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Powers of persuasion: how to ‘nudge’ people into making the right choices 12.09.14

Proof Team go EAST….

Every once in a while you come across a school of thought, magazine article, presentation or even a useful fact, that completely chimes with what you do every day. Earlier this week, a group from Proof attended Think.Drink.Do – an event that had just that effect. Think.Drink.Do is a regular lecture/ workshop event run by Paper, a service design agency specialising in behaviour change that recently designed an app to help people cut down on the amount they drink. The event promised to provide an insight into the research behind affecting behavioural change. It did not disappoint.

First up, for the thinking part, a member of David Cameron’s famed ‘Nudge’ unit, which is tasked with gently pushing people towards making the right choices both for themselves and society, explained the principles they use to guide people towards certain action. Whilst I’m sure there are a few ethically challenged applications for this, you can’t doubt the value of such endeavours for decisions we all know we should be making: organ donation, paying our tax on time, giving to charity. The work of the Nudge unit is all based on the idea that, to increase the chances that a person will act in a given way, you should make that decision Easy, Attractive (or relevant), Social and Timely- EAST for short.

None of this is new, or particularly complex – it’s been used in sales for decades. For instance, the use of social nudging; playing off people’s perception of their role in society and comparing them to others, is one we should all be used to. Adverts saying ‘8/10 people saw a noticeable difference…’ are endemic, and no-one wants to be the 20% questioning it. Supermarkets are experts in making decisions easy and attractive. We’ve all picked up a chocolate bar because it’s next to the till, we’ve all been swayed by a BOGOF offer: in short we’ve all been nudged into choices by what we see, read and hear.

But it takes formally recognising it to be aware that these are tactics we can all employ and probably already are to some extent. A lot of PR is ultimately built on these principles. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve stressed the need to make things easy (even if it is as simple as linking to a specific not a generic webpage) and tailored to improve interaction. Wouldn’t a personalised email make you more likely to read on than a generic ‘Dear Sir/Madam’? But the key is to be perpetually aware of it, and consciously apply it to what you do. Fortunately, (after a hasty drinks break) we still had the ‘doing’ bit to go to show us the ropes.

We were split into groups and asked to formulate an idea and plan of action to get people to reduce their sugar intake. Cue a fantastic range of ideas from the practical (ban all office bake offs) to the inventive (create a new sugar- free beer range). Our idea, perhaps due to the creative powers of Rosé or just Proof’s innate ability to brainstorm at speed, actually seems to have some legs. We suggested mining existing data collected by supermarkets to make cutting down on sugar easy, attractive, social and timely. This would help people monitor their sugar intake by displaying their total sugar count on their receipt. By comparing their sugar levels to other people in the area, people can assess themselves. The last step is to make it easier by providing vouchers and recipes for low-sugar foods.

Whilst it’s unlikely a supermarket would ever actually sign up for this (they make a lot of profit from fizzy drinks, chocolate bars and hidden sugar fiends like bread), the point is that it took 4 people just 10 minutes to generate a workable campaign idea that could change the actions of millions in a short time frame- using EAST. These tactics are not just the reserve of government or big brands; they’re a simple tool that we can all use to make our communication better. After all, if the aim of good communications isn’t to affect behavioural change or kick start action- what is it looking to do?

-Alex Cloney