Managing Marketing: The Psychology Of Brand Language Using Artificial Intelligence


Alastair Herbert is the founder of the research consultancy Linguabrand. He shares his wisdom having developed a deep-listening robot (Bob), that analyses visual and verbal language. Alastair introduces you to how Bob listens and analyses the psychology of language that humans potentially miss in data analysis and research groups. Bob can uncover insights to help brands shift the conversation away from sounding generic, to position themselves more persuasively.

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Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we sit down and talk with thought leaders and experts on the issues and opportunities in the marketing and business world.

I’m Anton Buchner, with another conversation on the rise of artificial intelligence and the impact it’s having on marketing.

Today, I’m with Alastair Herbert. He’s the founder of research consultancy, Linguabrand. And he’s sitting all the way over in London, in the UK. Welcome, Alastair.


Hi there, Anton. And it’s quite warm here, so windows are open, so if you hear barking dogs, police cars, or squawking birds, you all know the reason why.


It’s nothing to do with COVID, it’s actually just to do with enjoying summer.


It’s very, very hot over here today.


Now I’m really excited to have a chat with you today. We’re going to delve in a little bit more and dive into the language or psychology of language for brands. Is that right?


That’s right, yes. Yeah. As in most communications, I think most people realise that the vast majority of it is actually subconscious. So, we sort of lift the lid really on that subconscious element. And hopefully, by the end of this session, your listeners will have a much better understanding of how communications work.


Excellent. I’m sure they’ll be excited. Before we jump in, I met you relatively recently through a colleague, Jeremy Taylor-Riley. He’s now a business colleague of yours, I believe.


He is, he is. Well, we actually go back to school days together. And what was great is that we – I think this was back when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Yeah, when marketing was effective – it was a relatively new subject. I studied marketing at Lancaster University, in England, but it was the only university where you could study marketing as an undergraduate, would you believe?

And Jeremy went off around the world and has ended up in Sydney. And he went agency side whereas I was a marketing director for Invesco Fund Managers. I was marketing director at FTSE so I was working in the city before switching into what we do now. So, I really understand what it’s like to be a marketing director.

And then we started doing work together and we were working together in the Middle East and Jeremy was there. Actually, I was working on a project for a company that Jeremy was working with at the inception. So, Bob our deep listening robot and the whole Linguabrand concept was actually conceived in Sydney.


Oh, there you go. Well, Jeremy’s a great man and he introduced me to you. So, this should be a discussion, I’m excited. He was the promotions king. I worked with him on Foxtel in the very early days doing worldwide sales promotions.


Yeah, and I think the big thing is we’re all practical people, let’s get things done.


Well, I’m interested, let’s delve in – Linguabrand. So, Lingua is what? Latin for tongue?


That’s right. That’s right. I mean, we’re talking about how brands speak and the way that they communicate. I mean, I was really frustrated as a marketing director at the amount of investment I was having to make, an effort I was putting in that was essentially on gut feel, with a large number of intelligent people, perhaps with me as the exception.

But we were sort of talking about things like brand differentiation and not really understanding what it was. I mean, if you don’t understand what makes things similar, how on earth can you know what makes them different?

And then, yeah, so I was really into positioning brands. I mean, that was a big, big a big thing for me to learn about brand positioning from their perspective. And the other thing was this reliance on focus groups. And I was doing a lot of research.

In fact, when I was made director, the first thing I did was increase the the research budget by three times. I was really aware that we weren’t getting what people were really doing. And I came across that famous Ogilvy quote: “Consumers don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.” And that was in 1960.

And here we are today, I mean, focus groups, don’t get me wrong – if you want to find out functional things and improvements, then they’re fine. But why people ask people what they think of … you take a group of strangers, put them into a strange situation, and then ask them what they think of campaigns or why they did things or what they do. And think that they’re going to get anything reasonable out of it is beyond me.

And that was really why I wanted to answer those issues; how do we differentiate brands? How do we understand what makes brands the same, and how do we understand what people are thinking and feeling? And I’m always really strongly motivated by reducing waste – on the input side, let’s reduce waste.

