In the mid-1960s psychologists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser published an astonishing set of data. They reported the result of an experiment in which a researcher, posing as a volunteer worker, had gone door to door in a residential California neighborhood making a preposterous request of homeowners. The homeowners were asked to allow a public-service billboard to be installed on their front lawns. To get an idea of just how the sign would look, they were shown a photograph depicting an attractive house, the view of which was almost completely obscured by a very large, poorly lettered sign reading DRIVE CAREFULLY. Although the request was normally and understandably refused by the great majority (83 percent) of the other residents in the area, this particular group of people reacted quite favorably. A full 76 percent of them offered the use of their front yards.
The prime reason for their startling compliance has to do with something that had happened to them about two weeks earlier: They had made a small commitment to driver safety. A different volunteer worker had come to their doors and asked them to accept and display a little three-inch-square sign that read BE A SAFE DRIVER. It was such a trifling request that nearly all of them had agreed to it. But the effects of that request were enormous. Because they had innocently complied with a trivial safe-driving request a couple of weeks before, these homeowners became remarkably willing to comply with another such request that was massive in size.
One stark and surprising study nicely illustrates the direction of such research. Conducted by Israeli Danziger of Ben-Gurion University, the study looks into the parole decisions of Israeli judges. The researchers examined 1,112 parole hearings by Israeli judges, and observed a startling trend: at the start of the day, around two-thirds of people before the court were given parole. Before the lunch break, this fell almost to nothing – but straight after a break, this once again jumped above 60 per cent again. The pattern was repeated again through a second meal break.
Of the twelve journals, only three spotted that they had already published the article. This was a grave lapse of memory on the part of the editors and their referees, but then memory is fallible; however, worse was to come. Eight out of the remaining nine articles, all of which had been previously published, were rejected. Moreover, of the sixteen referees and eight editors who looked at these eight papers, every single one stated that the paper they examined did not merit publication. This is surely a startling instance of the availability error. It suggests that in deciding whether an article should be published, referees and editors pay more attention to the authors’ names and to the standing of the institution to which they belong than they do to the scientific work reported.
Excerpt from: Irrationality: The enemy within by Stuart Sutherland
Scarcity is a great way to make something seem more attractive and valuable. The Blues Brothers famously played ‘for one night only’ and Bernd Pichetsrieder, the great BMW marketing guru insisted on ‘always selling one less than you can’.
This kind of strategy is sometimes called the ‘velvet rope’ – ‘you can’t come in’ often makes something that much more appealing. This was also the trick behind the story of how Frederick the Great turned Prussia into a potato eating nation – he insisted that no-one but the nobility could eat the potato. The ‘aspirational’ root vegetable? Believe it.
Wansink moved broccoli to the beginning of the line. The first thing hungry students now saw wasn’t fast food. Fruit was taken out of functional containers and put in an attractive wooden bowl. The salad bar went in front of the tills, making it more prominent, something you couldn’t avoid. The ice cream freezer went from invitingly transparent to opaque. Buying sugar-rich desserts was made more complex, requiring additional calculations. Wansink hadn’t actually added anything, the food on offer was the same, but he rearranged the process. The results were clear.
Broccoli consumption increased by 10-15 per cent. Fruit sales from the wooden bowl doubled. Sales of salad tripled. The percentage of students buying ice cream fell from 30 per cent to 14 per cent. In general the composition of meals was far healthier. Arrangement, not any other inducement, led to healthy eating. Wansink studied other instances of how food’s presentation and arrangement affects our relationship with it.
Recently, the Behavioural Insights Team began altering the letter sent to British citizens if they failed to pay taxes on their car. The traditional letter was all text, informing the subject that if they didn’t pay now they would be hit with various penalties, including a clamped or and hefty fines. To increase the effectiveness of the letter, the scientists began experimenting with various forms of personalization. The first variant involved making a more specific threat, telling recipients that they would lose their particular model of car if they didn’t pay the tax. The second variant featured a personalized visual, so that the letter came attached with a photograph of the actual car question. While both approaches increased compliance, the customized picture was the most effective—it increased the compliance rate from 40 to 49 percent.
