Psychologist Daniel Wegner and his colleagues devised an experiment to demonstrate the ironic effect of inhibiting our desires. Participants were instructed in a simple task-not thinking of a white bear. Who spends much time thinking of white bears, anyway? Participants sat alone in a lab room for five minutes and rang a bell every time they failed to suppress this thought. On average, they rang the bell about five times, almost once per minute. No surprise that our thoughts wander, even to forbidden topics, when we are alone and bored. What is interesting is what happened when the same participants later sat for five minutes trying to think of a white bear. After the suppression task, they rang the bell almost eight times. In contrast, participants instructed to try to think of a white bear for five minutes, but without the initial task of not doing so, rang the bell fewer than five times. It was as if the act of trying to suppress a thought gave it a special energy to emerge later. After the participants tried not to think about white bears, thoughts of them returned again and again. When rating their experience, participants who had initially suppressed thoughts of white bears reported feeling preoccupied with them.
…termed the hindsight bias, or the “I knew-it-all-along” effect. As you may recall from our discussion in Chapter 1, once we know the outcome of an event, we have a strong tendency to believe that we could have predicted it in advance. In the Fischhoff experiments, subjects were given a test assessing their knowledge of historical events. The subject’s task was to indicate the likelihood that four possible outcomes of the event could have actually occurred. Some of the subjects were told that one of the four possibilities had actually happened but were asked to make the estimates that they would have made had they not first been told the “right” answers. The results showed that subjects could not ignore this information; they substantially overestimated their prior knowledge of correct answers. In other words, even though subjects really didn’t know the answers to the test, once they were told an answer, they believed that they knew it all along and that their memories had not changed.
Excerpt from: The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson and Joshua Aronson
Everyone who’s psychologically normal thinks they’re the hero. Moral superiority is thought to be a ʻuniquely strong and prevalent form of positive illusion’. Maintaining a positive moral self-image’ doesn’t only offer psychological and social benefits, it’s actually been found to improve our physical health. Even murderers and domestic abusers tend to consider themselves morally justified, often the victims of intolerable provocation. When researchers tested prisoners on their hero-maker biases, they found them to be largely intact. The inmates considered themselves above average on a range of pro-social characteristics, including kindness and morality. The exception was law-abidingness. There, sitting in prison, serving sentences precisely because they’d made serious contraventions of the law, they were only willing to concede that, on law-abidingness, they scored about average.
Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
John Kay, an economist at Oxford University, argues that advertising doesn’t work because of explicit messages. He suggests that one context is particularly important that of waste. By waste he means spending more on adverts than is necessary to functionally communicate the explicit message. That could be a 90-second ad, acres of white space on double-page spread or extravagant production values.
Advertising known to be expensive signals the volume of the resources available to the advertiser. As Kay says in his landmark paper:
The advertiser has either persuaded lots or people to buy his product already, a good sign, or has persuaded someone to lend him lots of money to finance the campaign.
Advertising works, not despite its perceived wastage, but because of it.
As psychologist Thomas Gilovich noted, “When examining evidence relevant to a given belief, people are inclined to see what they expect to see, and conclude what they expect to conclude… For desired conclusions … we ask ourselves, ‘Can I believe this?, but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, “Must I believe this?””
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger
To test this possibility, Bail set up a clever experiment. He recruited more than 1,500 Twitter users and had them low accounts that exposed them to opposing viewpoints. For a month they saw messages and information from elected officials, organizations, and opinion leaders from the other side. A liberal might see tweets from Fox News or Donald Trump. A conservative might see posts from Hillary Clinton or Planned Parenthood.
It was a digital version of reaching across the aisle. A simple intervention that could have big effects for social policy.
Then, at the end of the month, Bail and his team measured users’ attitudes. How they felt about various political and social issues. Things like whether government regulation is beneficial, whether homosexuality should be accepted by society, and whether the best way to ensure peace is through military strength.
It was a huge undertaking. Years of preparation and thousands of hours of work. The hope was that, as thousands of pundits, columnists, and other talking heads have argued, connecting with the other side would bring people closer together.
But that’s not what happened. Exposure to the other side didn’t make people more moderate.
In fact, just the opposite. Exposure to opposing views did change minds, but in the opposite direction. Rather than becoming more liberal, Republicans exposed to liberal information became more conservative, developing more extreme attitudes toward social policies. Liberals showed similar effects.
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger
“Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.’