And I actually think that CFOs and chief executives would have more respect for us as marketing people if we said, “Yes, hands up, we know we’re wasting things.” And that’s not bad. I mean, steam engines, I remember looking up steam engines; the calorific waste of a steam engine, you get 3% of the energy out that you put in. And the internal combustion engine is 9%. But where would we be without those two things?

So, we’re always progressing and then looking to become more efficient at what we do. And that’s about understanding evidence and just taking out this gut feeling.


Well, it’s been an age-old problem, hasn’t it? I think with marketers through the decades, certainly pre-digital, it was a classic, which half of our marketing is working. And as we’ve moved through the digital age, and you can measure everything and as we all talk about data and drowning in data – measurement has gone for measurement sake, but it’s still coming back to the age-old problem; what’s working, what’s not working?

And I love how you’re talking about differentiation or positioning because we’re now seeing brands so similar playing in the same territories. And as you probably say, sounding similar, trying to look a bit different.


Yeah, I think this is the big deal, actually, Anton. If you look at them, I think at the root of virtually every campaign failure, for every product failure is a lack of understanding about what consumers really want and an over similarity or in some cases, going too different. I mean, smokeless cigarettes, offset mortgages – I mean too far away from what people wanted.

And what we’ve done by measuring vast numbers of brands, we’ve actually discovered that there’s a way to understand where a brand needs to be anchored into its market with sort of core ideas. So what makes a bank, a bank? What makes a single malt whiskey a single malt whiskey, and not a blended whiskey?

So you need to understand both the visual and verbal cues that anchor the brand, but you need to be about two thirds different. And what’s happening is that the vast majority of the brands are actually two thirds similar. So, what they’re doing is wasting a third of their spend, overselling in the market.

So effectively, most of the challenger brands are reinforcing the position of the market leader. And what we do is help people identify exactly what that third is and switch it from similarity to difference.


So, you’re saying that the brands are actually playing to the category, or you’re saying that they’re playing too much into their competitor’s territory. Is that what you’re saying?


Absolutely. Yeah, they’re playing into the category, but they’re overplaying into the category. And once you realise this and you’ve measured this, that’s where you can see where the waste is.

And it’s such a shame because it’s boring for consumers to have to hear the same thing, whether you’re B2B – over 45% of our business is B2B – it doesn’t make any difference. So, being overly generic, and this shows you that people aren’t actually measuring differentiation. They’re not understanding how to differentiate. If you listened to consumers, they’re telling you – if you listen to them a little deeper, they’re telling you exactly how they want you to sell to them because of the cycle of their psychological needs.

And so, the answer, it’s a very honest answer. What we’ve done is not really anything revolutionary. It’s just an evolution. We’ve taken what psychologists knew 30 years ago.


Well, that’s what I’m thinking because you’re spot on. I think the age-old agency positioning and market positioning was a classic X-Y axis, generally built out of some theory. And then we started to understand target audiences and make some assumptions or some fairly robust assumptions based on data. As you say, maybe research groups to make it a bit richer. But it was fairly, inside out, wasn’t it?


Well, I really felt it was … you’re looking at 20th-century methods that were very – yeah, they were better than what went before and all the rest … all we’re trying to do is be better than what went before. But it’s almost like those two by two matrices with the axes, they’re sources are made up as these are … why are these things important?

And then there’s like pin the logo on to the matrix and then taking these massive, massive risks by saying, “Oh, because we spent vast amounts of money, and we’ve researched … we’ve done loads and loads. We’ve been out there talking to people. This is the thing; okay, people have got this – marketing has sort of got this back to front. We’ve been talking to all of these people and they’ve told us they need this.”

Look at Tesco, fresh and easy. Masses and masses and masses of research in Southern California and people basically said, “We want things fresh and we want them quickly and we want them easy.” So, they launched something called “fresh and easy.”

And the reality of it is that there was no demand. They lost 2 billion pounds, believing what people said. But because they asked lots of people, they actually multiplied the error. They multiplied the error, asking people what they wanted and they lost all of that money on it.

And so these sorts of methods are actually multiplying risk rather than reducing them. And I think we’ve got things the wrong way around. So before we talk about differentiation, we need to talk about similarity. We need to understand the similarity and we shouldn’t be talking to consumers at all. We should be listening. So, stop talking, start listening and then understand what makes things the same.

