Have you ever spent time developing and launching a new visual campaign, only to discover another company using a very similar theme or style? Have they copied you? Have you inadvertently copied them? Is there some kind of collective consciousness going on?
What’s at play here is the “Availability Heuristic”. When you have recently been exposed or primed to a series of images, shapes, words or colors, they anchor in your brain. Suddenly after go-live of your new campaign, you start noticing companies using similar logos to yours, advertisements with the same typeface or other instances of this phenomena.
Before I learned about the availability bias from Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”, its occurrence struck me as strange. Many years ago I purchased what I thought was an uncommon model of sports coupe (which my friends dubbed “The Hairdresser Mobile”). After the purchase, multiple times a week on my commute I noticed others driving exactly the same model.
The Hairdresser Mobile (LA version)
Kahneman gives the example of air crashes impacting the public’s the perception of air travel safety.
“A dramatic event temporarily increases the availability of its category. A plane crash that attracts media coverage will temporarily alter your feelings about the safety of flying.”
When I work on logos and visual campaigns with clients, the availability heuristic provides a constant reminder that your work is far from original. The safer you play with concepts, the more it happens. The more spiky, pointed or outlandish, the less so.
However, originality is not always a good thing or a requirement. Depending on your target market, many customers love familiarity and not running in the opposite direction of the herd. Insurance companies and financial services know this too well. There’s nothing wrong with that staid navy blue logo with a 90’s ellipse.
Shout outs (tl;dr)
- Be aware of the availability bias’s impact on your daily perceptions. Billboards, online ads, movies and so on. Also, note how availability can influence your client’s perceptions. Senior stakeholders can obsess over small unrelated details on a project because of last night’s 60 Minutes exposé.
- There are many ways you can use the Availability Bias to your advantage.
- Aligning with trends or deliberately going against them.
- Leverage recent local or global events to promote your product.