About thirty years ago, an economist at the Bank of Israel named Michael Landsberger undertook a study of a group of Israelis who were receiving regular restitution payments from the West German government after World War II. Although these payments could without exaggeration be described as blood money – inasmuch as they were intended to make up for Nazi atrocities – they could also fairly accurately be described as found money. Because of this, and because the payments varied significantly in size from one individual or family to another, Landsberger was able to gauge the effect of the size of such windfalls on each recipients spending rate. What he discovered was amazing. The group of recipients who received the larger payments (which were equal to about two-thirds of their annual income) had a spending rate of about 0.23. In other words, for every dollar they received, their marginal spending increased by 23 percent; the rest was saved. Conversely, the group that received the smallest windfall payments (equal to about 7 percent of annual income) had a spending rate of 2. Or, more accurately, for every dollar of found money, they spent $1 of found money and another $1 from “savings” (what they actually saved or what they might have saved).
In 2005 a flagging Japanese economy convinced Takashi Hashiyama, president of the electronics firm Maspro Denkoh, to sell the corporate collection of French impressionist paintings This included a major Cezanne landscape and lesser works by Sisley, van Gogh, and Picasso. Both Christies and Sotheby’s gave presentations to Hashiyama touting their expertise and ability to achieve the highest auction prices. In Hashiyama’s judgment, the presentations were equally convincing. To settle the matter, he proposed a game of rock, paper, scissors.
“The client was very serious about this,” Christie’s deputy chairman Jonathan Rendell said, “so we were very serious about it, too.” The money was serious, too. The Maspro Denkoh collection was valued at $20 million. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s quickly agreed to the game.
In contrast, Kanae Ishibashi, the president of Christie’s Japan, began researching RPS strategies on the Internet. You may or may not be surprised to learn that an awful lot has been written on the game. Ishibashi had a break when Nicholas Maclean, Christie’s director of impressionist and modern art, mentioned that his eleven-year-old twin daughters, Alice and Flora, played the game at school almost daily.
Alice’s advice was “Everybody knows you always start with scissors.” Flora seconded this, saying “Rock is way too obvious… Since they were beginners, scissors was definitely the safest.”
Both girls also agreed that, in the event of a scissors-scissors tie, the next choice should be scissors again — precisely because “everybody expects you to choose rock.”
Ishibashi went into the meeting with this strategy, while the Sotheby’s rep went in with no strategy at all. The auction house people sat facing each other at a conference table, flanked by Maspro accountants. To avoid ambiguity, the players wrote their choices on a slip of paper. A Maspro executive opened the slips. Ishibashi had chosen scissors, and the Sotheby’s representative had chosen paper. Scissors cuts paper, and Christie’s won. In early May 2005, Christie’s auctioned the four paintings for $17.8m, earning the auction house a 1.9m commission.
So we use others as a helpful shortcut. A filter. If a book is on the best-seller list, we’re more likely to skim the description. If a song is already popular, we’re more likely to give it a listen. Following others saves us time and effort and (hopefully) leads us to something we’re more likely to enjoy.
Does that mean we’ll like all those books or songs ourselves? Not necessarily. But we’re more likely to check them out and give them a try. And given the thousands of competing options out there, this increased attention is enough to give those items a boost.
Knowing others liked something also encourages people to give it the benefit of the doubt. Appearing on the best-seller list provides an air of credibility.
The ‘Save More Tomorrow’ programme tackles both of these barriers head-on by, first, auto-enrolling people onto workplace saving schemes to combat inertia. People are obviously completely free to opt back out, but, human nature being what it is 90 per cent stay on the scheme, with their inertia now working for them rather than against them. An auto-escalator then ups the contributions, not immediately but over time (the tomorrow bit). This shifted the reluctant hugely: when asked whether they would up their contributions now by five percentage points, most said no (we need the chocolate now). But when asked whether they’d commit to saving more in the future, 78 per cent said yes.
The impact of ‘Save More Tomorrow’ has been substantial. Before the programme, the average saving rate for workers in the sample was 3-5 per cent, but after four years this had increased nearly four-fold to 13.6 per cent.
There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented between when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.
Obesity is contagious. If your best friends get fat, your risk of gaining weight goes up.
Broadcasters mimic one another, producing otherwise inexplicable fads in programming. (Think reality television, American Idol and its siblings, game shows that come and go, the rise and fall and rise of science fiction, and so forth.)
The academic effort of college students is influenced by their peers, so much so that the random assignments of first-year students to dormitories or roommates can have big consequences for their grades and hence on their future prospects. (Maybe parents should worry less about which college their kids go to and more about which roommate they get.)