What our deep listening robot Bob does is identify similarity. So by identifying similarity, you can understand the difference. And then he gets into the psychological needs of people. So, he takes the brands as people. And this is super, super important in the digital age, in particular.


So, you’ve hinted at Bob and you’ve introduced Bob. You’ve lived with Bob for a while. Who is Bob and what – because artificial intelligence in marketing, it’s a, dare I say it, it has been overhyped, it’s been a buzzword. But of course, as marketers, we tend to explode out and look at all the AI innovations and you hear about autonomous vehicles and you hear of all sorts of things.

But when we bring it back to marketing, whether it’s deep listening or whether it’s chatbots, whatever it is – I’d love to hear more about this Bob and what Bob is. And why did you build it? You know, what was missing in the market that you couldn’t find?


Yeah, well, it’s interesting that you say – you used the word there which I think is really important, which is “applied.” We think of Bob as applied intelligence because we’ve taken the best psychological thinking and essentially automated it. And I think people are rightly very suspicious of ideas about artificial intelligence.

For us, what we were seeing was that there were metrics on understanding consumers’ deeper needs, but the psychologist had shown us that if you listen deeper, it’s not what people say, it’s the way that they say it that counts. And if you listen to brands, it’s the same thing. I think about relationships.

And the big thing I’ve taken out – Bob is a tool. He’s not out there searching the web. We put things into Bob. We put brand communications, leader speeches, and so on into Bob. We go out and we take content from forums or chat rooms or blogs, or upcycle existing research. And sometimes, we have to start conversations as well that he can then analyse. But they’ll always be from a distance and they’ll always be one to one. So, Bob listens from a distance.

And essentially, what he’s doing is looking for the psychological patterns and the weightings within the way brands are speaking and consumers are speaking. And there was a brilliant piece of work that was carried out by the University of Texas in Austin using a piece of software that effectively is Bob’s sort of stepfather and he’s called Luke.

And they did a speed dating night, and they said to people, “Okay, what we want to do is record everything that you’re talking about, if you’re okay with that, and we’re going to follow up with you all.” They said, “At the end of each of your sort of speed dates, we want you to fill out something which says, yeah, how much have you got in common with people.”

So, they did all of this. So, they went away and analysed how the couples said how much they had in common and the people that matched their language styles. Not what they said, but the way that they were speaking, the number of personal pronouns they were using, their attitudes towards time and change; all of these sorts of things that are inside the languaging.


The type of words, the type of language.


Yeah, the type of language. I mean, I’m happy perhaps to just talk about the three types of language, a little later that your listeners should be aware of.

But for this one, they discovered the couples who matched language styles were three times more likely to be together (make a date) than couples who had things in common. And they were three times more likely to still be together four months later.

So, it’s almost certain, Anton, that your friends and the listeners think about the relationships they’ve chosen to be in. It’s almost certain that lovers, partners, friends, you choose to be with them because you match in language style.


Yeah, you’re mirroring.


Yeah, effectively. The words we choose to use don’t come from anywhere. We’ve got an infinite choice that we can use. And it’s containing all of the subconscious languages that we’re communicating between one another. And that’s the sort of thing that Bob listens to. Okay, so what’s the subconscious stuff? And a lot of this stuff, when you show people, this is right in front of our noses, they go, “Wow,” there it was.


So, you’re sounding like you’re a psychologist, or have you met a psychologist from the University of Texas? So what led you towards this psychology level?


Yes, but well, really, we’re just trying to find the answers. I am a brand strategist and I don’t believe in inventing things that have already been invented. So, I wanted to find out how do we measure the tone of voice? How do we find about … you know, lots of people have software that’s analysing – and in fact, most of the social media analysis is based around concepts. And it’s very useful to see the concepts that are associated with your brand or with ideas associated with your brands. But they’re based around concepts.

I was much more interested in personalities and how you close that gap between what brands are saying and how customers are feeling. I mean, I bet all of us have walked into a bar or seen somebody at work and gone, “Wow, don’t they look great.” And then they’ve opened their mouths and you’ve gone, “No way. Absolutely no way.”

And for many people, that’s their experience with brands. You know, that brands have invested in looking really good and looking smart and design has been extraordinarily good over the last decade to a couple of decades. And if you’re taking a digital experience, all you’ve got is what you look like and what you sound like.

