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.
With this in mind, in early 2000 the board of trustees of Ursinus College adopted a proposal designed to increase applications that at first might seem counterintuitive: The board raised tuition nearly 20 percent. The policy flew in the face of conventional economic theory, by which a drop in price is the surest way to increased demand. Unconventional or not, it worked: Applications soared. The strategy has been employed with equal success by a number of other colleges, including Bryn Mawr, Notre Dame, and Rice.
Although it is not what standard economic theory would recommend, it’s easy to see why raising tuition would increase the number of applicants. Parents want to send their kids to high-quality, prestigious schools. But academic quality and prestige are hard to assess, and so they use price as an indicator of quality. If it costs a lot, they tell themselves, it must be good.
After my first lecture, Binmore offered a version of the “low stakes” critique. He said that if he were running a supermarket, he would want to consult my research because, for inexpensive purchases, the things I studied might possibly matter. But if he were running an automobile dealership, my research would be of little relevance. At high stakes people would get stuff right.
The next day I presented what I now call the “Binmore continuum” in his honor. I wrote a list of products on the blackboard that varied from left to right based on frequency of purchase. On the left I started with cafeteria lunch (daily), then milk and bread (twice a week), and so forth up to sweaters, cars, and homes, career choices, and spouses (no more than two or three per lifetime for most of us). Notice the trend. We do small stuff often enough to learn to get it right, but when it comes to choosing a home, a mortgage , or a job, we don’t get much practise or opportunities to learn. And when it comes to saving for retirement, barring reincarnations we do that exactly once. So Binmore had it backward. Because learning takes practice, we are more likely to get things right at small stakes than at large stakes. This means critics have to decide which argument they want to apply. If learning is crucial, then as the stakes go up, decision-making quality is likely to go down.
Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials. We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves — a “try before you buy” philosophy for the world of ideas. When we’re trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively grasp for hard numbers. But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach. In the sole U.S presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead, he asked a simple question that allowed voters to test for themselves: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”
Contrast the following two statements:
- Scientists recently computed an important physical constraint to an extraordinary accuracy. To put the accuracy in perspective, imagine throwing the rock from the sun to the earth and hitting the target within one third of a mile if dead center.
- Scientists recently computed an important physical constraint to an extraordinary accuracy. To put the accuracy in perspective, imagine throwing a rock from New York to Los Angeles and hitting the target within two thirds of an inch of dead center.
Which statement seems more accurate?
As you may have guessed, the accuracy levels in both questions are exactly the same, but when different groups evaluated the two statements, 58 percent of respondents ranked the statistic about the sun to the earth as “very impressive.” That jumped to 83 percent for the statistic about New York to Los Angeles. We have no human experience, no intuition, about the distance between the sun and the earth, The distance from New York to Los Angeles is much more tangible. (Though, frankly, it’s still far from tangible. The problem is that if you make the distance more tangible — like a football field — then the accuracy becomes intangible. “Throwing, a rock the distance of a football field to an accuracy of 3.4 microns” doesn’t help.)
The problem of more data was investigated by Paul Slovic, Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. He ran an experiment with professional horseracing handicap setters in which they were given a list of 88 variables that were useful in predicting a horse’s performance. The participants then had to predict the outcome of the race and their confidence in their prediction. They repeated these tasks with access to different levels of data: either 5, 10, 20, 30 or 40 of the variables.
The results were illuminating. Accuracy was the same regardless of the number of variables used. However, overconfidence grew as more data was harnessed. Experts overestimated the importance of factors that had a limited value. It was only when five data points were used that accuracy and confidence were well calibrated.
Marketers face a similar set of problems. They have access to more data than ever before and many believe that because the information exists they should use it. The Slovic experiment suggests otherwise. We shouldn’t harness data just because we can. Instead, as much time should be spent choosing which data sets to ignore as which to use.
Another study, conducted by Shafir and a colleague, Donald Redelmeier, demonstrates that paralysis can also be caused by choice. Imagine, for example, that you are in college and you face the following choice one evening. What would you do?
- Attend a lecture by an author you admire who is visiting just for the evening, or
- Go to the library and study.
Studying doesn’t look so attractive compared with a once in a life-time lecture. When this choice was given to actual college students only 21 percent decided to study.
Suppose, instead, you had been given three choices:
- Attend the lecture.
- Go to the library and study.
- Watch a foreign film that you’ve been wanting to see.
Does you answer differ? Remarkably, when a different group of students were given the three choices, 30 percent decided to study – double the number who did before. Giving students two good alternatives to studying rather than one paradoxically makes them less likely to choose either.
By early evening, the decision is finalised as to what the front page (“the splash”) will look like. At the Sun, this was one of the most important jobs of the editor. Before, say, 2010, the newspaper could shift an extra 100,000 copies on the strength of having a good story on its front; that is a rarity now indeed. The craftsmanship of headlines, though, is one of the great joys of tabloid journalism. Sun meeting rooms are named after famous headlines of its past: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea (on the threat of Kim Jong-Il); Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrrocious (on a Scottish football match); and so on. Headline-writing is a competitive sport: people sit at their desk, brows furrowed trying to come up with the funniest line. At the Sun there is a headline of the month competition too.
Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in, to bond with others, and to earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival. For most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in tribes. Becoming separated from the tribe — or worse, being cast out — was death sentence. “The lone wold dies, but the pack survives.”
Meanwhile, those who collaborated and bonded with other enjoyed increased safety, mating opportunities, and access to resources. As Charles Darwin noted, “In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” As a result, one of the deepest human desires is to belong. And this ancient preference exerts a powerful influence on our modern behaviours.
In a 1992 survey by W. H. Desvousges and colleagues, people were told that birds were dying because they became mired in uncovered pools of oil at refineries. This (fictitious) problem could be solved by putting nets over the pools. The experiment asked participants to indicate how much they would be willing to pay for nets to save the birds The researchers tried telling different groups that 2,000 birds were being killed a year — or 20,000 birds, or 200,000 birds. The answers didn’t depend on the number of birds! In all cases, the average dollar amount was $80. Evidently, all that registered was A lot of birds are being killed. We should do something about it.
Here’s a more scientific example of how this tendency works. Two psychologists, Peter Ditto (of the University of California, Irvine) and David Lopez (founder and CEO of iAnalytics Statistical Consulting), told participants that they would take a test to determine whether they had a dangerous enzyme deficiency. For the test, participants had to put a drop of saliva on a strip and then wait for the results. Some learned that the strip would turn green if they had the deficiency; others learned that green meant they did not have the deficiency. The strip wasn’t a real test — it was simply a piece of paper that ever changed its color. The result? Participants who hoped to see the test strip turn green as evidence that they didn’t have the deficiency waited much longer than those who hoped not to see it turn green. That is, people waited more patiently for data when they believed the data would reassure them than when the believed it would scare them.