David Ogilvy, adman
‘The heart has its reasons,’ Blaise Pascal wrote more than three centuries ago, ‘which reason knows nothing of’. Sot with the conscious and unconscious minds. Head cannot look into Gut and so it has no idea how Gut assembles its judgments, which is why psychologists believe that focus groups are far less insightful than some marketers think. If you put people together in a room, show them a car commercial, and ask them how they feel about the car, you will get clear answers. ‘I don’t care for it,’ a man may say. Fine. Why not? He frowns. ‘Um, the styling on the front is ugly. And I want a more powerful engine.’ That looks like good insight, just the sort of thing a company can use to design and market its products. But it’s not. This man’s snap judgment – ‘I don’t like that car’ – came from Gut. But the interviewer is talking to Head. And Head doesn’t have a clue why Gut doesn’t like the car. So Head rationalizes. It looks at the conclusion and cobbles together an explanation that is both plausible and quite possibly, wrong.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
In 1979 – when capital punishment was a top issue in the United States – American researchers brought together equal numbers of supporters and opponents of the death penalty. The strength of their views was tested. Then they were asked to read a carefully balanced essay that presented evidence that capital punishment deters crime and evidence that it does not. The researchers then retested people’s opinions and discovered that they had only gotten stronger. They had absorbed the evidence that confirmed their views, ignored the rest, and left the experiment even more convinced that they were right and those who disagreed were wrong.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
A price discount of 20% is economically equal to a volume increase of 25%. Chen et al. (2012) discovered that consumers err when calculating percentages and tend to ignore the base value the percentage refers to – an effect coined “base value neglect.”
The researchers observed that consumers systematically prefer a large percentage to a small percentage. This means consumers prefer a bonus pack to an economically identical price discount when both are expressed as percentages. Vice versa, consumers also prefer a size decrease to price increase when presented as a percentage.
In a field study, Chen et al. (2012) sold a hand lotion either at a 35% price discount or as bonus pack with 50% more content in a small retail store. After 16 weeks of promotion, the researchers observed that the bonus pack promotion sold 81% more units per day than the price discount promotion.
The findings Bergen describes also suggest the reason writers are continually encouraged to ‘show not tell’. As C.S. Lewis implored a young writer in 1956, ‘instead of telling us a thing was “terrible”, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. The abstract information contained in adjectives such as ‘terrible’ and ‘delightful is thin gruel for the model-building brain. In order to experience a character’s terror or delight or rage or panic or sorrow, it has to make a model of it. By building its model of the scene, in all its vivid and specific detail, it experiences what’s happening on the page almost as if it’s actually happening. Only that way will the scene truly rouse our emotions.
Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
One nice recent study involved 218 Dutch students being asked to solve a Sudoku puzzle and complete a word search in a fixed time of twenty-four minutes. Participants in the experiment were randomly as signed to one of three treatments: one where they were forced to multitask; one where they could organize their work by freely switching between the Sudoku puzzle and the word search; and one where they performed the tasks sequentially. They were awarded points for each correctly filled Sudoku cell and each word found. The total points scored were lowest in the first group and highest in the third. 35 These results suggest that having a clear schedule of work is better for productivity So multitasking might sound cool, but it actually makes you a fool.
As early as 1951, the Taiwanese government sought to address this problem by doing two things. First, it unified all receipt and invoicing platforms into a central system, which meant that all businesses which gave out receipts would automatically send the unique receipt numbers and invoice amounts to the government for tax reporting. (In fact, in Taiwan most people don’t need to hire accountants to do their taxes – the government can directly tell you how much you owe them or how much they should return to you).
But the second step is where we see true innovation. The Taiwanese government turned each receipt and invoice number into a lottery ticket for citizens to play. For every odd-numbered month, citizens can see if their receipt numbers match the winning prize. The first place would win the equivalent of $62,000 – about five years of salary for an average new college graduate, while the second place would win $6,200, with subordinate prizes scaling all the way down to $7.
Because of this “Uniform Invoice Lottery” system, consumers are now demanding receipts and invoices from businesses, preventing the business from evading taxes by exchanging cash under the table (or purchasing with Bitcoins). In addition, consumers are more likely to spend money.
At the same time, we should be open-eyed about the challenges we’ll face as we make that shift. Take this example from Mexico City: City officials in 1989 banned the general public from driving one weekday per week, based on the last digit of their license plates. The intent was to encourage use of mass transit options and thereby improve air quality. It was a noble upstream effort to prevent air pollution.
It didn’t work. Many Mexicans bought a second car often an old clunker, to keep costs down—so they could drive every day. Air quality did not improve.
Good intentions guarantee nothing.
A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, any more than would a race in which everyone was Vincent van Gogh. I prefer to think that the planet needs athletes, philosophers, sex symbols, painters, scientists; it needs the warmhearted, the hardhearted, the coldhearted, and the weakhearted. It needs those who can devote their lives to studying how many droplets of water are secreted by the salivary glands of dogs under which circumstances, and it needs those who can capture the passing impression of cherry blossoms in a fourteen-syllable poem or devote twenty-fwe pages to the dissection of a small boy’s feelings as he lies in bed in the dark waiting for his mother to kiss him goodnight. … Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them.