So, it’s almost like they’re running … if you get it right, you run. And if you get it wrong, you’re just hoping. You’ve only got those two senses to work with.


So you’re saying there’s a mismatch in that – in either the text or the visual identity and what the consumer or the target audience is really wanting to hear. And when you say want to hear, it’s what they’re speaking in their language and how they’re phrasing and how they’re interpreting your brand, yeah?


Yeah, absolutely. How are they framing this? When we talk about the frame – this is picture-like, but it’s a good time to talk about those three types of language. Okay. So, maybe this is a good time to talk about the three types of words that your listeners could think about.

The first type of word to think about is what we call headwords. These are conceptual ideas like responsibility or sustainability. And these ideas force the brain to work too hard. Business loves these words, but we as human beings don’t.

So, Daniel Kahneman said, “Thinking is to humans what swimming is to cats.” The brain can think, but it much prefers not to. So, you use those conceptual words. But they mean practically nothing; education, loyalty, trust. You need to get behind them to understand what’s behind them.

The second type of language, which is way more effective is body language. And this is sensory language. So, if I say “kiss” or “kick,” I’m actually firing up your motor system and very appropriate to the weather here in the UK at the moment. If I say “hot, sweaty,” and you start talking about hot language – you can increase somebody’s body temperature.

And you think about sweetness or love, it is very strongly associated with sweetness, honey and so on. Those words make you salivate. So, this language is very, very engaging for people because they don’t have to think about it and their own senses kick in.

But it’s very, very difficult for brands to own that. But the deepest language and the most important language is picture language. And this is where we describe one thing in terms of another.

So, the example I’ve always given is the example if you ask people want money is. You know, money is a conceptual idea, it is a headword. And people will say things like it’s a means of exchange. Or they might use something a bit more emotional and say, “Oh yeah, it’s freedom or something or it’s slavery.”

But actually, if I say money is water, people look a bit stumped. And you say, “Well, just have a listen; dip into your savings, a flood of donations, splashing out on something new, public flotation, drowning in debt, a waterfall of cash, turning on the spending tax.” What the banks do, they control banks, riverbanks. They control the flow of money.

So, we frame money like water, and that’s actually because of our sensory interaction; coins flow, they sound like water and they’re cool like water. So we’re using these sort of metaphorical picture frames all the time. And that’s when we grow up, our brains wire up. Intelligence, we tend to associate with light. Somebody’s left in the dark, “I’m feeling a bit dim about that – she’s very bright. A light went on, that light bulb moment.”

So, this stuff is actually right under our noses. And that’s what Bob does. He quantifies that and benchmarks it against massive benchmarks so that he only shows us what’s meaningful.


So, is Bob identifying the type of language that’s being used, whether that’s text it can identify? Is that natural language processing? Or what’s Bob actually doing?


Yeah, what Bob is doing is going through the text that he analyses. So, it could be leader speeches, it could be social feeds or company social stuff. What he’s doing is going and looking at … on the picture language, for example, we’ve got 69 different frames. And he’s going in and going, “Okay, look, here are these frames …” We don’t even read it until Bob goes, “Go and have a look at this. This is statistically meaningful.”

And we go in and we check that it’s not just literal talk. So, we work with Adidas and we’re looking at Under Armour and clearly, the word “armour” is about protection. So, it will recalculate and then show us what’s meaningful.

And that allows us to understand how a whole market is framing ideas and attempting to persuade consumers. And we can then position the market against that. And I’m very much looking forward to showing you where TrinityP3 is positioned a little later.

And that really helps understand … so bottom-up. So, everything he does is from bottom-up. It’s not like top-down pattern matching that people do when they sort of use archetypes or whatever. There’s only bottom-up evidence. And we never know what we’re going to discover.

And usually, you go, “Wow, that makes perfect sense.” There are usually no major shocks, but because you can measure it, you can now manage it. And that helps reduce waste. And the biggest thing it does is help brands deliver consistently across all of their channels.


Yeah, I think that’s fascinating because as you would know, the digital world seems to have got caught up, the digital marketing world; caught up with behaviours and actions. So very much predictive models and looking at the behaviours and consumer journeys, and seeing where people are clicking or going to; whether that’s voice-activated or actually clicking or swiping.

