Column: Why Jason Bourne Should Start An Ad Agency

“I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 215 pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is in the cab or the […]

“I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 215 pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is in the cab or the gray truck outside.”

So says the character Jason Bourne in the first of the now famous Bourne films. Jason Bourne may be fictional, but there are a lot of people in real life, with real training, who can look around a room and notice peoples’ “tells,” the vibes we all transmit, our indicators, which are the natural starting point for any good advertising.

Too often, it seems, we try to get people to react and behave in the ways we want them to—to look, dress, drive, eat, save or spend—without first fully understanding the “tells” that they provide us. How can we get someone to do what we want them to do unless we first understand why they do what they do?

Here’s a theory: Although there are clearly some people who would make better spies or advertising people because of the way they intuitively look at the world, you can also be trained to ask the kinds of questions that will lead to better answers and keener insights. Observational skills are not necessarily genetic. They are developed and honed through proper training and practice.

The only reason Jason Bourne was able to analyze the room with such precision was because he was asking himself the right questions—not necessarily in the restaurant at that moment, but over time he had studied numerous scenarios to the point where asking the right questions had become a habit.

We seem, as an industry, to be spending a lot of time researching behaviors: understanding that a person makes X amount of money, is married, has children, lives in a certain neighborhood, etc. We believe this will help us create advertising that gets our messages noticed. But these questions focus only on the “what” and not necessarily the “why.”

As an industry, we are constantly saying it is not enough to tell consumers what we have to offer, but why it should matter to them. So why do we spend so much time observing what they are doing instead of understanding why they do it?

All of us need to be a little more like Jason Bourne—not the ex-CIA killing machine with amnesia, but Bourne the observer. We all have it in us. We need to get back to trying to be a “window” into people instead of a “mirror.”

Whether in account service, media or creative, we are at our best when we are being social detectives.

Now if I could only remember where I sit.

Is consumer research in a good place? Where do agencies need to improve their insights? Post your thoughts in our comment section.

Matt Litzinger is co-chief creative officer of Cossette Toronto

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