Physics vs. Marketing

To try to gain a broader perspective of business, and because I like hearing famous people talk about what they’re passionate about, I started watching TEDTalk videos. The speaker in this video is Dan Cobley, the Director of Marketing for central and northern Europe for Google, and he talks about what physics has taught him about marketing. Mr. Cobley received his undergraduate degree in physics from Oxford University, but has held strictly marketing positions all his life.

Mr. Cobley talks about his inspiration to go into marketing from physics because his physics schoolteacher had told him how physics is cool because it can teach him so much about the world. Throughout the video, Mr. Cobley tries to relate physics to marketing and outlines several parallels, as I’ll summarize in this table:



Newton’s Law of Physics: A=F/m

A large particle needs a greater amount of force to move it than the force needed for a smaller particle.

The more popular a brand, the “heavier” it is, and the more effort needed to reposition itself.

I was always intrigued as to why brands like Tostitos and Cheetos aren’t just combined into one under PepsiCo, but Newton’s Law explains the difficulty in putting different types of brands under one large name.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: The act of observation changes the actual particle.

It’s impossible to measure a particle because the photons that are used to measure it change the actual particle.

The act of observing consumers changes their behaviors.

When consumers are being observed, they say that they do something when in actuality they do the opposite. So as a tip for marketers, Mr. Cobley suggests that they should try their best to measure consumers in their natural state rather than telling them that they are being observed.

Scientific Method: It’s easier to disprove a hypothesis than to try to prove one.

And only one piece of evidence that can disprove a hypothesis will overwhelm all evidence that supports that theory. Mr. Cobley reminds the audience of how Nicolaus Copernicus completely changed our view of the solar system from Claudius Ptolemy with just a few pieces of evidence, even though Ptolemy had dozens of data points to support his theory.

You can invest millions of dollars and a lot of time into your brand but all it takes is one event or one small accident to ruin it.

Mr. Cobley uses the BP oil spill, the recalls from Toyota, and the Tiger Woods scandal as examples of how reputed “brands” were discredited so quickly. His argument really reminded me of the Warren Buffet quote, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Rule of Entropy: the amount of disorder within a system will always increase.

Marketing creates chaos and brand energy, which can actually be a plus for companies.

In today’s world, marketing a brand gets harder to control as it reaches more people. People can and usually will change the way your brand is perceived. But Mr. Cobley asks marketers not to fret because as your brand gets distributed, it actually makes it more comfortable with consumers. I imagine this is the case with Geico with how everyone spins off their “you can save 15% or more on car insurance” tagline.

Overall, I really enjoyed this video. I always loved learning about physics because I found it interesting how a set of mathematical equations can explain so much about everyday life. I only wish I was good at it! Before watching the video, I was skeptical as to how Mr. Cobley could connect physics to marketing, but I think his arguments between the two were very insightful and creative (of course it’d be, he does marketing for Google!). Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below!

Here’s the video: