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.
They invited students to a lab at Harvard University and asked them to rate pictures of various home interiors. In exchange for their time, they were given $10, but told that they were required to pay a “lab tax” of $3. The instruction was to put $3 in an envelope and hand it to the experimenter before they left. The students were not thrilled by this plan. Only half complied; the other half either left the envelope empty or gave less than the required amount.
Another group of participants, however, was told that they could advise the lab manage on how to allocate their tax money. They could suggest, for example, that their taxes would be spent on beverages and snacks for future participants. Astonishingly, merely giving participants a voice increased compliance from about 50 percent to almost 70 percent! That is dramatic. Imagine what such an increase in compliance would mean for your country, if it were translated to federal taxes.
Gilbert and colleagues measured the preferences, values, and personalities of more than nineteen thousand adults ages eighteen to sixty-eight. Some were asked to predict how much they would change over the next decade, others to reflect about how much they had changed in the previous one. Predictors expected that they would change very little in the next decade, while reflectors reported having changed a lot in the previous one. Qualities that feel immutable changes immensely. Core values — pleasure, security, success, and honesty — transformed. Preferences for vacations, music, hobbies, and even friend were transfigured. Hilariously, predictors were willing to pay an average of $129 a ticket for a show ten years away by their current favorite band, while reflectors would only pay $80 to see a show today by their favorite band from ten years ago.
An experiment by Michael Deppe and his colleagues from the University of Munster, quantified the importance of media context. In 2005, the neurologists showed 21 consumers 30 new headlines. The respondents rated the believability of the headlines on a seven-point scale, with one being the most credible and seven the least.
The headlines appeared to come from one of four news magazines. Each headline was randomly rotated between the magazines so that each viewer saw the headlines in the context of every magazine. This allowed the researchers to address the effects of the context on the credibility of the headlines.
The scores were significantly influenced by the magazine. Headlines in the most respected magazine scored on average 1.9, compared to 5.5 in the least regarded magazine.
Information is not process neutrally. We are swayed by contextual cues.
A group of Canadian psychologists led by Tara MacDonald recently went into a series of bars and asked the patrons to read a short vignette. They were to imagine that they had met an attractive person at a bar, walked him or her home, and ended up in bed — only to discover that neither of them had a condom. The subjects were then asked to respond on a scale of 1 (very unlikely) to 9 (very likely) to the proposition: “If I were in this situation, I would have sex.” You’d think that the subjects who had been drinking heavily would be more likely to say they would have sex — and that’s exactly what happened. The drunk people came in at 5.36, on average, on the 9-point scale. The sober people came in at 3.91. The drinkers couldn’t sort through the long-term consequences of unprotected sex. But then MacDonald went back to the bars and stamped the hands of some of the patrons with the phrase “AIDs kills.” Drinkers with the hand stamp were slightly less likely than the sober people to want to have sex in that situation: they couldn’t sort through the rationalization necessary to set aside the risk of AIDS. Where the norms and standards are clear and obvious, the drinker can become more rule-bound that his sober counterpart.
Guinness and AMV publicised the slowness of the pour with “Good things come to those who wait”. The National Dairy Council alluded to the high calorific content of cream cakes with “Naughty, but Nice”. (Incidentally, that strapline was coined by Salman Rushdie while working at Ogilvy & Mather.)
Admitting weakness is a tangible demonstration of honesty and, therefore, makes other claims more believable. Further to that, the best straplines harness the trade-off effect. We know from bitter experience that we don’t get anything for free in life. By admitting a weakness, a brand credibly establishes a related positive attribute.
Guinness may take longer to pour but boy, it’s worth it. Avis might not have the most sales but it’s desperate to keep you happy.
Lung cancer proved to be a handy example. Lung cancer doctors and patients in early 1980s faced two unequally unpleasant options: surgery or radiation. Surgery was more likely to extend your life, but, unlike radiation, it came with the small risk of instant death. When you told people that they had a 90 percent chance of surviving surgery, 82 percent of patients opted for surgery. But when you told them that they had a 10 percent chance of dying from the surgery — which was of course just a different way of putting the same odds — only 54 percent chose the surgery. People facing a life-and-death decision responded not to the odds but to the way the odds were described to them.
In general people prefer something freely chosen to the same thing forced upon them. The effect is dramatically revealed in a study that did not directly involve reward or punishment. Lottery tickets costing $1 each were sold to the employees of two companies. Some of the employees were allowed to choose the number of their tickets, others had no choice but were merely handed a ticket. Just before the draw, the experimenter approached each subject offering to buy the ticket back. The subjects who had no choice were prepared to sell back for $1.96 on average, but those who had selected their own tickets held out for an average of $8.67. There could be no better demonstration that we irrationally overvalue what we freely choose.
Excerpt from: Irrationality: The enemy within by Stuart Sutherland
Take what happened when Coney Island visitors encountered entrepreneur Nathan Handwerker’s new food stand. When he went into business in 1916, the Polish immigrant decided to undercut the competition. Everyone else was charging 10 cents for the classic Coney Island meal — the hot dog — so Handwerker priced the dogs he made from his wife’s old recipe at a mere five cents. Despite the fact that Handwerker’s hot dogs were every bit as delicious as the competition’s (and were made from real beef), he attracted almost no customers. Visitors to Coney Island viewed these mysterious half-priced hot dogs as inferior and wondered what cheap, substandard ingredients went into the recipe. It didn’t help when Handwerker offered free pickles or free root beer to hot dog buyers. Sales remained flat and, if anything, giving away freebies only further cemented the value attribution.
