Marketing Explained Using the Laws and Principles of Physics

Dan Cobley, a marketing director at Google, gave a presentation at the TED Global 2010 conference titled “What Physics Taught Me About Marketing”. When I first saw the title of this presentation I was hooked, I had to know how can marketing and branding principles be explained using physics. Well, Dan Cobley explains just that using Newton’s second law, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the scientific method and the second law of thermodynamics.

Now that may sound confusing, as well as a bit of a stretch, but keep with it because how he ties these scientific laws and principles together is very creative. The following is a breakdown of Cobley’s presentation by scientific law, principle, and method; as well as how it applies to us marketing folks.

Newton’s Second Law and Brand Positioning

force = mass X acceleration


acceleration = force/mass

Scientific Definition: The larger the mass of an object, the more force that is required to change its direction.

Marketing Definition: The larger the brand the more effort that is needed to change its positioning.

This law explains why companies with multiple brands often keep each of the brands separate, instead of keeping them under one brand name. In his presentation, Cobley uses P&G as an example of this principle in practice.

Another example is Gap Inc., which includes the brands Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime, Athleta, and Gap. By keeping the brands separate, Gap Inc. can more easily change the position for one brand identity, say Banana Republic, than they could if all the lines were under one brand name.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Consumer Behavior

Scientific Definition: It is impossible to measure state of a particle (the dimension and position of a particle) because the act of measuring changes it.

Marketing Definition: The act of observing consumers, changes consumer behavior. For example, participants in focus groups will not always answer truthfully, rather they respond with the answer they are most comfortable with. Cobley explains that it is more important to try to measure what consumers actually do, than what they say they do.

The Scientific Method and Consumer Beliefs

Scientific Definition: You can’t prove an hypothesis through observation, you can only disprove it.

Marketing Definition: You can heavily invest in brand positioning, but a single contrary observation in that positioning will destroy consumer belief.
In his presentation, Cobley uses BP as an example. BP heavily invested in positioning their company as “green” for years. But after the oil spill, consumer belief in the company’s brand position was destroyed.

Thermodynamics and Brand Dispersion

Scientific Definition: Entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system, and thermodynamics says it will always be increasing.

Marketing Definition: We can no longer completely control our brand message because of the online distribution tools available to every consumer (i.e. online sharing tools like social media). However, the mass distribution of your brand message can actually get you closer to your customers.

Entropy will always increase and your brand will always disperse. Don’t try to fight it, ratherĀ  find a way to work with it.

For more on how physics and marketing are connected, check out Dan Cobley’s presentation below. It truly is an interesting and creative approach to marketing.