Behavioural Science And Advertising
Brands typically show off and bombard the listeners with a list of the reasons why they’re wonderful
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According to Richard Shotton, author of the book, The Choice Factory, and Head of Behavioural Science at Manning Gottlieb, OMD, behaviourial science is the key to change consumer behaviour and can help solve any client’s communication challenge. In a one-on-one with BW Businessworld’s SHUBHI TANDON, he discusses the book, what makes behavioural science relevant to advertisers and how it can change the marketing strategy.
What is the concept and inspiration behind the book The Choice Factory?
The book explores the psychological forces that shape shoppers’ purchasing decisions. The book follows a single person through their day and analyses 25 of their decisions. Each decision is then explained with reference to a classic idea from psychology: from priming to the pratfall effect, from charm pricing to the curse of knowledge.
The title comes from the fact that many choices, even the ones that feel natural, are shaped by brands. How do you think behavioral science can help advertisers?
There are three key reasons why advertisers should care about behavioral science. First, it’s the study of decision-making. Pretty relevant to advertising. After all, changing consumer decisions is at the heart of what marketers do, whether persuading shoppers to switch to your brand, buy it more often, or pay a premium for it. All of it involves changing decisions.
Second, behavioural science is more than just relevant, it’s also robust. It’s based on the experiments of leading scientists, such as Nobel laureates Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler and Herbert Simon. Better to base marketing decisions on their experiments than the opinion of the most eloquent person in the boardroom.
Third, behavioural science has identified such a breadth of biases so that whatever your client’s communication challenge, there’s a relevant bias to solve it.
What are the key takeaways from the book for the advertisers?
If you want to appeal to people don’t brag, instead admit a weakness (Pratfall effect)
If you want to impress someone what would you do? If you’re like most people, you’ll try and wow them by hinting at your many accomplishments.
Brands tend to apply the same tactic. They typically show off and bombard the listeners with a monotonous list of the reasons why they’re wonderful. However, evidence from Harvard psychologist Elliot Aronson suggests that they might be using the wrong tactic.
In his most famous experiment Aronson recorded an actor answering a series of quiz questions. In one session, the actor — armed with the right responses — answers 92 per cent of the questions correctly. After the quiz, the actor then pretends to spill a cup of coffee over himself (a small blunder, or pratfall).
The recording was played to a large sample of students, who were then asked how likeable the contestant was. However, Aronson split the students into cells and played them different versions: one with the spillage included and one without. The students found the clumsy contestant more likeable.
The smartest brands have recognised this, and they use the pratfall effect to stand out from their braggard competitors.
Don’t follow the herd
Much advertising slavishly abides by category norms. Car ads are prone to loving shots of the model rounding bends in the rugged countryside. Fashion ads feature beautiful people pouting at the camera. Watch ads take it the furthest. Almost every ad shows the same time on the watch: a few minutes either side of 10:10.
But this mimicry comes at the cost of memorability. You’re hard-wired to notice what’s distinctive.
Beware listening to customer claims
When asked to explain their behavior many consumers simply don’t know their motivations.
This has been demonstrated in multiple studies. One of the most famous was that run by Adrian North, a psychologist at the University of Leicester. Over a fortnight he alternated the background music played in a supermarket wine aisle, between traditional German oompah music and French accordion music. He surveyed customers who had bought either French or German wine. When accordion music was played, French wine accounted for 77 per cent of wine sales; when the soundtrack was oompah music, German wine represented 73 per cent of sales.
The scale of the variation shows that music was the prime determinant of the type of wine bought. However, only two per cent of buyers spontaneously attributed their choice to the music. Even when prompted, 86 per cent of people stated that it had no impact at all.
It’s not that they were lying; more that they were unaware of their motivations.
Behavioral science is more than just tweaking, it can have huge effects on brands
Back in the 1930s there was no tradition of buying diamond engagement rings: sapphires, emeralds and rubies were just as popular. But that all changed with perhaps the most effective campaign of all time: De Beers diamonds. First, De Beers linked a diamond’s durability with the enduring nature of true love. They did this with a wonderful strapline, written in 1947 by Frances Gerety, “A diamond is forever”.
However, De Beers still had to convince buyers to spend heavily. To do this, they communicated the idea that nothing less than a month’s salary would do.
Surely, that’s laughable. Why believe a salesman who has a vested interest in you spending heavily? But the ploy worked, not just because of memorable copywriting, but because of a psychological principle called anchoring.
Anchoring is the idea that if you communicate a number, however spurious, it influences the listener. The bias, discovered by two psychologists, Kahneman and Tversky, believed that anchoring works because listeners inadvertently use any arbitrary number as a starting point for their deliberations. Crucially, even if the listener recognises that the number is irrelevant they don’t adjust enough away from the anchor.
So, ring buyers recognised that a month’s salary was a touch on the expensive side, but it served as a starting place for their deliberations and they failed to adjust down enough.
The results were staggering. Not only did diamonds become the default choice, people were prepared to spend lavishly. De Beers US diamond sales rose from $23 million in 1939 to $2.1 billion in 1979. Even accounting for inflation that’s a nineteen-fold increase.