It wasn’t until Handwerker came up with a clever new ploy that his hot dogs really started selling. He recruited doctors from a nearby hospital to stand by his shop eating his hot dogs while wearing their white coats and stethoscopes. Because people place a high value on physicians, customers figured if doctors were eating there, the food had to be good. So they soon started buying from Handwerker, and his “Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs” took off. It makes you wonder just how many times we miss out on something worthwhile because of our preconceptions about its value.
Sailing across the Aegean Sea he was captured by Sicilian pirates.
They demanded a ransom: 20 talents of silver.
(That’s about 620kg worth about $600k.)
Caesar told them they were being ridiculous.
He couldn’t possibly allow himself to be ransomed so cheaply.
The pirates hesitated, the were confused.
Caesar insisted the ransom must be more than doubled to 50 talents of silver.
(Around 1550kg worth about $1.5 million.)
Now the pirated didn’t know what to make of this.
Normally their captives tried to escape as cheaply as possible.
They didn’t understand what was going on.
But if he said he would double the ransom, why argue?
They let Caesar’s men go back to Rome to raise the money.
And in Rome, in his absence, Caesar suddenly became very famous.
No one had ever been ransomed for such a vast sum before.
He must be very special, he must be very important/
That ransom demand put Julius Caesar on the political map.
He had just invented the Veblen effect.
Consider Gosplan, the agency charged with central economic planning for the Soviet Union for most of the twentieth century. Their plans often involved setting economy-wide target amounts for commodities (wheat, tires, etc.), which broke down into production targets for specific facilities. In 1990, economist Robert Heilbroner described some of the complications with this system in “After Communism,” published in The New Yorker.
For many years, targets were given in physical terms — so many yards of cloth or tons of nails — but this lead to obvious difficulties. If cloth was reqarded by the yard, it was woven loosely to make the yarn yield more yards. If the output of nails was determined by their number, factories produced huge numbers of pin like nails; if by weight, smaller numbers of very heavy nails. The satiric magazine Krokodil once ran a cartoon of a factory manager proudly displaying his record output, a sing gigantic nail suspended from a crane.
Goodhart’s law summarizes the issue: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
You might assume that a milkshake’s job is to be a special treat to cap off a meal. While it is true that many parents offer shakes as an after-dinner family treat, this restaurant learned that almost half of their shake customers were using them for a different job — to make their long morning commutes more interesting. People felt their trips were more enjoyable as they sipped milkshakes while moving through traffic.
Doing two jobs at once sounds great, but that usually means at least one job isn’t being done particularly well. In this case, parents didn’t like how long it took their kids to drink the shakes. Yet that was one of the key features for the commuters.
The restaurant chain realized they needed two different products to do the two different jobs well. They decided to further improve the shake for the commuters by making it even thicker, adding more chunks and moving the shake machine to the front of the stores for the fast on-the-go service that commuters wanted. They then needed to market a wholly different dessert product to kids and their parents.
When you truly understand what job people are really truing to get done by using your product, then you can focus your efforts on meeting that need.
A 2007 study by Sorensen investigated the impact of appearing in the NY Times bestseller list. He tracked the success of books that should have been included on the basis of their actual sales, but — because of time lags an accidental omissions — weren’t, and compared them to this that did make it on to the list. He found a dramatic effect: just being on the list led to an increase in sales of 13-14 per cent on average, and a 57 per cent increase in sales for first-time authors.
Transavia’s brilliant idea was to create a snack packaging that doubled as an aeroplane ticket to a low-cost destination. A €35 packet of crisps would buy you a one-way ticket from France to Barcelona, a €40 bag of gummy bears would take you to Lisbon, or a €40 cereal bar would get you to Dublin. Simply walk into your local Carrefour supermarket, buy the snack, and then enter the code found inside the packaging to redeem your ticket and choose your outbound flight.
When Howard Shultz created Starbucks, he was as intuitive businessman as Salvador Assael. He worked diligently to separate Starbucks from other coffee shops, not through price but through ambiance. Accordingly, he designed Starbucks from the very beginning to feel like a continental coffeehouse.
The early shops were fragrant with the small of roasted beans (and better-quality roasted beans than those at Dunkin’ Donuts). They sold fancy French coffee presses. The showcases presented alluring snacks — almond croissants, biscotti, raspberry custard pastries, and others. Whereas Dunkin’ Donuts had small, medium, and large coffees. Starbucks offered Short, Tall, Grande, and Venti, as well as drinks with high-pedigree names like Caffe Americano, Caffe Misto, Macchiato, and Frappuccino. Starbucks did everything in its power, in other words, to make the experience feel different — so different that we would not use the prices at Dunkin’ Donuts as an anchor, but instead would be open to the new anchor that Starbucks was preparing for us. And that, to a great extent, is how Starbucks succeeded.