Home > advertising theory > The theory of Sway in advertising

The theory of Sway in advertising

Lots of interesting stuff from the book Sway, the irresistible pull of irrational behaviour.

The initiator is the person who’s always agitating for change, whether it’s trying a new place for dinner or reorganizing the living room. This person is never satisfied with the status quo.

The blocker is the initiator’s alter ego. This person tends to resist change of any kind. Instead, he sees – with an Eeyore-like sameness – the risk in everything.

The observer doesn’t take sides but rather documents what’s going on. Observers are the people who summarize a debate in neutral terms, allowing rational decisions to be made.

The supporter tends to take sides and drives a decision by casting the “deciding vote.” Supporters are unpredictable, which makes their decisions influential. They make decisions based on the merits of the argument rather than allegiances.

In advertising, it seems that creative would be the initiators and planners the blockers. But because of the dynamic existing in advertising, it is a very sensitive game to play for planners, who are often not perceived good enough to judge, let alone ‘block’ ideas they think are not good enough.

I have witnessed (very) bad ideas making it through because of the initiator felt so strongly about it, no one dared telling him it was bad. As the author of the book says:

“A strong initiator can quell a blocker.”

The risks are significantly higher in the airline industry. Research indicates that a large percentage of plane crashes have been caused by pilots who, as confident and optimistic initiators, attempted dangerous maneuvers. The other members of the cabin crew, too respectful of the captain’s authority and swayed by the captain’s optimism, remained silent.

To address this risk, airline cabin crews are being provided with Crew Resource Management training to learn to become potential blockers when faced with bad or overly optimistic decisions by those in authority. This training program was designed by NASA and is intended to catch bad decisions before they result in loss of life. (Brandon Hall)

“When pilots spot a departure from safety procedures, they are trained to challenge the captain.”

Now hear me out, agencies will always thrive on initiators. They are our most important assets and they should always feel like they can push ideas. But we need to put in place blockers that are respected by these initiators, so when an idea is not good, it can be blocked before it is too late.

Maybe having to share ideas with other CD who are neutral to it? I don’t think planners will ever have the credibility to be effective blockers without jeopardizing their relationship with their CD. It’s so easy to give up on trying to stop an idea by fearing of being seen as the negative one. Could there be a programme where creative have to convince another team of their ideas? should it be a person coming from outside the agency?

  1. May 1, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Or could it be that the roles of creative/planners need to be redefined.

    As a creative and ex ECD I really believe roles are at the heart of the problems. If creatives and planners can see themselves as being equal in strategy and creation then they can share the roles of blocker and initiators, moving up and down the scale accordingly. Then there is no need to introduce a third element

    • Digicynic
      May 5, 2009 at 10:13 am

      I agree with you Simon. That’s how things should work, but that is very unlikely to happen unfortunately. I think there is a role for someone neutral to come in the process and look at the ideas on the table with an impartial look. This person could be another creative from the agency, everyone being attributed another team to help out. Like a creative chaperon. Someone the team would have to respect and listen to. Anyway, I’m just daydreaming here.

  2. Paul
    August 5, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    I think Camiel was a Blocker

  3. April 8, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I find that I am an initiator, a blocker (I know that sounds contradictory, but it is just the way it is), and the observer. I suppose then, that I can be my own team> 🙂

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