But that, to me, seems very functional and almost the wrong way around. And as your saying, we need to get much more clever around really listening to what people are telling us.


Yeah, I think in a way, what we do is really simple. A great example of a picture-word you just used there, which everybody uses, which is a consumer journey. I bet you consumers don’t think that they’re on a journey. Now, it makes sense for us when we’re managing processes to go, “Okay, we’re a consumer … here’s a journey because here’s a process.”

But people don’t think, “I’m on a journey.” It’s like the old school sort of process model.


Yeah, and with offline, online – the consumers don’t think of a line – consumers don’t treat it as a line.


They think much more organically.


Yeah, I just want to find a product or a service and I want to use it, I want it to be seamless.


Another good example here is when we talk about change. We confuse … what have we heard for the last seven, eight, nine years, every time we go to a conference? You’ve got to transform, you’ve got to disrupt. We go on and on and on about disruption, and so on.

Now, that makes perfect sense as an input on supply chains and so on. But the reality is we’ve analysed hundreds of millions of words from brands and from consumers and only 15% of the thinking around the change of consumers is about something radical or disruptive.

So, if you go out and you don’t understand your team’s attitudes towards change, and you go out and say, “We’ve got to reinvent this, it’s going to totally transform your life.” You’ve got a one in six chance of it being successful. And actually, that maps very well with a new product distribution curve. Doesn’t it? With the innovators and early adopters.

But 50% of their thinking is about evolution and change. And 35% of their thinking is about tradition, classic, iconic, authentic sort of ideas. So, it’s really important, I think, that as marketers, we understand that the language we use internally and then start projecting it onto other people is switching people off. We need to get behind how they’re thinking and what their attitude is towards change.


Yeah, and I think you’ve raised a really interesting point there. The industry is caught up with transformation. You know, we’ve heard that word and change – change though is risky, change is scary. It probably opens Pandora’s box of psychological inertia.


When was the last big thing, Anton, that you think really asked consumers or people in general to do something radically different? I can only think of one.


Well, my head straight away went to pay. Now, this might just be an evolution (not sure), but the ability to pay through your phone, pay by swiping to me, was just a big shift in the mindset of how to carry cash. What about you?


Airbnb. The idea of going away and staying in somebody else’s house. Something like Uber, the idea that you use a mobile device to get a vehicle to take you from A to B, is not a radical shift or transformative shift for the customer. It’s an evolutionary change. It’s taking what’s there and making it better.

We did a lot of work with Samsung and they were talking about the mobile device, and I said, “Why do you keep selling to men? Why are you selling to men?” And they said, “Well, because men are early adopters of technology.” Whereas all of the listening that we did suggested they should be selling way more to women because women sell to other women.

They said, “No, no, but men are the early adopters of new technology.” So, then I asked the question, “When was the last time that you introduced any real new technology?” And it all went a bit quiet.

So, of course, what they’ve done is improve these things, and they’re just absolutely remarkable. But the iPhone was a radical shift – well, it wasn’t a radical shift removing the keyboard. It wasn’t, really.


Well, I don’t know, you could argue both ways, couldn’t you? I think that the ability to be able to swipe on something and be able to access online, as opposed to just make phone calls, the old big brick we used to carry around.


Yeah, absolutely.


I save time, the immediacy. I can now do things based on location, like be geo-targeted, etcetera. So, to me, that is a big shift. And I think the marketing world is famous for getting excited about these big shifts. But as you touched on right at the beginning, AI has been around for decades; the sixties and seventies were famous for all these machine learning tests and practices.

So, it’s nothing new. I think we’re just, in the world of marketing, excited about the buzz words. I love what you’re talking about, that we tend to get caught up on business-speak and sort of vernacular that’s typically used by marketers or agencies. And that’s become probably our modus operandi, that’s become the way we talk.

And now, when you look at consultancies and others in the space and maybe research groups, and let’s maybe touch on this in this section — the way research groups have been run and the way consultancies have talked and the way that marketers have talked, maybe that’s led towards quite formulaic creative or quite formulaic communication.


Yeah, I agree with you. I think it’s the failure to understand the generic. I mean, what Bob does – he doesn’t replace people. Bob does things by surfacing and reading – so he reads 120 times faster than human beings can. And he’s surfacing the psychological elements that human beings missed.