– Allen SHAWN
To manipulate the number of syllables of a given price Coulter, Choi, and Monroe (2012) introduced a comma into the same four-digit price and let it mention in a radio commercial as, for example, $1,645 (one thousand six hundred forty-five: 9 syllables) vs. $1645 (sixteen forty-five: 5 syllables). Then participants were asked to rate the magnitude of the price on a 10-point scale.
Participants rated the magnitude of the price with the comma higher than the same price without a comma.
- Do you think Coke has data that Pepsi doesn’t have?
- Do you think McDonald’s has data that Burger King doesn’t have?
- Do you think Ford has data that Chevy doesn’t have?
Here’s my point – just about the same data is available to just about everyone who wants it. And if you don’t have it, with about two clicks of a mouse you can buy it.
It’s not the data that makes the difference, it’s what you do with it.
Give a mediocre person or company all the data in the world and they’ll come up with garbage. Give a brilliant person or company one critical fact and they’ll build you an industry.
Hundreds of physicists had the same data as Einstein. But Einstein had something they didn’t – the creative brilliance to formulate a vision of what the data meant.
The advertising industry – whose only important asset is ideas – has learned nothing from this. We keep heading in the wrong direction. We keep bulking up everything in our arsenal except our creative resources. Then we take the people who are supposed to be our idea people and give them till 3 o’clock to do a banner.
Sure, we need people who are tech-savvy and analytical. But more than anything, we need some brains-in-a-bottle who have no responsibility other than to sit in a corner and feed us crazy ideas. We keep looking to “transform” our industry but ignore the one transformation that would kill.
Excerpt from: Advertising for Skeptics by Bob Hoffman
All the efforts really did the trick. By the measures available, the educational program was a stunning success. In August 1991, right before the effort began, the National Cancer Institute and the produce growers conducted a telephone survey. About 8 percent of Americans were aware that they should eat at least five servings of produce daily. By 1997, the results were strikingly different. Thirty Nine percent of Americans knew that they should eat five servings a day. That’s a campaign that any political adviser would be proud of.
But this is not a book about campaigns and policy. This is a book about actually changing lives. So the real question is: What about people’s actual behavior? The program’s purpose was to get people to consume more fruits and vegetables. Did it?
At the beginning of the campaign, from 1988 to 1994, 11 percent of Americans ate five servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Almost a decade later … it was still 11 percent. The change in awareness was real; the change of behavior was nonexistent.
“Inside Apple”, Adam Lashinsky describes the “packaging room” at the firm’s headquarters, where for months “a packaging designer was holed up…performing the most mundane of tasks – opening boxes.” The goal? A box with the perfect drag and friction on opening to introduce an enticing pause as you unveil your new phone.
Packaging is a curious thing. On the one hand it is mere wrapping, soon-to-be rubbish that stands between the consumer and the item to be consumed. Yet it can also pique our lust for what lies within. Apple lavishes almost as much attention on the design of its boxes as it does on their contents. The result is not just an elegant container but a carefully orchestrated ritual. You do not merely Open this box as if you were tearing into a packet of crisps. You are welcomed inside.
The ceremony begins before you reach the box itself which arrives wrapped in plastic film.
“Louis XI (1423-1483), the great Spider King of France, had a weakness for astrology. He kept a court astrologer whom he admired, until one day the man predicted that a lady of the court would die within eight days. When the prophecy came true, Louis was terrified, thinking that either the man had murdered the woman to prove his accuracy or that he was so versed in his science that his powers threatened Louis himself. In either case he had to be killed. One evening Louis summoned the astrologer to his room, high in the castle. Before the man arrived, the king told his servants that when he gave the signal they were to pick the astrologer up, carry him to the window, and hurl him to the ground, hundreds of feet below. The astrologer soon arrived, but before giving the signal, Louis decided to ask him one last question: “You claim to understand astrology and to know the fate of others, so tell me what your fate will be and how long you have to live.” “I shall die just three days before Your Majesty,” the astrologer replied. The king’s signal was never given. The man’s life was spared. The Spider King not only protected his astrologer for as long as he was alive, he lavished him with gifts and had him tended by the finest court doctors. The astrologer survived Louis by several years, disproving his power of prophecy but proving his mastery of power.”
As Shakespeare wrote, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’.
A few hours before I sat down to write this chapter, I received a parking ticket. It was only for £25 and I was completely to blame, but it nevertheless annoyed me to an extraordinary degree – and it is still annoying me now. Perhaps a parking ticket is made even more annoying because we can see no way of reframing it in a positive light.
Could the local authority that issued me with the ticket give me a chance to play the same mental trick on myself as the easyJet pilot – a reason, however tenuous, to feel slightly upbeat about the fine? For instance, how different would I feel if I was told that the money from my fine would be invested into improving local roads or donated to a homeless shelter? The fine would have the same deterrent effect, but my level of anger and resentment would be significantly reduced. How would that be a bad thing?
