The bias runs deep. Few of us, surely, think of ourselves as having a fixed, monochrome personality: we’re happy or sad, stressed or relaxed, depending on circumstances. Yet we stubbornly resist the notion that others might be similarly circumstance-dependent. In a well-known 1960s study, people were shown two essays, one arguing in favour of Castro’s Cuba and one against. Even when it was explained that the authors had been ordered to adopt each position based on a coin-toss – that their situation, in other words, had forced their hand readers still considered that the pro Castro author must be deep down, pro Castro and vice versa.
Psychologists Gretchen Chapman and Brian Bornstein tested this idea in a 1996 experiment, when Liebeck v. McDonald’s was much in the news. They presented eighty students from the University of Illinois, U.S.A., students with the hypothetical case of a young woman who said she contracted ovarian cancer from birth control pills and was suing her health care organization. Four groups each heard a different demand for damages: $100; $20,000; $5 million; and $1 billion. The mock jurors were asked to give compensatory damages only. Anyone who wants to believe in the jury system must find the results astonishing.
The jurors were amazingly persuadable, up through the $5 million demand. The lowball $100 demand got a piddling $990 average award. This was for a cancer said to have the plaintiff ‘almost constantly in pain… Doctors do not expect her to survive beyond a few more months.’
Bottom line: it’s hard to change someone’s mind when you feel morally and intellectually superior to them. As Megan McArdle memorably put it: “It took me years of writing on the Internet to learn what is nearly an iron law of commentary: The better your message makes you feel about yourself, the less likely it is that you are convincing anyone else.”
When the new school year started, teachers at Spruce Elementary learned that an acclaimed scientist by the name of Dr Rosenthal would be administering a test to their pupils. This ‘Test of Inflected Acquisition’ indicated who would make the greatest strides at school that year. In truth it was a common or garden IQ test, and, once the scores had been tallied, Rosenthal and his team cast them all aside. They tossed a coin to decide which kids they would tell teachers were ‘high-potentials’. The kids, meanwhile, were told nothing at all. Sure enough, the power of expectation swiftly began to work its magic. Teachers gave the group of ‘smart’ pupils more attention, more encouragement and more praise, thus changing how the children saw themselves, too. The effect was clearest among the youngest kids, whose IQ scores increased by an average of twenty-seven points in a single year. The largest gains were among boys who looked Latino, a group typically subject to the lowest expectations in California.’ Rosenthal dubbed his discovery the Pygmalion Effect, after the mythological sculptor who fell so hard for one of his own creations that the gods decided to bring his statue to life. Beliefs we’re devoted to — whether they’re true or imagined — can like-wise come to life, effecting very real change in the world. The Pygmalion Effect resembles the placebo effect (which I discussed in Chapter 1), except, instead of benefiting oneself, these are expectations that benefit others.
This rule is known as Chesterton’s fence, after G. K. Chesterton, the British writer who proposed it in an essay in 1929. Imagine you discover a road that has a fence built across it for no particular reason you can see. You say to yourself, “Why would someone build a fence here? This seems unnecessary and stupid, let’s tear it down.” But if you don’t understand why the fence is there, Chesterton argued, you can’t be confident that it’s okay to tear it down. Long-standing customs or institutions are like those fences, he said. Naive reformers look at them and say, “I don’t see the use of this; let’s clear it away.” But more thoughtful reformers reply, “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
The original manager of the Rolling Stones, Andrew Loog Oldham, acted out his own form of emotional contagion in 1965 , from the back of the theatre where the band would perform. As the band came onstage, he noticed that if he crouched down to be out of sight and screamed in high-pitched voice, then everyone would would scream with him. The rest, as they say, is rock and roll history.
If we take the UK’s most listened-to radio show- BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show – then the songwriter can expect the Performing Right Society for Music expect Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) to collect roughly £60. Stare at a royalty statement which lists £150 for a spin alongside £0.005 for a stream and you can understand the fear of letting go of the old wine.
