audience will react to their product and all the advertising rationally.

Humans irrational? This is not news to judges, homicide dectectives, therapists and just about anyone working in the criminal justice system. This is not news to bankers, car salesmen, doctors, insurance “agents” and cable TV executives, and just about anyone working hard to convince you to part with more money than you really need to. This is definitely not news to priests and preachers, and anyone working in the religion industry.

So why is this news to rookie marketers? Why is this the biggest weakness I see in inexperienced marketing managers? My theory is that as a group, business majors are perhaps the most underexposed to literature, art and the theater. They’re usually the most active group in sororities and fraternities and having college fun.

Was Hamlet A Business Major?

He has that same sense of surprise and confusion I see in rookie marketers when confronted with the irrationality of human nature.

In his book, Ariely expounds upon many tests he created to prove such things as the power of placebos, the influence of arousal on skewing our decisions, the use of a decoy in pricing, how the absence of cash makes it so much easier to steal. None of these tests and the outcomes surprises me, except one.

Prior to giving a group an opportunity to cheat on a test, Ariely has them all read the Ten Commandments. This group cheats much less than the others who did not read the Ten Commandments prior to the test. This makes God look pretty smart doesn’t it? Oh, don’t get me started on that topic!

Each chapter in the book describes a force that influences our behavior and tilts our decision-making: emotions, relativity, social norms, sexuality, procrastination, and ownership are some of the forces. All of these concepts are important for marketers to understand.

So if you’re interested in learning more about the deeper controls on consumer behavior, Predictably Irrational is a good book. I would also recommend To Kill A Mocking Bird, Anna Karenina, Aesop’s Fables, heck why not go all the way, War and Peace. These are all great books for marketers to read and understand too.

Young marketers, you must learn to appeal to a deep emotion in all of your branding. Fear, lust, safety, power, eternal life, eternal youth, dominance, attractiveness etc. This is your target. You are targeting human beings right? So target human nature. Sorry, that sounds so rational.


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