Monday, October 15, 2007

Who Says 'Never Work with Animals or Children'

People love animals. The estimated $40.8 billion that will be spent over 2007 on pets in the US shows how much. But there’s more, much more. The brilliantly named Dr Joshua New of Yale University has pushed beyond dollars to tell us some important things animals reveal about human beings and how we think and feel. Dr New was in fact researching what people pay most attention to. He showed people pairs of photographs and they had to work out what had changed between them (more about what he did is in The Economist). While people noticed things that could move (like people and animals) more than things that couldn’t (like plants and tools), the good doctor was more taken by the intensity of our responses to animals. People noticed in his photo pairs that an elephant, previously in the background, had moved position, but failed to notice that a large red van that had been in the foreground had vanished altogether! What did the doctor conclude? That we find it easier to detect changes connected with animals, which we expect to move, more than with vehicles even though we also expect motion. Blame evolution. Our brains are still tuned to the signals, dangers and pleasures that kept us alive in our earliest days. To anyone in advertising, the knowledge that animals make powerful emotional connections with people is a no-brainer. In New Zealand, Saatchi & Saatchi worked miracles with this connection in award winning commercials for Telecom New Zealand. Animals as emotional icons. People got it instantly and loved it. So thanks Doc, but not much new there.


Susan Plunkett said...

Nice to hear another esteemed example from academe.

I was wondering whether the same thematic could be used to effect for child abuse and violence campaigns. Albeit there are times in the animal kingdom where parents do eat their young, it is not 'natural' for animals to abuse their children as such. That juxtaposition may be worthwhile pursuing Kevin.

Susan Plunkett said...

Oh, by the way Kevin, that shifts "emotional connections" vis animals to "role models" - and that I believe is humbling. Of itself is it enough? Perhaps not, however I would contend it is worthy as an arm of a campaign. Or, I would throw that into the ring in a team discussion.

Allison L said...

Hi Kevin & Susan,

Firstly Kevin, best wishes for a wonderful day on the 19th.

Secondly, I well remember the Telecom ad campaign, and what a winner it was.

Your thoughts are provoking Susan. There are some striking behaviour similarities between humans and animals, amongst those are violent tendencies in both worlds.

The primary idea, I think of such a campaign is to reach those who participate in abuse and violence to help them stop it. I'm wondering whether a campagin using animals would make enough impact on abusers.

I think perhaps if a very scared child was shown on an ad, with reflections on how it is to feel that way - perhaps abusers could be reached more effectively in that way. It is likely the abuser was abused as well, will remember how it feels to be so scared, and maybe think about their behaviours and what they are doing to their family/people around them.

A look of fear is a very powerful tool to use for impact, something we respond well to and something I believe may reach abusers.

Maybe this could be achieved by using animals but I'm wondering if we can discern and process the animal fear que's as quickly as efficiently as human cues and how effective it would be.

Thanks Susan I enjoy thinking about such things.

Best wishes

Susan Plunkett said...

Hi Ally, I welcome the suggestions and discussion. I suspect the child actor component wouldn't work in the scenario you suggest, principally because the target of the abuse is inner loathing and fierce distress - despite that manifesting in human form. You despise the victim as much as you despise what they bring out in you which yes, assuredly, is most often learned behaviour.

Oddly, I was reflecting before about the Saatchi power ad where the skull is removed and brains cut up and snorted.

I was thinking how subsets of people usually wind up sending up all these efforts. They use mimicry and mockery to try and imply the ad efforts or the ad message and approach are lame, ungutsy, not living life on the edge.

I thus wonder how an ad would come across that had a whole bunch of people babbling and winding things up and making no sense. Would that be mocked? I suspect that the unmockable message..emphasise the power message for these topics.

Oh..Ally, I should have also pointed out the research that has gone into people responding to hurt animals or hurt people. In the main, the empathy factor is higher in many situations to animals that it is to humans.

Josephine said...

Ally, from personal experience and most recently from what I have seen online, any kind of experience that hurts another human being be it intentional or not is still painful.

To share with you, I met a man online a few months ago-he was married and so was I. He seemed nice, sincere. He and I shared our experiences of being abused as children. He talked about wanting to be close to me and that he'd never been as drawn to or as touched or connected to any woman in his life. I thought if I could write some scenarios for him where the stories led to happiness, where the two frightened children could save each other then he'd be pleased.

Not so. A person's intention and how it comes over to someone else are not often the same and the man concerned was angry with me.

He felt I had hurt him deeply. So in response he wrote a story about me and my abuse.

What have I learned? That human beings can be incredibly cruel, that we can all do things which intentionally or not can seriously hurt others to the depths of their soul and in doing so we create such pain within ourselves.

So what happend at the end of this story? I forgave the man, I did it because I understood why he felt I had tried to hurt him even though my intention was not to hurt him. I apologised to him many, many times but it would seem that the pain was too deep.

Has he ever apologised to me? No. Even though he has written some extreme stories which have chilled me.

The interesting thing is that the scenario that I wrote about was not actually about him, it was about me and my remembered feelings, he assumed that it was about him.So now he has a mission and that mission is to do anything he can to destroy me and to hurt me. It's ironic how if we start things in bad circumstances they will bring about bad things.

So now as I reach the end of a stage in my life what have I learnt?