But the economics don’t support that fear. A ‘spin’ on BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show will reach 8 million people; you need therefore to divide the £150 by the 8 million pairs of ears to get a comparative unit value per listener, and this results in £0.00002 – which is less than half a percent of the £ 0.005 that you would get from one unique person on a streaming service. What’s more, this is not an either/or comparison as those who listen to it on the radio may be more inclined to stream it on Spotify. To bring this calculation full circle, had those 8 million listeners streamed the song on Spotify (which is not beyond the realms of possibility), a cheque of £40,000 would be paid across to the artist and songwriter – not £150. ‘Not too shabby’ as some Americans like to say.
If you’ve ever wondered why every poster and every trailer and every TV spot looks exactly the same, it’s because of testing. It’s because anything interesting scores poorly and gets kicked out Now I’ve tried to argue that the methodology of this testing doesn’t work. If you take a poster or a trailer and you show it to somebody in isolation, that’s not really an accurate reflection of whether it’s working because we don’t see them in isolation, we see them in groups. We see a trailer in the middle of five other trailers, we see a poster in the middle of eight other posters, and I’ve tried to argue that maybe the thing that’s making it distinctive and score poorly actually would stick out if you presented it to these people the way the real world presents it. And I’ve never won that argument.
In the first few decades of cinema, patrons would buy a ticket that granted general admission to the theatre. Several features would be playing on a loop, and you could choose whichever you fancied. You might enter halfway through the main movie, watch it until the end, see the cartoons and the newsreel and then start from the beginning to catch what you’d missed. It functioned rather like a big public television. Then, in 1960, a director decreed that no one would be permitted to enter screenings once his new film had begun: the integrity of the viewing experience was paramount. The film was Psycho and Alfred Hitchcock’s edict – part artistic statement, part marketing ploy – placed new emphasis on plot twists in the final act. (He also asked critics not to discuss those key details.)
Consider a study I helped conduct, led by my doctoral student Aneesh Rai, which involved thousands of volunteers at a large nonprofit who had promised to work two hundred hours within a year of joining but were falling short of their pledge. Knowing that facing such a massive goal can be demotivating, my collaborators and I instead asked the volunteers to comm it to four hours each week or eight hours every two weeks-which, of course, is basically the same as two hundred hours a year. But these smaller commitments, despite amounting to the same annual pledge, yielded 8 percent more time volunteering overall than simply prompting people to make progress on a yearly commitment. (Likewise, the online financial services company Acorns has found that it’s more effective when people are asked to set aside monthly even though these amount to the same thing.) If a commitment is bite-size, it appears less daunting to us, and we’re more likely to stick to our world.
Consider an example from the insurance world. Back in the 1930s, executives at the Hartford Fire Insurance Company in Connecticut realized that warehouses which contained oil drums kept blowing up. Nobody knew why. The company asked a fire-prevention engineer named Benjamin Whorf to investigate. Although Whorf was a trained chemical engineer, he had also done research in anthropology and linguistics at Yale, with a focus on the Hopi Native American communities. So, he approached the problem with an anthropologist’s mindset: he observed warehouse workers, noting what they did and said, crying to absorb everything without prior judgment. He was particularly interested in the cultural assumptions embedded in language, since he knew these could vary. Consider seasons. In English, “season” is a noun, defined by the astronomical calendar (“summer starts on June 20,” people say). In the Hopi language and worldview “summer” is an adverb defined by heat, not the calendar (it feels “summer(y)”). Neither is better or worse; but they are different. People cannot appreciate this distinction unless they compare. Or as Whorf observed: “We always assume that the linguistic analysis made by our group reflects reality better than it does.”
This perspective solved the oil drum mystery. Whorf noticed that the workers were careful when handling oil drum marked as “full.” However, workers happily smoked in rooms that stored drums “empty.” The reason? The word “empty” in English is associated with “nothing”; it seems boring, dull, and easy to ignore. However, “empty” oil drums are actually full of flammable fumes. So, Whorf told the warehouse managers to explain the dangers of “empty” to workers and explosions stopped. Science alone could not solve the mystery. But cultural analysis-with science-could. The same principle (namely using antho-vision to see what we ignore) is equally valuable when mysterious problems erupt in modern bank trading floors, corporate mergers, or pandemics, say.