Pain […] is, in almost all cases, a more pungent sensation than the opposite and corresponding pleasure. The one almost always depresses us much more below the ordinary, or what may be called the natural state of our happiness, than the other ever raises us above it.
A way of identifying behavioral problems that may be amenable to a nudge intervention is given by the Danish organization iNudgeyou, which use the BASIC model to design interventions. The acronym stands for: B = behavioral mapping: collecting data to define the problem – the what phase. A = analysis: why people are currently behaving as they are – the why phase. S = solution mapping: this is the scientific and systematic process of making suggestions – the how phase. I = interventions – this is the testing of possible nudge solutions before full implementation – this is the test phase. Once a nudge intervention has been selected, there is then C = Continuation: solutions may fail due to poor implementation or lack of maintenance, so a process of on-going monitoring of the success of behavior change is needed, as well as an evaluation of possible unforeseen side-effects – the results stage. An approach such as BASIC is needed whenever nudging is being considered – jumping from general knowledge to specific behavioral problems is fraught with problems.
I’ve never been much of a theoriser about copywriting but here are five things that I think are more or less true:
1. Put yourself into your work. Use your life to animate your copy. If something moves you, chances are, it will touch someone else, too.
2. Think visually. Ask someone to describe a spiral staircase and they’ll use their hands as well as words. Sometimes the best copy is no copy.
3. If you believe that facts persuade (as I do), you’d better learn how to write a list so that it doesn’t read like a list.
4. Confession is good for the soul and for copy, too. Bill Bernbach used to say “a small admission gains a large acceptance”. I still think he was right.
5. Don’t be boring.
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
a. are wealthier (especially when compared to people who are like them)
b. are young or old (being in your forties and fifties is a bad time for life satisfaction)
c. are healthier
d. have lots of social contact
e. are married (or at least cohabiting)
f. are a little more educated (having a degree is good but you probably shouldn’t get a PhD if you want to maximize your life satisfaction)
g. are religious (it doesn’t matter which religion)
h. have a job
i. commute a short distance to work
The taxpayers of New Jersey and Pennsylvania felt the brunt of this firsthand in a real-life experiment in 1992. Both states switched that year to a no-fault insurance regime where consumers could save money by limiting their right to sue for tort damages, but the way the option was framed differed by state: New Jersey made limited right to sue the default option, while Pennsylvanians were presumed to select full right to sue, unless they opted out. This small change in the status quo had a profound effect on their behavior: 75 percent of Pennsylvania consumers paid to retain full tort, while only 20 percent of New Jersey consumers did.
Similar effects have been found with many other kinds of behavior, including student loan repayment and even, interestingly, willingness to donate organs.
It’s often assumed that Just-in-Time (JIT) Manufacturing was devised by the Japanese in the 1970s. It wasn’t. The Empire State Building, built in 1931-32, is a great example of JIT building. New York City refused the builders permission to store materials on site in case it disrupted traffic on Fifth Avenue. To overcome the problem, the architects, working without a computer, scheduled the delivery of all materials so that they could be unloaded from a truck and immediately fitted into place on the building. At the height of the construction, trucks were drawing up outside the building site every ten minutes!
As the sixth-century BC poet and philosopher Lao Tzu observed, “Those who have knowledge don’t predict. Those who predict don’t have knowledge.”
Leon Festinger and Merrill Carlsmith of Stanford University once asked their students to carry out an hour of excruciatingly boring tasks. They then divided the subjects into two groups. Each student in group A received a dollar (it was 1959) and instructions to wax lyrical about the work to another student waiting outside – in other words, to lie. The same was asked of the students in group B, with one difference: they were given $20 for the task. Later, the students had to divulge how they had really found the monotonous work. Interestingly, those who received only a dollar rated it as significantly more enjoyable and interesting. Why? One measly dollar was not enough for them to lie outright; instead they convinced themselves that the work was not that bad. Just as Aesop’s fox reinterpreted the situation, so did they. The students who received more didn’t have to justify anything. They had lied and netted $20 for it – a fair deal. They experienced no cognitive dissonance.
Excerpt from: The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
Many years ago, the Ford Motor Company wanted to tell American motorists that they sold more convertibles than did any other automobile manufacturer. They could perfectly well have said: ‘America’s bestselling convertible.’ Instead they ran a headline that read: ‘The only convertible that outsells Ford.’ And the picture was of a baby-carriage. That is a kind of humour; and it’s almost a joke. It certainly depends entirely on a contribution from its audience for the communication to be complete. But the contribution is a small and pleasurable one, well within the capacity of anyone in the market for a car. And what could have been a piece of self-congratulatory manufacturer’s so-whattery became engaging evidence of confident leadership. The point had been seen.