But what he does… brings the best out of people, which is our creativity, our imagination to apply that. So, if you know where all the generics are, you can immediately say as an agency, “Okay, we can steer away from that. Here we know, we need to do X, Y, and Z to anchor this brand into its market. So, we’re not going to go too crazy on this. But these are the areas that we can work on.”

I’ll give you a good example of women with breast cancer. We were asked by a breast cancer charity in the UK, two charities were coming together – and they said, “Look, we really need to understand how other charities are talking about and framing the idea of cancer.” And so, we listened to all of the charities in the UK. We took all of their websites and then we mapped out, measured. And absolutely what they were saying was, “We’re on a journey to win the war. So, you help us, and we will end (that’s the end of the journey) the war on cancer. Cancer is the enemy.”

And the language around this was extraordinary. But for the nurses, which is pastoral care for people who had the prognosis that their life has not long to go. We’re talking about the army of nurses for heaven sakes. I mean, just extraordinary.

The whole image is we’re fighting this enemy. And they said, “Well, look, we need to understand how women with breast cancer think about this. But how on earth do we find out – how do we talk to women with breast cancer because it’s such an emotional issue?” And I said, “We don’t talk to them at all, we listen.”

And we found 13 women who’d written blogs for other women sharing their experiences. These were monthly. So we took 13 years worth of writing. And it’s quite tragic actually. Three of these women actually, they’re no longer with us.

So, Bob analysed the picture language that they were using, and it was totally different. Because women with breast cancer, their big concern wasn’t the journey, it was about movement and obstacles to movement. So, they were saying, “This has really slowed me down. This has put things in the way of me getting things done.”

I’m giving examples, but you know, everything was bottom-up metrics and, “and I’ve got to get stuff done quicker”. And they weren’t framing their illness as an enemy. They weren’t framing cancer as an enemy they had to beat, that they were at war with. They framed it as a force.

So they say things like, “I’ve got a terrifying whirlwind of tests. This has hit my family hard. This has had a massive impact on my life.” So taking these things, we were able to change the way that breast cancer was now communicated. And instead of saying, “Help us and we will end the war on breast cancer,” they said, “Help us and we will reduce the impact of breast cancer quicker.”

And then the pastoral care side is called “moving forward.” So, they absolutely got it and bought into the idea that women were thinking about movement and impediment to movement, and that cancer, for them was framed as a force, not an enemy that they were at war with.


And framed in a way that obviously the audience understands and emotionally attaches to, which sounds fantastic.


Connect to them. That’s why we’re getting back to listen and connect. And you will be three times more likely to make that relationship and twice as likely to keep it going.


Which is what we’ve been talking about. We keep hearing from marketers that we need a connection strategy and the media agencies all talk about this. But what I’m taking away from this discussion is the way it’s been talked about is certainly not connecting, and the way it’s framed and the type of language.


Have a listen, just listen to people and listen to your rivals. And then you’ll find a position that you can own. And to make those connections … it’s coming back to that whole idea; all we’re looking to do is to reduce the gap between what brands are saying and what consumers are feeling. That’s a really, really simple idea.

And, the best thing about Bob reading this stuff so fast is it happens quickly; six working days, and you’ll know where your brand is positioned and you’ll know more about your rivals than they do.


I was going to ask you – six days? Is that all? Wow. Well, I was going to ask you what is the process? So, you touched on earlier that you can take, I guess, a myriad of different forms, whether that’s website copy, speeches or texts or emails?


Yeah, leader speeches, campaigns. The inputs on the brand side can be anything really. They could be thought leadership pieces, leader speeches, Twitter feed, LinkedIn, all the sorts of stuff you’d expect; CSR reports, whatever it is, can go in.

From the consumer side. If people are talking about something, it’s remarkably, remarkably easy to get into a specific thread. So, for people like Johnson & Johnson, who wanted to understand motherhood, we went on to BabyCenter, which in the US, it’s where moms go and talk. And we just picked up specific threads on baby skin, baby at night time, baby at bath time.

So you’re listening to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of women and understanding the sensory differences. We just got some really interesting stuff actually. That the way to talk about skincare was don’t associate it with the baby, make it an “it” so it’s outside. And interestingly, it was about the way it looked. So, the visual side was really important.