In the American judicial system, federal judges on three-judge panels are affected by the votes of their colleagues. The typical Republican appointee shows pretty liberal voting patterns when sitting with two Democratic appointees, and the typical Democratic appointee shows pretty conservative voting patterns when sitting with two Republican appointees. Both sets of appointees show far more moderate voting patterns when they are sitting with at least one judge appointed by a president of the opposing political party.
In one especially elegant and effective experiment, psychologist David Strohmetz and his colleagues arranged for waiters to hand customers their bills with or without sweets, and examined the impact on tipping. In the control condition, diners were unlucky enough to receive their bills without any sweets at all. A second group was given a single sweet. Compared to the control group, this simple gesture of kindness resulted in a measly 3 per cent increase in tips. A third group of customers received two sweets each, and, compared to the control group, gave 14 per cent larger tips. Not bad. However, here comes the really clever bit. In the fourth and final condition, the waiters were asked to present the bill to customers along with one sweet each, then, just as they were turning away from the table, reach into their pocket and quickly hand everyone a second sweet. In terms of sweets per customer, everyone ended up with exactly the same number of sweets as those in the third group. But psychologically speaking, this was very, very different. The waiter had just carried out an unnecessary and nice favour, and, because of that, tipping increased by an impressive 23 per cent.
Half of the respondents, drawn from a national sample of relatively affluent households, were asked whether they could comfortably save 20 percent of their income, and the other half were asked whether they could comfortably live on 80 percent of their income. Of course, to save 20 percent of your income is to live on 80 percent of it. Nevertheless, whereas only half of the respondents thought they could save 20 percent of their earnings, four out of five thought they could comfortably live on 80 percent.
This difference in reactions cannot be chalked up to simple financial illiteracy. People find beef that is 80 percent lean more appealing than beef that is 20 percent fat. They are more impressed by condoms whose manufacturers boast of a 95 percent success rate rather than a 5 percent failure rate. They are more supportive of taxes on the rich when the existing level of income inequality is described in terms of how much more the rich earn than the median wage earner tan when it is described in terms of how much less the median wage earner earns than the rich.
This was what the network scientist Duncan Watts and colleagues found in a famous 2006 experiment. Groups of people were given the chance to download songs for free from a Web site after they had listened to and ranked the songs. When the participants could see what previous downloaders had chosen, they were more likely to follow that behavior so popular songs became more popular, less popular songs became less so. These socially influenced choices were more unpredictable; it became harder to tell how a song would fare in popularity from its reported quality. When people made choices on their own, the choices were less unequal and more predictable; people were more likely to simply choose the songs they said were best. Knowing what other listeners did was not enough to completely reorder people’s musical taste. As Watts and his co-author Matthew Salganik wrote, “The ‘best’ songs never do very badly, and the ‘worst’ songs never do extremely well.” But when others’ choices were visible, there was greater chance for the less good to do better, and vice versa. “When individual decisions are subject to social influence,” they write, “markets do not simply aggregate pre-existing individual preference.” The pop chart, in other words, just like taste itself does not operate in a vacuum.
In another experiment, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller quantified how sexually attractive a woman is to a man by recording the earnings of lap dancers in a strip club. And he tracked how this changed over their monthly menstruation cycle. As it turned out, men gave twice as much in tips when the dancer was ovulating (fertile) as when she was menstruating (not fertile). But the strange part is that the men weren’t consciously aware of the biological changes that attend the monthly cycle – that when she is ovulating, a surge of the hormone estrogen changes her appearance subtly, making her features more symmetrical, her skin softer, and her waist narrower. But they detected these fertility cues nonetheless.
I don’t want to be a salesman. I want to be an artist. I know it’s not easy, but it’s what I want.
If I can’t be an artist, at least I want to be helpful. I want to change things. I’ve seen the damage that crass consumerism can do. I don’t want to be a peddler. I am nobler than that.
You know what I mean, right? You agree, right
Well, here’s the thing. If you’re in advertising, you’re a salesman.
It doesn’t matter what you think you are or what you want to be. You’re a salesman. I don’t like it either.
One of the problems advertising has always faced is that there are a lot of people in business who don’t want to be salespeople.
We will acknowledge that it is the availability of substitutes – the legitimate alternatives to the offering of our firm – that allows the client to ask, and compels us to give, our thinking away for free. If we are not seen as more expert than out competition then we will be viewed as one in a sea of many, and we will have little power in our relationships with clients and prospects.
