Real have recently been found guilty of signing under-aged players from outside the EU, going against UEFA and FIFA code of conduct. They face an impending player transfer embargo, similar to the sanction that just ended with Barcelona. I was recently listening to an interview with a Spanish football expert who was discussing whether this transfer embargo would mean that Real Madrid would spend big in the January player transfer window before the sanctions were imposed. The expert suggested that the club would wait until the summer to buy new players. Firstly, because the club have the political and financial clout to delay the ruling long enough to buy the players that they need in the summer. Secondly, with a major international tournament coming in the summer (the European Championships), Real Madrid plan to do what they do after every tournament: buy the tournament’s star player.

Why do Real use a tournament to decide which player to buy? They’re one of the biggest clubs in the world and have their pick of probably 99% the player pool. They have an extensive international scouting network. They can identify the rising starts and best performers over any given period or location. They can simply buy the players that best fit the club, the way they play and positions for which they require reinforcements. What will the European Championships tell them that they don’t already know?

In recent years, Real Madrid have defined themselves (or at least their President has) as the Galácticos. The modern day Harlem Globe Trotters. They buy the very best players in the World, putting together a dream team of globally recognised stars like a teenager putting together a FIFA 16 Ultimate Team. How do they define ‘the best players in the world’? Not by the stats or consistent performances over a significant period of time. They judge the best players according to whom we, the fans consider to be the best. Whether they are the best or not is irrelevant. In sports, ‘the best’ is often subjective and hard to define. Taking Messi and Ronaldo out of the equation, the best player on any given day depends on form, fitness, mood, etc.

Whether you follow football or some other sport, think of the players you deem as the best in the world. What images are going through your head? Is it when they scored their greatest or most valuable goals in career defining tournaments? The ace your favourite tennis player hit to win the open? The shot that won the Ryder Cup? Logically, we shouldn’t judge whether a player is great from one or two moments that stick in our memory, but we do. We form an opinion based on a handful of instances that stick in our memory. In fact, we overestimate the number of times something has occurred, based on these vivid visual memories. I think of Roberto Carlos as one of the greatest free kick takers of all time. How many free kicks did he actually score besides the swerving rocket against France? Few, but because this is one of the most famous free kicks in history, it skews my memory and recollection of volume.

Real Madrid are the biggest club in the world because they have the most star players. Are they the most successful? If you base your decision on their performance in the last ten years, then no. But, they sell the most shirts, merchandise and have the biggest global following. The board are concerned about revenue. Success sells shirts, but the Galáctico brand sells more.

We define the superstars by the actions that we remember, and we all remember key actions in major tournaments. Ask someone to remember a moment from the last World Cup, the most vivid images come to mind. Luis Suarez biting his Italian opponent, Tim Howard making several saves against Belgium to keep the US in the match, James Rodriguez scoring a wonderful volley for Colombia. We remember those moments now, and they’re front of mind immediately after the match and tournament. So, when we think of the best players in the World, our memory serves up the most vivid memories, and those memories are always part of a bigger sporting occasion. Real Madrid cherry pick the players involved in these moments, because these are the players we define as the greatest, whether they are or not.

The danger of a shark attack

The impact that vivid moments and images have on our recollection or anticipation of events happen in every area of our lives. Last year the news and video went viral of a surfer escaping a shark attack in Jeffers Bay, South Africa. It was captured on film because it was part of the World Surf League, and the story of the surfer punching the shark in the back to escape was extraordinary. The imagery was incredibly vivid, and ever since Jaws was released in 1975, we’ve been terrified of shark attacks, so on the rare occasions that they happen, they pick up lots of air time.

Think about this. Three months after the attack takes place, you’re about to go on vacation to Jeffers Bay. Will you take a swim in the sea? Most of us wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. The fear of that shark attack would be lingering at the front of my mind. The shark has long gone by now, but the thought of it is having a real impact on my irrational judgment on the threat of danger. In fact, it’s something that I can’t get out of my head in the build up to the trip. Why is that so memorable? The chances of a shark attack are 1 in 3,748,067. In a lifetime, you’re more likely to be killed by fireworks than a shark attack (1 in 340,743) and significantly more likely to die in the car trip to and from the airport (over a lifetime, 1 in 84 chance)1. Yet all of data and reports on car accidents don’t stick. All I remember is that shark attack.

Available Heuristics

Real Madrid’s player transfer policy and the irrational perception of the threat of a shark attack come from the human method for judging the likelihood of an event or the frequency of an occurrence. It’s called availability heuristics. An ‘heuristic’ is essentially a rule of thumb that we use to make judgments. In the 70s, Kahneman and Tversky found that people have a tendency to give an undue weight to certain types of information over other types to create an heuristic2. We then use this heuristic or rule of thumb to make decisions and opinions. There is a degree of truth in that, the more often we encounter a piece of information, the more readily available that information is to the memory. But, frequency is not the sole factor to influence heuristics and information available to the memory. In fact, the vividness of the information provides significant weighting to determine which information is readily available in our memory.

