Horizon Media launches new behavioral science and economics practice under its WHY group

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So many factors influence a person’s choice to purchase a product or service that go beyond advertising and marketing. Digiday has learned that major independent agency Horizon Media has assembled a practice called Human Intelligence under its WHY Group that tries to better understand peoples’ behavioral quirks that can either influence or inhibit their decisions.

Horizon’s WHY unit, led by executive vp Sheri Roder, already delves into the cultural and societal factors that impact peoples’ consumption choices, and has done so for 14 years since she joined Horizon. The new Human Intelligence team aims to investigate the behavioral aspects of the long chain of human decision making – the choice architecture, if you will, that Horizon clients want to know more about to inform their marketing efforts.

Leading the team will be new hire and senior vp Steve Grant, who has spent nearly 20 years working in the fields of behavioral science and behavioral economics, not only in academia and consultancies, but also with marketers including Prudential. Grant said he expects to get involved with clients from the product/service planning stage (not ordinarily a place where media agency folk rear their heads) all the way through to messaging, planning and advertising.

“Behavioral science and market research need to cover every step of what a client is putting together,” said Grant, who most recently ran his own consultancy called Animal Spirits before joining Horizon. Agencies “are good at looking at the extrinsic factors, from pricing to brand to attitude, but we need to dive deeper. We want to understand not only what’s important to influence people’s decisions, but also where and when, and most importantly, why.”

Grant started about a month ago at Horizon, and though he wouldn’t identify specific clients, he cited entertainment-category clients as ideal for the type of insights the Human Intelligence unit can unearth. Consumers “have never been more spoiled for choice of entertainment sources, and the pandemic only expanded on that,” he explained. “Behavioral science can help tell you what drives some [TV show or other form of entertainment] to get consideration, beyond traditional marketing – especially when the primary constraint is time.” Horizon’s entertainment clients include A+E Networks and Turner Networks.

Roder, to whom Grant reports, added that the skill-set lends itself also to other Horizon clients in healthcare, financial services and sports (both properties and teams).

“We want to understand business problems at a pre-[marketing] level, and then change the trajectory of their marketing, investment or messaging to influence the outcome,” she said. “And Steve has specific skill-sets and specialized applied techniques that help us understand peoples’ idiosyncracies.”


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