Yes there are things that we as human beings do that are cruel, so cruel that it would seem that we are still in the savannah and yet there are things that we learn and are shown that teach us that there is more to us than perhaps we know.

Kevin Roberts first pointed out a book called The 4 agreements by Miguel Ruiz. I have also been reading the books of John O'donohue. I may never achieve the success that the world values and I may never even get a foot in the door of any profession, I may be ridiculed, I may be mocked, I may have made mistakes that would make so many people cringe but I take responsibility for all of it.

what I have gained is a deeper understanding of how not to cause pain to another person and how to learn from past mistakes to be better. By doing this I cause myself so much less pain. I still cry for that man as I cry for myself.

I cry because the root of our pain , (that man and I) in recent times was not about our shared histories of abuse it was rather the clandestine setting that led to our meeting in the first place. Nothing that starts in this way can bode well ever.

my heart is so sad that someone feels I hurt them so much. My heart is also so full of pain that someone wanted and still wishes to hurt me so much.

I hope too that the man who hurt me will in time also come to the understanding that if we cannot forgive or let go of things we are doomed to live with the poison, the bad feelings forever.

Reading Andy Drish's blog you will see the google video about the lecturer who has pancreatic cancer. Life is short, we don't repeat it.

Better to spend our lives being happy as we are be that as poor and debt riddled as can be or be that living in a castle.

I only have one chance at this life, I've learnt to ask for help and opportunity, if neither are destined for me I am still happy. I choose to be happy and to look at all my relationships, my conduct, my values and to change. I have a choice and so does that man. Live well and choose to be happy. I am so sorry that I hurt his feelings-and I forgive him too for his actions to me.


Susan Plunkett said...

I thought later, the one ad that I'm not sure was actually ever mocked as such was the AIDS Grim Reaper ad that was developed here at the time. It wound up removed from TV. It was very powerful (at the time) and confronting. I believe a few people wore the cloak etc to parties or in the street but I never really saw street parodies of the character or the intent.

Sometimes people can't overly mock the seriousness of a scenario - or can't, after the ad, deny that it couldn't happen to them.

Allison said...

Hi Susan,

In considering this idea, there are many variables to sift through, context, culture, beliefs, spirituality. I’m thinking about how differently Asian and American cultures would view behaviours amongst an animal group. The experiment of how people view a fish swimming on it’s own and why it was separated from the group of several other fish brought up very different views on what had happened to the fish depending on cultural background. This brings up the point of the target audience for such an ad. Who are they, and what background do they have?

I feel a little concerned about the statement of ‘you despise the victim as much as you despise yourself’ when it comes to abuse. Perhaps this is a temporary state, perhaps this does not occur in every situation of abuse. I know I wasn’t despised by a family member but was (in today’s terms) abused. I was loved by that family member. More variables…

I think an ad with a whole bunch of people winding things up and making no sense would initially attract attention through the want of trying to make some sense out of it, pointless though, without an underlying message.

It would be interesting to know what the contexts were for people having a higher empathy factor for animals than for humans.

Thanks for the thoughts.

Allison said...

Hi Josephine

Thank you for sharing your experience. It can be a painful experience to unintentionally hurt another. In the first paper I took on a few years ago to do with counseling, I was grilled by the lecturer for trying to distract people from their bad experiences by concentrating on something positive and encouraging them toward thinking of positive experiences. Ironically enough, it put me off wanting to be a counselor. I did understand what he was trying to get across to me, and that was not to shut people down with positive distraction when they are trying to express a negative experience.

I agree with you that perspectives can be so very different, all depending on our schema, culture etc.

You’ve reminded me of an Australian movie that I love called “The Castle”. In this movie a family lives by an international airport, and they have little in the way of materialistic riches and much in the way of non materialistic riches. When the land their home is on is threatened by compulsory acquirement, their happiness, simplicity of life and togetherness as a family gives them strength to fight it.

I have not seen the video about the lecturer who has cancer, but will seek it out, thank you. What I have seen recently are deep losses suffered by close friends, and have a couple of friends fighting cancer now. I’ve also lost family members a car accident. Many of us have these deep emotional experiences and have to our own way to steer through them. It seems to me that you have learned through your experience with this man online. I think you are so right, live well and choose to be happy as life is precious and short, and we are fortunate to experience it. (Hopefully I didn’t ‘shut you down’ I’m still learning).

Best wishes,

Allison said...

Hi Susan,

The two ads you speak of had a powerful impact. A clear hard message. I know my teenagers took notice such ads and believe those messages reached them - I was really thankful they were on as these messages were a stark back up to what I was trying to teach them at home.


Susan Plunkett said...

Ally, Life is all about interpretation and meaning - as I once emailed to Saatchi :)

I absolutely agree on context and culture.

The issue of despise. I reflect with interest what ran through my mind when I wrote that. I'll tell you. My book coming out in 2008 is on social life online. I spent five years immersed within a form of online society and wrote thematically about the space. For the purpose of this book I culled the darkest material e.g. what I came to understand about online paedophiles. I believe to make my point I need to be relatively blunt.

What I found was that men who fantasised about intercourse with very very young girls were caring and loving to a particular point. Momentarily, at a specific juncture, many experienced rage and loathing and blamed the child for seducing them. This leads to many child deaths. In benign cases it would perhaps lead the person to simply walk away.

You comments of caution were correct in the sense that my earlier statement was a little sweeping and really was directed at the sort of example I now offer.