A few nights ago I ran into Jim Amadeo, an old friend and ex-colleague. Always effusive and optimistic, Jim was even more excited than usual about his newest freelance gig. He could hardly contain himself as he proceeded to tell me that he was documenting and working on a campaign for Yale University to promote an upcoming study on whether or not advertising works on monkeys.
We can always debate the effectiveness of advertising. Does it get us to pay more for a product? Can it make a brand more desirable? But we’ll soon have new findings to help us determine the effectiveness of advertising.
According to Jim, we’re about to learn whether or not monkeys will pay more for bananas, grapes or even sex if the advertising is any good.
Yale has been at the forefront of studying primates for a long time. In 1947, a Yale researcher, Dr. John Wolfe, in an attempt to see if chimpanzees could understand symbols, discovered that the primates could quickly learn the value of currency, using it to purchase food, learning different values and even hoarding it for future purchases.
In 2005, a different team of Yale researchers learned that monkeys would pay for monkey porn as well as the real thing. (Interestingly male monkeys will pay for sex while the female monkeys turn around and use their coin to buy sweets.)
And today Associate Professor Laurie Santos, who works with capuchins at the university’s lab, continues the Yale tradition of studying monkeys. Her interest is in whether or not monkey behavior can teach us anything about our own ineptitude, particularly when it comes to financial decisions. Do we humans make all kinds of dumb mistakes – failing to sell tumbling stocks, holding onto bad real estate, not understanding absolute value – because of the complex environments we’ve created or because we’re programmed to do so? Answer in video above, and it’s not good news.
But now we’re told, it’s time to see if monkeys will respond to advertising. Will a prettier picture of grapes get a monkey to pay more for them? Will posing a sexy female monkey with the grapes make them even more valuable? Will advertising get the capuchins to make decisions that are smarter or dumber?
Those of us in the business have been taught to believe in things like repetition, offers, incentives, calls-to-action, originality and honesty. We’ve figured out that exaggeration might work once but rarely twice. But soon we’ll have irrefutable, genetic evidence from none other than Yale.
My guess is that it will be fun to see the results.But I’m presuming it will be what we already know. Bad ads, even bad monkey ads, won’t work as well as good ads. Discounts and offers will be effective only for things that capuchins already want. And sex will always sell. Even if you’re only trying to move grapes.