The Creative Lens with Dan Monheit, Founder, Hardhat

By Courtney Devereux, originally shared on AdWeek, 11.6.21

When it comes to staying creative today, Hardhat Founder Dan Monheit explains that it can be really overwhelming to think about all the things that are changing.

“So instead we stay really focused on what stays the same. And that is one of the core drivers behind the way humans make decisions,” he says.

This behavioural focus is one of the ways Monheit and the team at Hardhat see the world through their own, very unique, creative lens.

“When it comes to the creative we execute, we focus on one of the core tenets of behavioural science. This states that we are nowhere near the objective, rational decision makers that we like to think we are. And the vast majority of our decisions are based on emotion, context and biases.”

Hardhat, which has hubs in both Sydney and Melbourne, builds brand creativity around human behaviour. And for Monheit, this is key to reaching and connecting with audiences in a very fast-paced digital world.

“We have reached peak content. There’s more content, or probably just more ads made every day than any of us would be able to consume in our entire lifetime. So it is worth thinking about how to engage your audience through a behavioural lens,” he says.

Which is precisely what Hardhat does. One example comes via matching creative executions to specific human behaviours.

“An interesting concept from the world of behavioural science is that within each of us, there’s an experiencing self (the ‘us’ who goes on holiday, attends a conference or fills out an online form) and a remembering self (the ‘us’ who remembers some small slice of these experiences into the future),” Monheit explains.

Depending on which self you’re designing for, creativity has a distinctly different role to play, he adds.

“Our digital and CX work, for example, is usually designed for the ‘experiencing self’, where we use creativity to reduce friction (to become ‘forgettably good’), to drive efficiency and to build more personalised experiences.

“Our brand and comms work is usually approached with the ‘remembering self’ in mind, so we use creativity to add friction (to create memorable moments), to drive effectiveness and build shared collective experiences,” Monheit says.

Ads that really stick on our neural pathways are also vital, Monheit believes. “We should no longer just be thinking about creating great experiences for customers. We should be creating great memories. We think we want to go through life and have wonderful experiences. Actually, what we want is to go through our lives and have wonderful memories,” he says.

This focus on creating lasting memories for a brand is a key driver in how Hardhat approaches its work.

“A fundamental tenet of all good advertising is ads cutting through. So they are usually emotional, and they are often challenging. They make us feel something. And through that comes a connection between brand and individual,” according to Monheit.

One concept that adheres to this notion is the exposure effect, where mere consistent exposure over a longer period of time can create a stronger link between the customer and the brand.

“It has been proven with very robust academic research that repeated exposure of stimulus makes a brand more familiar, and that familiarity makes it more favourable to each individual person, often subconsciously,” Monheit explains.

Another piece of behaviourally driven creative Hardhat’s founder points to is the agency’s recent work for share trading disruptor Superhero.

“The goal here was reframing — a behavioural science concept whereby the same thing is perceived differently based on the context within which it is viewed. What we needed to reframe was the next generation’s perceptions of what it meant to be a share trader.

“With little more than bold white text on a ‘Superhero blue’ phone background, we confidently declared that we were ‘giving trading a kick up the ASX’ (Australian Securities Exchange).

“The campaign, which rolled out across out of home, social and digital undoubtedly changed perceptions. And we achieved our annual goal of 10,000 customers within the first three weeks,” Monheit says.

And when it comes to what makes truly effective creative, Monheit is confident that he’s backing the right runner with his agency’s focus on human psychology.

“In our industry, there’s a lot of talk about big data, predictive modelling and empirical research, but in reality, there is actually very little evidence to support most marketing or comms theory today.

“What’s inspiring (and liberating) about working with behavioural science concepts is that they are proven findings from some of the most brilliant minds at the best research institutions in the world.

“The thousands of peer-reviewed studies out there offer us an ocean of evidence about why people do the things that they do. When you consider that every brief is a behaviour change brief, this focus gives us an incredible starting point and a wonderful springboard for creativity,” Monheit says.