That is because, “the least questioned assumptions are often the most questionable,” as the nineteenth-century French physician and anthropologist Paul Broca reputedly said. It is a dangerous mistake to ignore the ideas we take for granted, be that about language, space, people…
The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is okay as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured, or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.
In the same way, in the early stages of a food delivery brand (now worth over £1bn), the proposal was to pay the restaurant directly for each meal it supplied and then to invoice them monthly for the commission on the month’s past sales. A marketing thinker pointed out that this was a mistake. “We should keep the money from each meal sold, deduct commission, and then send them a payment every month”. He or she understood that, if the restaurant saw the new business as a source of incremental revenue they would value it; if they saw it primarily as a cost, they would look for ways to avoid it. Again, in economic terms, there is no difference between the first proposal and the second, but the psychological effect on the business will be dramatically different.
Excerpt from: The Objectivity Trap by Rory Sutherland
Prospective borrowers must complete a lengthy online application to be considered for a loan. Many of them begin the application but don’t finish it. Kiva enlisted the Common Cents Lab, a behavioral research laboratory, to come up with a solution.
Their suggestion: Impose an ending. Give people a specific deadline a few weeks away for completing the application. On one level, this idea seems idiotic. A deadline surely means that some people won’t finish the application in time and therefore will be disqualified for the loan. But Kiva found that when it sent applicants a reminder message with a deadline, compared with a reminder message without a deadline, 24 percent more borrowers completed the application.” Likewise, in other studies, people given a hard deadline—-a date and time—are more likely to sign up to be organ donors than those for whom the choice is open-ended.
Using data on more than 1m babies born in Washington state between 1996 and 2009, and records of thousands of crimes committed there between 1992 and 2015, the authors find that when women become pregnant, they are much less likely to be arrested, for a wide range of crimes. The effective most marked for “economic” crimes, such as theft and burglary, but is also true of assaults, vandalism, and alcohol and drug offences. Arrest rates fall by 50%, almost as soon as women become pregnant and fall much further as the pregnancy goes on. Although they bounce back somewhat after childbirth, arrest rates stabilize at about half pre pregnancy levels.
More surprisingly, the same pattern holds for fathers. Men are much likelier than women to commit crimes of all sorts in the first place, and the decline in some types of crime is less dramatic for dads than for mums. But arrest rates drop by around 15% once their partners become pregnant, and stay around this mark even after birth. In a blog post commenting on the paper, Alexander Tabarrok of George Mason University described the effect as “astoundingly large”. A study by Mr. Tabarrok published in 2007 concluded that the threat of an additional 20 years of prison made criminals 17% less likely to reoffend; the prospect of fatherhood, it seems, is more salutary than that of two decades of incarceration.
This finding was illustrated in a Pew Research poll, showing that viewers of humorous news show like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report remembered more about current events than people who consumed information from newspapers, cable news, or network news. And in one study, researchers found that people who watched a humorous film clip before taking a brief short-term memory test recalled more than twice as much information as people who took the same test after simply sitting doing nothing for the same duration.
The average negotiators went in armed for battle, hardly picking note of any anticipated areas of agreement. The experts, in contrast, mapped out a series of dance steps they might be able to take with the other side, devoting more than a third of their planning comments to finding common ground.
As the negotiators started discussing options and making proposals, a second difference emerged. Most people think of arguments as being like pair of scales: the more reasons we can pile up on our side, the more swill tip the balance in our favor. Yet the experts did the exact opposite: They actually presented fewer reasons to support their case. They didn’t want to water down their best points. As Rackham put it, “A weak argument generally dilutes a strong one.”
The more reasons we put on the table, the easier it is for people to discard the shakiest one. Once they reject one of our justifications, they can easily dismiss our entire case. That happened regularly to the average negotiators: they brought too many different weapons to battle.
As you start talking, what impression of yourself do You want to convey? The sociologist Erving Goffman called this desired impression your face: the public image a person wants to establish in a social interaction.
