Why Empathy Is So Much More Important Than You Think
Three years ago when I started this blog, I did so because I was tired of the continual stream of bullshit that ad agencies created to explain their processes.
For many agencies, detailing their proprietary process for manufacturing superior marketing campaigns was the most creative work they did.
It’s quite a trick to reverse engineer magic and create a replicable formula one can hawk to potential clients.
ASO Advertising was in the throes of defining our process/reason for being in the age of Simon Sinek’s “The Golden Circle.”
I took stock of a career path that took me from a two-man shop to the world’s largest ad agency under one roof, through hot creative agencies, B2B and retail specialty shops, package goods factories, and my own joint. In all my years around this crazy rodeo, I’ve thought there were only two critical factors that determined success in marketing communications — empathy and creativity.
Simple to execute? I wish.
Creativity has always been expected and valued in our business. We MUST be creative if we’re going to grab attention and pique the interest of an over-scheduled and over-worked public (not to mention over-dubious and over-cynical about advertising’s claims).
Still, 97% of the work out there sucks (glass-half-full types put the number at 95%).
Apparently, creative is elusive and difficult to deliver.
I believe a lack of empathy is the reason so much creative work sucks. The creators failed to understand human emotions and motivations. They created their work to solve a marketing problem, not a human one.
When I started writing EMPATHETIC ADMAN empathy as a word and a concept were rarely discussed, and almost never as it related to marketing. I thought by taking a role as ‘the philosopher king of empathy’ in an age of increasing reliance on technology to deliver marketing results, ASO Advertising would attract like-minded clients.
Bada bing — hello, mansions and private jets!
Well, it hasn’t worked as well as I had hoped (but we’ll still gladly accept accounts, especially the big profitable ones). While this blog hasn’t netted us big fish, it has attracted a following of people who believe in the power of empathetic communications.
Thanks, loyal readers — but would it kill one of you to become the CMO of Anheuser-Busch and dish us a little love?
Today, empathy is a hot topic. You see it everywhere. “Try McDonald’s new Empathy Fries — they feel how much you savor their deliciousness.”
Political pundits say Trump lacks empathy. Sad.
And a recent article in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC featured a scientific study heralding empathy as the critical factor in determining behavior.
In short, empathy is good. More empathy results in better behavior. Because you’re able to put yourself in another’s shoes, you can feel their pain and have compassion and an open heart.
Contrast that with a lack of empathy.
In the extreme, the absence of empathy creates a psychopath. Because a psychopath finds it impossible to relate to another human, he must fake it (big surprise — most psychopaths are male). He doesn’t care about others, but he’ll pretend he does if he can get something out of them.
To a psychopath, the world has a population of one — himself.
I recently heard a podcast where Alan Alda said something I thought was insightful and profound: “The more empathy I have, the less annoying other people are.”
But perhaps you still don’t know why empathy is so critical to being an excellent adperson/marketer/communicator. Let me connect the dots.
If you don’t understand people and their motivations and how client’s products might satisfy a need or scratch a want, how can you be expected to create something your audience will find interesting and worthwhile?
If you can’t empathize with your clients — if you don’t understand and appreciate the pressure he or she faces in their organization, then how can you explain why your brilliant idea is brilliant — besides saying something stupid like, “We think this work will win a lot of awards. I’ve never been to Cannes, but I heard it’s incredible!”
If you can’t empathize with your agency management and realize how the organization makes money, you’re probably more vulnerable than you think.
Empathy is more than a buzzword, it’s an innate ability that can be refined and enhanced for a better life and better marketing communications.
And if you’re a psychopath, faking empathy could be critical to your success.
As Steve Martin said, “The main thing is honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
Patrick Scullin is an empathetic adman and founder of ASO Advertising.