Editor’s note: Meagan Peters is VP of behavioral science and strategy at Cannonball Agency, Chicago. 

When my 94-year-old grandma first began touring retirement communities she boldly told us, “You know everyone looks really old here. I don’t look like that at all.” After the initial tour, I remember my whole family laughing about this.

But we all do this! I’m guilty of it too. 

What was happening to all of us is called illusory superiority, also known as the “above-average effect,” a bias where people overestimate their own qualities or abilities. In my grandmother’s case, she thought she was more youthful than she really was. And my family and I falsely believed we knew best and interjected our beliefs on how my grandmother should live her life.  

Brands often pride themselves on seeing the objective, functional side of their consumers and don’t take the time to invest in the research to understand their consumers’ perspectives, needs and intentions. Yet, to build a successful relationship, it is imperative to look through the biased lenses people wear. 

I had the opportunity to address this discrepancy in my work at Cannonball Agency. Our client was Allegro, a company specializing in developing and managing senior living communities. Most competitive campaigns focused on negative ideations. They were trapped in society’s point of view, which has taught us to pity and be fearful for our seniors. Countless messages focused on what if – what if you fall, what if you need more care, what if you can no longer drive.

There is a reason why so many messages fall into this trap. These messages frequently resonate with caregivers, who are often part of the decision-making process. However, they exclude the senior’s point of view and slow or even prevent buy-in. Once I started seeing this inconsistency, I was confident that our campaign needed two separate messaging ideas – one to accommod...