March 12, 2014

Day 1: On indifference

First 'letter'... writing notes to myself will be fun. Then again I don't care and that's why this message is about indifference... or, to put it in a different light, why we do not give a crap about some things and put a disparate ammount of energy and time on others.

Why would that be a subject of any discussion? Well, pretty much because how we pick what we care for. That process eludes me, how do we choose what we care and what we don't. Why is this Venezuela thing so important for some people (I live in Lima, Peru), for example. Some arguments about the importancy of this event are:
  • Democracy/Liberty/Justice
  • People are dying
  • Everyone else is doing it
  • Our government is alligned to the dictator
Which basically puts it in the same bag as Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Afghanistan, Congo, Somalia, Thailand, Ukraine and the list goes on and on...
Then this begs the question, what makes Venezuela different from those other crisis? 
I have a hypothesis, there is no way I will prove (I'm too lazy) it but as a mental exercise it should be fun. There are lots of factors of what it makes some issues important or urgent, the most important IMO is proximity.
You see, we are wired to worry about events that occur nearby more than events that occur far away, since those events are less likely to hurt us in the short term. Therefore, LATAM countries are more likely to react to the Venezuela riots than European countries just because there are more kilometers between Caracas and Madrid than Caracas and Lima.
But here's the catch, and from this point on the words urgent and important should not be mistaken as having a similar meaning. This evolutionary bias can't point us which threat is more important, we might be more worried about a urgent threat that will not cause much harm than a less inminent threat that will wreck everything apart. 
This is the point where we get silly and irrational, we place disparate levels of attention in things that seem urgent but are not important and viceversa. I find this very annoying, since the media uses this bias to drive ratings through the roof and creating a false sense of inminent crisis that can cause an actual crisis at home. This kind of irrational thinking is also found in financial markets, where we (investors) are always keen to buy recommended stocks because we might lose our chance to make some gains without having a look at the fundamentals of the stock we're purchasing. Aggregate this behavior to the ecoomy as a whole and we have financial/real assets bubbles.
Now, to planning and advertising. There is a media effect formulated by the late Erwin Ephron (I haven't had the pleasure to read his work yet, this is second hand knowledge) called recency. Mr. Ephron argued that, ceteris paribus, advertisers would receive a greater payoff if they were to deliver their messages (ads) at the right moment (just before the purchasing occasion) rather than investing in message repetition (frequency). 
If we take into account that brands work as heuristics and that we place our mental resources in category choosing rather than brand choosing, this recency hypothesis makes a lot of sense. We go into stores and surf through the aisles to find the product we have previously decided to buy, then pick the rband with the most saliency in out heads. Woudln't it hurt brand A's chance to get bought if the customers had just seen an ad about such brands? I don't think so, I think such ad would be VERY effective and therefore, provide a large payoff to the advertiser, since we have just refreshed brand A's memory structures in the consumers head.
I have nothing else to add, hopefully noone will read this. So I can finish this post right here, right now.
Mental note: This letters have to stop at 500 words.