We put effort into establishing the appropriate face for each encounter. The face you want to show a potential boss will be different to the face you want to show someone on a date. Goffman called this effort facework. With people we trust and know well, we don’t worry so much about face. With those we don’t know— especially if those people have some power over us — we put in the facework. When we put in the facework and we still don’t achieve the face we want, it feels bad. If you want to be seen as authoritative and someone treats you with minimal respect, you feel embarrassed and even humiliated.
Skillful disagreers don’t just think about their own face; they’re highly attuned to the other’ face. One of the most powerful social skills is the ability to give face: to confirm the public image that the other person wishes to project. You don’t need to be selfless to think this is important. In any conversation, when the other person feels their desired face is being accepted and confirmed, they’re going to be a lot easier to deal with, and more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Self-praise is no commendation. (If I say I am the best copywriter in Britain, you wouldn’t listen, if Dan Wieden said so, you might be fooled into believing it.) Also, raw statistics are more convincing than polished opinions. (A car that does 68 MPG sells better than one that’s “outstandingly economical”.) Beware of adjectives. They don’t always do what you think. (You’re all concerned about kitchen cleanliness but would you fancy a snack bar called “The Hygienic Café”?)
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
So, gather your facts and get under the skin of your target. Talk to them in their language, not the Queen’s. What else? Be brief. I believe it was Pascal who added an apology to the bottom of a long letter, explaining that he hadn’t had time to write a short one. Why take twenty words to say what you could say in five? Why decide on a long copy ad when a poster-in-the-press will do? For most people, and particularly women who work outside as well as inside the home, money isn’t the most precious commodity these days; time is. We copywriters would do well to respect that.
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
Accept that many things in the middle of your presentation may be lost. If the middle is more than 20 minutes long, break it up with activities and exercises. By doing this you are essentially creating several small presentations within your presentation. That means each of these small presentations also has a beginning, middle, and end. Since people tend to remember beginnings and endings,
Try breaking up a presentation into several small “presentations” means that people will have a lot more beginnings and endings than middies—they will remember more information.
You can stimulate group identity just by the way you have people talk about themselves or the way you phrase a question. For example, Gregory Walton’s research shows that if people say “I am a chocolate eater” versus “I eat chocolate a lot,” it affects the strength of their preference for chocolate. “Eater” is a noun. “Eat” is a verb. People who say “I am a chocolate eater,” who use the noun instead of the verb, show a stronger preference for chocolate.
In a survey about voting, Walton’s experimenters asked, “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” versus “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?” When the noun (voter) was used instead of the verb (vote), more people actually voted the following day. Feeling that you belong to a specific group affects your behavior.
When you ask people to do stuff, use nouns rather than verbs. Invoke a sense of belonging to a group and people are much more likely to comply with your request.
Globally, there are an estimated 340 million workplace accidents each year. These accidents are enormously damaging to both individuals’ lives and their contribution to the economy. While some accidents are a result of poor working conditions, others stem from the behavior of workers. For example, employees in a Chinese textile factory were in the habit of throwing waste scraps of cloth on the floor next to them, creating a slipping hazard. An explanation of why this habit had formed was that workers were financially motivated to continue working without breaks. Initially, the factory tried a traditional approach to influence behavior: offering monetary incentives to workers if they put waste in trash cans. The effect was disappointing: scraps were still thrown on the floor, and the danger remained.
Sherry Jueyu Wu and Betsy Levy Paluck, researchers partnering with the factory, thought that meaningful visual cues on the floor might help change behavior. Specifically, they introduced decals depicting golden coins on the production floors. Culturally, golden coins are considered to symbolize fortune and luck, meaning the employees would have a disincentive to cover them with waste. Introducing these decals led to a 20 percent decline in waste on the floor. A small, contextually meaningful change to the design of the environment was enough to overcome a seemingly entrenched habit.
Excerpt from: Behavioural Insights by Michael Hallsworth
- When it comes to ads, though, remember that real people don’t much care about them. So negative effects are rare.
- We know of no evidence of any advertising that has had a negative effect on sales.
- Don’t worry about ‘alienation’. Negative effects among existing buyers but not new buyers or vice versa won’t happen; we can’t think of any examples.
