Jul. 27th, 2006

Are your customers smarter than you?

Why is so much advertising so darn poor? Why do we insist on catering to the lowest common denominator?

Well if Professor James Flynn is right, our ads should actually be getting smarter because we — the global consumer — are way smarter than previous generations.

In fact, IQ scores have been rising for decades.

Despite conventional wisdom’s dire predictions of the steady, unrelenting dumbing down of society, we are better problem solvers now than our fathers, and their fathers before them.

"According to Flynn’s numbers, if someone testing in the top 18 percent
the year FDR was elected were to time-travel to the middle of the
Carter administration, he would score at the 50th percentile."

Writing in Wired, Steven Johnson the author of  Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter points at our obsession with computer games as a cause to believe that the rise in IQ is accelerating:

"Over the last 50 years, we’ve had to cope with an explosion of
media, technologies, and interfaces, from the TV clicker to the World
Wide Web. And every new form of visual media – interactive visual media
in particular – poses an implicit challenge to our brains: We have to
work through the logic of the new interface, follow clues, sense
relationships… Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the very skills that
(IQ)  tests measure – you survey a field of visual icons and look
for unusual patterns."

"The best example of brain-boosting media may be videogames.
Mastering visual puzzles is the whole point of the exercise – whether
it’s the spatial geometry of Tetris, the engineering riddles of Myst, or the urban mapping of Grand Theft Auto."

"The ultimate test of the "cognitively demanding leisure" hypothesis
may come in the next few years, as the generation raised on hypertext
and massively complex game worlds starts taking adult IQ tests. This is
a generation of kids who, in many cases, learned to puzzle through the
visual patterns of graphic interfaces before they learned to read.
Their fundamental intellectual powers weren’t shaped only by coping
with words on a page. They acquired an intuitive understanding of
shapes and environments, all of them laced with patterns that can be
detected if you think hard enough. Their parents may have enhanced
their fluid intelligence by playing Tetris or learning the visual grammar of TV advertising. But that’s child’s play compared with Pokemon."

It’s time to sharpen up those ads, ladies and gentlemen.

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