Tag Archives: Clairol

What is “Design for Instincts”?


In the beginning of the 20th century, two major hair color product manufacturers launched advertisements with specific themes. For one of them, the ad launch was before women’s rights movement of 1960s while the other was after.  The ad themes used were: “Does she or doesn’t she?” and “Because I am worth it,” and both were successful launches that hold success even today.  If I asked you to guess which theme corresponds to the pre-women’s rights era and which one to the post era, you are most likely to answer this question correctly.  Those ads were the successful launching pads for hair products from Clairol and L’Oreal, respectively.  To this day, the legacies of both the ad launches being strong is well known.  The creator of Clairol’s “Does she or doesn’t she” campaign, Shirley Polykoff, has been inducted to Advertising’s Hall of Fame. L’Oreal’s current theme is a variant of its original theme is “I am worth it.”  What’s important to us is why those launches were successful.  Obviously, these ad themes (and also, the ads themselves) were aimed at appealing to the instincts of woman of the appropriate era.

If we can successfully appeal to the human instincts of the target audience and achieve the desired outcomes, then why should it be limited to marketing? Why not adopt it across all parts of the organization? Think about your HR, operations, R&D, among the others.  Naturally, your target audience is going to be different with each domain you focus on, as will the details of the implementation.  The main idea if you can design product, process, or policies appealing toward human instincts, you will be successful.  In the next few paragraphs, I highlight a few of the successful designs for human instincts.


There are three examples on this dimension that are worth noting Zara, Gore-Tex, and Microsoft.  They have gone ahead and implemented design for instincts.  (In the blog at Forbes, FirstInsight details my thoughts about how these examples link to design for instincts). Summary: Zara designed it to appeal to woman’s desire to have clothes that others don’t have access to.  Gore-Tex designs its HR policy based on how humans tend to organize.  Microsoft crafted a team-based competition to stimulate its employees to discover bugs.

If instinctual behaviors have existed forever, then why is it important now?

As Thomas Friedman points out in his popular book, “The World is Flat,” global trading activities, which were originally performed by the states (think East India Company, Christopher Columbus) and then by multi-national firms (via FedEx and DHL), can now be facilitated by individuals.  As the power shifts toward individuals, designs for human instincts are naturally going to be highly successful. The reversion to natural instincts should not be surprising.

Arguably, the theme of a business organization became valid only from about the early 1900s. It is also around the same time that Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s ideas about motivating work through extrinsic rewards were taking root.  While the nature of work we do in businesses has evolved since 1900s (it relates to the discussion about knowledge economies versus manufacturing-based one), the businesses have continued to rely on the age-old extrinsic rewards to motivate.   There are often examples where people don’t always behave in a manner that maximizes their extrinsic rewards.  In fact, the domain of Experimental economics, which has been recognized with a Nobel Prize to Vernon Smith, is primarily interested in how instinctual behaviors and cognitive limitations inhibit  “rational” actions (i.e., in a manner maximizing extrinsic rewards).  I believe we are at the next stage where we are not just analyzing “irrational behaviors” but designing systems that incorporate human instincts to shape behaviors that result in desired outcomes.  The technology developments are making these appeals to human instincts more feasible.

The question:  how is your organization positioned to deal with “design for instincts”?