- So don’t hold back from bold, provocative ideas through fear of alienation. You should be much more fearful of indifference – and that’s wonderfully liberating creatively.
Our disregard for the importance of music shows when we look at research literature. Of over 48,000 articles on the WARC database, only 10% of them mention music at all. Only 29 (less than 0.1%) discuss it in any detail. But the research that has been done on the effects of music suggests these are far greater than we seem to assume.
Research shows that music increases the attention paid to ads as well as recall of brand and message. We suspect these effects may be very long term. Think about the ads we remember word for word from childhood – it’s highly likely they used music.
It’s striking how often music is central to these famous campaigns. It’s estimated that the free media exposure arising from the music in John Lewis’s Christmas ad each year increases campaign impact by around 75%.
Given all this, it’s perhaps not surprising that the IPA Databank shows that TV ads using music prominently are significantly more effective than ads that don’t, enhancing effectiveness by 20-30%.
So, over a fifth of the effect of an ad may come from its music – meaning choice of music can easily determine whether or not the ad pays for itself.
That’s too important to leave to the last minute.
The apples-and-oranges quality of experiences also makes it easier to enjoy them in the moment, unfettered by depressing comparisons. Researchers at Cornell gave students a Pilot G2 Super Fine pen as a prize and asked them to try it out. When it was surrounded by inferior prizes, including an unsharpened pencil and a bag of rubber bands, the students gave the pen rave reviews. Other students saw the same pen alongside a USB drive and a leatherbound notebook. The presence of more desirable goods significantly diminished the pen’s appeal. This simple study illustrates one of the major barriers to increasing human well-being. We are happy with things, until we find out there are better things available.
Luckily, this tendency may be limited to things. Even the simplest experiences, like eating a bag of crisps, are relatively immune to the detrimental effects of attractive alternatives. Offered the chance to eat a bag of crisps, students enjoyed the crisps’ crunchy goodness regardless of whether the surrounding alternatives included Cadbury’s chocolate or clam juice.
Surprisingly, anchors influence us even when they bear no relationship to the estimated value, and even when they’re patently absurd. Following the seminal experiments of Kahneman and Tversky in the 1970s, two German researchers named Thomas Mussweiler and Fritz Strack demonstrated this effect with remarkable creativity. In one of their experiments, they divided their subjects into two groups, asking one group whether Mahatma Gandhi was over or under 140 years old when he died, and the other whether he was over or under 9 years old when he died. Obviously, no one had trouble answering these questions. But when the respondents were then asked to estimate Gandhi’s age at death, these clearly ridiculous “anchors” made a difference: the group anchored on 140 thought, on average, that Gandhi had died at age 67, whereas the group anchored on 9 believed he had died at age 50. (Actually, Gandhi died at age 78.)
NINETY-TWO PERCENT OF GRADUATE STUDENTS LIED
Charles Naquin (2010) from DePaul University and his colleagues have conducted research on honesty in people when using email versus pen and paper.
In one study, forty-eight graduate business students were each given $89 (imaginary money) to divide with their partner; they had to decide whether to tell their partner how much money was in the kitty, as well as how much of the money to share with their partner. One group communicated by email and the other group by a handwritten note. The group that wrote emails lied about the amount of money (92 percent) more than the group that was writing by hand (63 percent). The e-mail group was also less fair about sharing the money, and felt justified in not being honest or fair.
MY STYLE of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.
So all humour, however broad and however universally understood, is implicit rather than explicit: an explicit joke is either not explicit or not a joke.
All good comedians, all good storytellers, all good makers of advertisements, entice their receivers into willing and constructive collaboration It’s a skilful, delicate and difficult thing to do – particularly in advertising where the pressures of committees and cost tend to favour the ‘explicit, the ‘unambiguous’, the ‘message that just can’t fail to be understood.
But the measure of a good joke is much the same as the measure of a good advertisement (judging it now purely in terms of its communications effectiveness). Has it asked enough, but not too much, of its selected audience? Has it allowed that audience to see something for itself? (Whether, in the case of the advertisement, what the audience comes to see is the most persuasive and relevant thing is clearly another question.) So the principles of humour and the principles of commercial persuasion are very close.