Dads really came into it at bath time, and that was all about the part, because of all the water and the splashing. And said, “Your customers are giving you a license to be much more fun when you talk about bath time, for example.” Or with people giving up smoking. So smoking cessation, there are lots of forums where people are talking about this. With whiskey, there are people who are whiskey experts, who talk about specific brands. So, you can find out what they’re speaking about.

So that’s all really helpful if people are having a conversation. If they’re not having a conversation, then we do have to start one, but we’ll always do it at distance. So, it’s not a good time to get people together at the moment, if it was ever a great idea. And for example, we work with Kellogg’s in Canada and with a research partner in Canada. And we got lots of people in their homes and we helped design the research and it was about family breakfast. What is a family breakfast?

And then there’s this vast amount of data, text data, that then goes into Bob. So you can take great top line stuff. And then Bob surfaces the things that we would have missed and wouldn’t have picked up and it is incredibly, incredibly useful.

And we stopped a brand that was in serious decline from going into decline. The state of decline stopped. And what was particularly fascinating about that is that there was an ad – they sent us an ad as a test, and they said, “This ad, we want you to tell us whether this ad was incredibly successful, reasonably successful, or not successful at all.”

And they sent us this ad and it was searched incredibly well. It was entertaining and people loved it. But as soon as they aired it, we said, “This ad is a psychological disaster.” And they said, “Absolutely right. As soon as we aired this, within two weeks, sales started to fall out of bed.”

And it was because the family is about a container, and this was a woman who was getting married, who couldn’t make up her mind whether to say yes or no. And the funny bit was you don’t have to make a choice because we’ve done this for you. And she’s looking to the exit to get out of the container and not get into the family container.

The hilarious thing is our partner in Canada, they’re very smart people. They said … oh, it’s a shame to say, actually, when we were working with Kellogg’s we helped them with that advert and now we know. And that’s the point. We won’t have to put our hands up and go … this is about learning and just making things better and simpler.


Yeah, so it sounded like from what I’m hearing and doing Anton listening, that you’re gleaning better insights that lead to a better brief (if I can make it that simple) to creatives, to then build a better idea that emotionally resonates.


Absolutely. So, for Beam Suntory, we worked on what is a single malt whiskey? And I can tell you that a single malt whiskey is a religion. We’ve got semiotics involved; visually, verbally, everything. All of the metrics said single malt whiskeys are a religion. They are about groups of men, quiet men, isolated in these monastery type buildings. The light comes into the darkness and there’s an underlying sort of sensory shift from the rough to the smooth; really, really fascinating stuff.

Then we went with these specific brands. One of them, they had massive problems because it had gone too far. It had lost its anchor. So, we were able to show the visual and verbal anchors, and we made videos for each of the brands. So there was a 15-minute video for each of those brands, and they used that for every single agency that comes on board, any of those three brands, our video goes out to brief the agency saying, “These are the cues you use to anchor it, and these are the differences.” And it comes back to David Ogilvy; “We will square the circle. Give me the freedom of a tight brief.”


Yes, yes. That’s the point, that you want to get a tighter brief for marketers and their agencies to actually carve out a positioning rather than being generic, the two thirds generic; focusing on the one third … sorry, the two-thirds making it different and distinctive.


Yeah, putting us humans with all of our brilliance, our creativity, our strategic thinking. There’s never going to be any AI that does that. Seriously, people don’t need to be worried about it. It just allows us to focus on things that are going to deliver.


Sounds great. Look, Alastair, we’re running out of time, but I really appreciate your time, and talking to you over there in sunny England. I wouldn’t have believed it would be sunny over there. We’re freezing cold here in Sydney.


Just missing you boys over here to take us on in The Ashes.


We’ll bring that on. But really, appreciate your time. Thanks for sort of delving into the world of AI from your perspective. I love your pragmatism, I love hearing about reducing waste in marketing, and that psychology-driven angle of just getting much closer to reality with consumers sounds magnificent. So, thanks Alastair for your time.


You’re most welcome, it’s been a pleasure.


But before we finish, I’ve just got one final question — if Bob listens, how can we talk to him?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here