What Marketing Strategists Can Learn From RBG

As the country reflects on what Ruth Bader Ginsburg did for women, I reflect on what she taught us about problem solving.

RBG’s reputation as a gladiator for women’s rights started ironically with her arguing, and winning, a case for a man. Charles Moritz was denied a caregiver tax deduction because the law recognized only women as caregivers. On paper, everything about the case was intuitively wrong. That’s precisely what made it so brilliant.

Intuition: the cupid to creativity. Often evoked and always admired in advertising, intuition is the innate ability that separates creatives from mortals. It’s a shortcut to insight. We’ve been taught to trust our intuition. Our logic may be flawed, but our instincts are usually right.

However, intuition relies on past successes, mistakes, and experiences. Does it really make us more creative, or does it make us less original? If creativity is doing something that hasn’t been done before, perhaps intuition limiting us to familiar ground. In RBG’s case, it would have pushed her to reject the Charles Moritz case. Instead of following her intuition, she did something counterintuitive.



Counterintuition usually triggers words like absurd or unreasonable -- not an easy sell when millions of dollars are at stake.

Yet some of the most brilliant and effective campaigns are counterintuitive. “Think Small,” DDB’s legendary campaign for the VW Beetle was as original and counterintuitive as the car. “Hello Ladies:” the famous opening words that immortalized the best men’s bodywash campaign we’ve seen. “#LikeAGirl” forced us to recognize that we are all complicit in diminishing young girls’ confidence.

When we examine the ingredients that make these campaigns great, we realize that unlike intuition, there may be a logical path to getting to a counterintuitive idea.

Question the thing you assume advertising does: change minds. The truth is, people don’t want to change their minds. In fact, the last few years have revealed the pervasiveness of confirmation bias in culture. DDB knew it was hard to convince a nation known for big roads, Cadillacs and Thunderbirds to drive small. So, they went with something far more jarring yet impossible to ignore: Think Small.

Start with really understanding your audience. RBG knew that trying to convince 12 male judges to rule in favor of a man was much easier than getting them to empathize with women. The team at Wieden+Kennedy knew that women were the ones buying body wash for men, and the way to convince them to buy Old Spice was to appeal to their desire to have their man look, um... I mean, smell like Isaiah Mustafa.

Define the real problem. If young girls didn’t see “like a girl” as a pejorative, then why did older boys and girls see it that way? Too often, we solve for the symptom of the problem rather than the real problem. The most insightful thing a strategist can do is define the real problem, even more than the solution.

It’s easier to do what’s intuitive rather than find a counterintuitive answer. If intuition favors the familiar, it’s time to “dissent” like RBG and search for ideas that are truly original.

1 comment about "What Marketing Strategists Can Learn From RBG".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, October 7, 2020 at 3:23 p.m.

    Whether intuiitve or not, the key to creativity, in my experience, has been to challenge conventional wisdom.

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