Exceprt from: The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns
When you think about it, it is rather strange how explicit low-cost airline are about what their ticket prices don’t include: a pre-allocated seat, a meal, free drinks, free checked luggage – such deficiencies help to explain and destigmatise the low prices. ‘Oh, I see,’ you can say, when you see a flight to Budapest advertised for £37, ‘the reason that low price is possible is because I won’t be paying for a lot of expensive fripperies that I probably don’t want anyway.’ It’s an explicit, well-defined trade-off, and one that we feel happy to accept.
Imagine if cheap airlines instead claimed: ‘We’re just a good as British Airways, but at a third of the price.’ Either nobody would believe them, or else such a claim would raise instant doubts. ‘Maybe the only reason they’re cheaper is because they don’t bother servicing the engines or training the pilots, or because the planes are scarcely airworthy.’
For example, people knew that Alka-Seltzer was taken for an upset stomach, but market research showed that nobody knew how many they should be taking — so most people just took one. But when viewers saw the infamous “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” ads, purchases of Alka-Seltzer nearly doubled overnight. The tagline that sold the product became indivisible from the products function because it told consumer something they did not know.
In 1964, Festinger and Nathan Maccoby, academics at Stanford University, recruited members of college fraternities. They played those students an audio argument about why fraternities were morally wrong. The recording was played in two different scenarios; students either heard it on its own or they watched a silent film at the same time.
After the students had heard the recording, the Stanford psychologists questioned them as to how far their views had shifted. Those who had heard the argument at the same time as the silent film were more likely to have changed their opinion.
The psychologists’ hypothesis was that the brain is adept at generating counter-arguments that maintain its existing opinions, but when the brain is distracted that ability is hampered. We’re more easily persuaded when focusing on more than one thing at a time.
The lesson is clear: target rejecters when they’re partially distracted.
1981… McRib launches. But then sales numbers came in. Unfortunately, they were lower than expected at launch. McDonald’s tried promotions and features, but not much worked. So after a few years it dropped the McRib, citing Americans’ lack of interest in pork.
A decade later, however, McDonald’s figured out a clever way to increase demand for the McRib. It didn’t spend more money on advertising. It didn’t change the price. It didn’t even change the ingredients.
It just made the product more scarce.
Sometimes it would bring the product back nationally for a limited time; in other cases it would offer it at certain locations but not others. One month it would be offered only at franchises in Kansas City, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Two months later it would be offered only in Chicago, Dallas, and Tampa.
And its strategy worked. Consumers got excited about the sandwich. Facebook groups stated popping up asking the company to “bring back the McRib!”
Excerpt from: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Black Friday (and now Cyber Monday) are marked clearly in shopping calendars around the world. The event started as an invention of an American organisation, the National Association of Retailers. Their aim; increase retail sales. An aim that has now well surpassed initial expectations.
For those unfamiliar, Black Friday and Cyber Monday events offer a limited number of discounted products to customers. Some retailers see customers queuing for days in advance to grab the best bargains. In many cases a retail frenzy ensues when the doors finally open.
Scarcity is one of the key factors behind the success of these shopping days. Retailers promote to customers that a limited number of items will be available at discount. Customers who might not have needed a new TV suddenly attribute additional value to it because of scarcity, turning them into must have items in conjunction with the discount
Remember, price does not equal value. This is important. Even though these shopping days provide discounts to customers, that is a reduction in price, the value of the product to a customer does not necessarily change. If they don’t need a new TV before the event, a discount is not going to change their need for it.
Limited or rare supplies are perceived by people as a threat to their freedom of choice, triggering a reaction to fight the threat and maintain their access to the resource.
In the UK, there was a popular game show called The Weakest Link broadcast on television that aired between 2000 and 2012. The show was presented by Anne Robinson who was known for her sharp and forthright style, to put it mildly.
If you’re not familiar with the game, each contestant answered a question in sequence determined by their position in a line up. Each correct answer earned an ever-increasing sum of money until the pot was “banked” or kept, at which point the value of the pot was reset, but the round continued. At the end of each round, the contestants voted who they’d like to eliminate until one person, the winner, remained.
If players were acting rationally, they would vote out the “weakest link”, the worst player, at the end of each round in order to “bank” the most money in preceding rounds. However, the number of incorrect answers given was not the only determining factor used by the players when deciding who to vote off.
In many cases, players overlooked errors that those in the centre of the line-up made to a greater extent than errors made by those in extreme positions. This gave centre position holders more favourable assessments and, as such, they were often ignored when it came to voting. During the twelve years that the show aired, significantly more winners came from the centre of the stage.