We remember a shark attack and the danger it represents because the image is so vivid, whether it’s an image we’ve witnessed or simply imagined. The danger of a car crash rarely delivers vivid imagery unless we’ve been personally involved in an accident that had severe consequences. Even if we’ve seen images in ads and films, the image rarely stays with us for a significant amount of time. That shark attack stays long in the memory, as does the 35 yard volley from James Rodriguez in the World Cup Finals.3

When we assess the likelihood of an event, or estimate the frequency of occurrence (i.e. who is the best dribbler of a football), our memory doesn’t work by running through every piece of information available to us. It assess the heuristics available to us, and these heuristics tend to be heavily influenced by the most vivid information we’ve received.4

Available heuristics and the customer

The old school approach to advertising and brand awareness tells us that repetition is everything. Blast your targets with messages and images, and keep doing it. Apparently, if you show someone something seven times, the message will stick with the recipient, but this rule of seven is a myth. The theory of available heuristics tells us otherwise. I say, there’s a difference between hearing and listening. Playing by numbers and frequency is a good way to waste your time and irritate the people you’re trying to reach.

Advertisers attempt to recreate vividness through ads and imagery, but they rarely succeed. More often, when it comes to vividness, it’s provided through anecdotes. When your first born child is getting ready to start high school, you have to help them make one of the biggest decisions of their life. You can research the local schools and compare test scores in national exams. You could filter to identify performance in the subjects that you know your child is interested in. You can research parent and pupil satisfaction scores. But, with all that information, if you hear a story from a friend that their child has had a hard time with bullying at one of the schools on your list, this isolated piece of anecdotal information will have much heavier weighting than any of the other information you’ve received. Despite the fact that you’ve got data and opinion from hundreds or thousands of children and parents, you form an opinion, and subsequently make a decision, based on an anecdote from one person. It’s not because you trust their opinion over that of every other parent that gave the school a favourable score in satisfaction surveys. It’s because you’ve heard the story from a concerned mother. Because you know their child. Maybe you’ve seen a change in their child, a drop in confidence. This one piece of information has a fundamental impact on your decision.

Video and customer testimonials

Your customer has several choices when they decide whether to buy your product. They can buy from you, they can buy from a competitor, they can choose an alternative that does something similar, they can make do without.

Unless you’re selling a low cost commodity, your customer is going to purchase on a whim. They’ll review your website and product. They may sign up for email updates, they may follow you on social. Then, they’ll continue their research elsewhere. Consumer reports, competitor sites, blogs, etc. You’re hoping that when they do reach a purchase point, your brand immediately springs to mind. Repetition of message is an inefficient, and ineffective way of making this happen. You have one chance to make an impact, that chance was when they first arrived at your website. That experience, or elements of it, will either stick in their mind or they won’t.

If you want to get front of mind, if you want people to remember your business, you need to create a vivid message and connection that’s most likely to form part of their heuristic availability when it comes to your product category. Forget wasting your time pushing your product on them through repetitive, boring, soulless ads. You have one shot, you need to make it count.

Video is your opportunity, and it’s available to you whether you’re a small ecommerce site or a large multinational. Video gives you the chance to make a truly lasting experience and is the best format for creating a vivid impression that’ll stick with the user.

It could be through humour (Dollar Shave Club) or shock (Brew Dog). But, you don’t have to be a creative genius to create a vivid message. Customer testimonials, when done well, provide the anecdotal evidence that your user is looking for. You can have written testimonials and reviews. They won’t have a lasting effect or impact on your user. A customer video testimonial will, provided it’s authentic and genuine.

Large businesses try this and normally fail. The problem is, they almost always seem manufactured and inauthentic. This ad from WeBuyAnyCar is a good example. For all I know, these are real customers, but it doesn’t feel like they are. It feels like they’re actors reading from a script in a polished, professional studio. That’s where small businesses with a small budget have an opportunity. Money isn’t a help here, if anything it’s a hindrance. The more polished your production, the less likely it’s going to come across as authentic.

If your video looks real, if it shows a customer genuinely passionate about you and your product, you’re on your way to sticking in memories. If you can’t find customers willing to give you the type of testimony that demonstrates passion for your product, you’ve got bigger problems beyond available heuristics that need addressing.

We’ve all been sold to by an avidly loyal supporter of a product or brand. Think Apple, AirBnB, GoPro, etc. These companies create loyal fans and advocates who desperately try to tell as many people as they can how great these companies are. You’re priority is to create that kind of fan, then when you do, capture the type of testimonial we’ve all received in person, on film. If you put that on your website, no matter how big your competitor’s remarketing budget or volume of Yelp reviews, the customer will remember you first when it’s time to buy.

This article was originally published on



2 Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1974) Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Science, New Series. 185, No. 4157. 1124 – 1131.

3 Schwartz, B. (2004) The Paradox of Choice. Why more is less. Harper & Collins, New York.

4 Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1974) Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Science, New Series. 185, No. 4157. 1124 – 1131.