Mind the gap

If five frogs are sitting on a log and one of them decides to jump off…there are still five frogs sitting on the log.

What presents as an advanced maths problem is actually a behavioural riddle that illustrates the difference between intention and action. That was the subject of Justin Gibbons’ ‘brand gap’ research, which he presented at JCDecaux’s recent ‘Upfronts’ conference.

Gibbons has discovered that, while Strategists and Planners enthusiastically read up on the latest effectiveness studies, it’s all to easy to fail at follow through in the real world when we have a client desperate for a quick win.

I squirmed a little bit when this data appeared on a very large screen at an early hour on a Wednesday, but I wasn’t surprised. In life outside work, it’s common knowledge that intention and action are separated by a cavernous gap.

My log jumping (or not) moment occurs at 5:55 in the morning, when I decide whether to go and do burpees in a dark and soggy park or go back to sleep. On the days I do make it to my class, we trade our near-misses with giving in.

Follow through is challenging when we try to adopt good posture or cut down on chocolate-covered pretzels, or do almost anything we know, intellectually, is a good idea. Yet it doesn’t take much Googling to find an abundance of ideas to help us walk the walk when – not if – our willpower fails us.

We can automate our actions (laying gym clothes out the night before), make them more appealing (downloading a new episode of ‘This is Uncomfortable’ for the tube), apply loss aversion (the prospect of being demoted to a different bib colour) or deploy a whole armoury of other psychological weapons.

The brand gap research suggests that just because we’re in the office and working with data, we don’t become any less irrational or any better at follow through. By pre-empting the obstacles that rear their heads when the caffeinated enthusiasm of a conference has worn off, perhaps we can reduce the chances of riding roughshod over the 60/40 rule or waving through a whole menu of campaign objectives.

Peter Field is already holding out a carrot – he ends “The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness” by recommending separate awards categories as an incentivising tactic for pursuing long-term results.

And at The Gate, our ‘boundless’ culture – open-plan, open-minded and unconstrained – makes it easier to have a level of trust and accountability with our clients where we can see threats to our plans on the horizon and tackle them together.

As with burpees, we need all the support all we can muster to jump off the log.