This phenomenon is known as the centre-stage effect, and we are influenced by it every single day. Positioning is vitally important and has drastic implications on consumer behaviour, and your own success.
However, smart-thinking cops have found other innovative ways to tackle the problem. In 2012, Met Police officers used a borrowed No. 2 London bus to sneak up on a gang of street gamblers on Westminster Bridge. Normally, the lookouts alert the street gamblers well in advance but, on this occasion, they hadn’t anticipated the 30-plus officers who jumped out on them as the bus came alongside. More than 25 gamblers were detained and 12 were charged with gaming offences.
Loewenstein writes of a test in which participants were confronted by a grid of squares on a computer screen. They were asked to click on five of them. Some participants found that with each click, another picture of an animal appeared. But a second group saw small component parts of a single animal. With each square they clicked, another part of a greater picture was revealed. This second group were much more likely to keep on clicking squares after the required five, and then keep going until enough of them had been turned that the mystery of the animal’s identity had been solved. Brains, concluded the researchers, seem to become spontaneously curious when presented with an ‘informations set’ they realise is incomplete. ‘There is a natural inclination to resolve information gaps,’ wrote Lowenstein, ‘even for questions of no importance.’
Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
A book may take months to write.
Thats okay because people can take weeks to read it, savouring each word.
Copywriting isn’t like that.
Copy has to compete for attention.
We can’t assume that every word will be pored over, like a book.
That’s what made Ernest Hemingway different as a writer.
Hemingway trained as journalist.
Before he became a novelist, he worked on the Kansas City Star.
He learned the paper’s style, it became his guide to writing:
‘Use short sentence. Use short paragraphs. Use vigorous English.’
He learned to get the most from the least, to prune language.
Later in life Hemingway would call this style ‘The Iceberg Theory’.
By stating the bar minimum, you let the reader’s imagination add the part unsaid, the part below the surface.
In writing classes at universities it’s now known as ‘The Theory of Omission’.
…the scientists have shown that people are significantly more likely to “tackle their goals,” such as starting a diet or going to the gym, after reaching a “temporal landmark.” They refer to this as “The Fresh Start Effect.” The power of this effect is large: According to the data, the typical undergraduate is 33.4 percent more likely to work out on the first day of the week and 47.1 percent more likely to work out on the first day of the new semester. This even applies to our birthdays, with the probability of going to the gym increasing by 7.5 percent on the day after a celebration. (Not surprisingly, the scientists found that this pattern doesn’t apply to our twenty-first birthday.)
Dr Michael Housman, Chief Analytics Offices at Cornerstone OnDemand, pioneered the idea that people’s characteristics could be identified by their browser.
He analysed data from 50,000 people who his recruitment software company had helped find jobs and discovered that browser choice accurately predicted their performance. People who opted for a non-default browser, like Chrome or Firefox, lasted 15% longer in their jobs than those with a default browser, like Internet Explorer.
Housman attributed the difference to the fact that choosing Chrome or Firefox was an active decision — those workers were taking the effort to find a better browsing solution than the one pre-installed on their PC. That identified them as someone who wasn’t content with the default.
What’s the marketing application?
Clare Linford and I wondered if Housman’s finding could also be useful for marketers. Perhaps people who avoid the mainstream default browser choice, might do the same in other product categories?
We tested this hypothesis by questioning 22 lager drinkers about their brand of choice. When we split the results by their favoured browser the results were clear-cut. Only a third of lager drinkers who used Internet Explorer preferred a beer from outside the mainstream, top five lagers. However, 56% of those who didn’t use a default browser preferred a non-mainstream lager.
Take the example of getting more women on company boards, an issue widely championed by campaigners and indeed Prime Ministers, but often embodying a clear example of the ‘big mistake’. The normal centrepiece of campaigns to get more women on boards is a statistic along the lines ‘isn’t it shocking that only 25 per cent of board members are women?’ (less in some countries). It is shocking, but it’s also likely to be a message that inadvertently normalises the situation. On the other hand, if such campaigns made the equally valid point hat ’90 per cent of companies have women on their boards’, then the signalling is very different. Following discussions with Iris Bohnet, and expert on gender inequality, and Emily Walsh, special adviser to the UK’s Business Secretary, parts of the UK’s campaign to encourage more women on to boards was indeed reframed this way.