Monday, July 29, 2013

the last-click attribution fallacy [ #roi ]

‘When an apple ripens and falls – what makes it fall?
Is it that it is attracted to the ground, is it that the stem withers?
Is it that the sun has dried it up, that is has grown heavier?
That the wind shakes it, that the boy standing underneath it wants to eat it?
No one thing is the cause.’

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace. First published in 1869

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

lost in the supermarket - heuristics remix with thankyou water

Thankyou Water, the bottled water company that generates funding for social projects in the developing world are launching a number of extensions into other product categories, ordinary things that you would normally find in a supermarket.

So far the two big Australian supermarkets have never stocked the Thankyou Water and so this campaign seeks to encourage supporters to lobby the big two supermarkets in order to change their policy and offer distribution of the Thankyou products.

From a communications and behavioural point of view it has all the ingredients of something that just might work on both counts - getting the products into the supermarket and raising more funds.

Watch the video, then let's unpack it a bit.

For a start, Thankyou water have understood that, particularly in fmcg situations, the drivers of purchasing behaviour are much more about the availability of the brand (both mental and physical) than any ideas of loyalty.

Marketers routinely confuse loyalty with habit.

The availability heuristic describes the tendency we have to believe what comes most easily to mind.

To the same token we buy what comes most easily to hand.

Therfore. in developing a habit, the simple mental and physical availability of the product is vital.

Reward substitution.
The kind of projects that Thankyou water support suffer from many of the same problems that things like climate change and sustainability efforts do.

As Dan Ariely famously coined around climate change 'the effects are not visible in our daily lives, the effects will happen to other people a long time in the future and anything we can do now seems like a drop in the ocean'. All of these factors combine to mean that although people care about the issue they tend to do nothing about it.

Ariely points to how eco-friendly cars such as the Toyota Prius have become popular because it allows people to signal to others that they are the kind of person who 'cares about the environment' without any significant behavioural costs. The Prius is a car, it looks pretty distinctive and cool and it's more economical.

So a trolley loaded with Thankyou products does the same job.

Commitment and consistency.
Anyone who has ever made a small commitment by buying the water will now be automatically predisposed to make future behaviours fall into line with what they have previously done.

Thankyou water say that the prices of their new products will be no more expensive that typical supermarket prices, which will also make this easy behaviour to adopt.

Attribute substitution.
Simple question.
Do i like Thankyou Water?

What's not to like?
Rather than talking about the problem they talk in a bright optimistic way about the bright optimism of a better future that YOU are part of.

Social proof and the bandwagon effect.
Goes almost without saying. The participatory element of the campaign may seem like 101 but again, take an existing behaviour that's easy and natural for people to do. And let them see each other in order that they can copy each other.

And finally, also perhaps one of the under-exploited yet often the most effective, tactics in advertising the underdog effect.

Goliath (in the form of the big two supermarkets) being taken on by littkle David (Thankyou Water).

It's a universal insight that everyone loves and self-identifies with the underdog. The little guy sticking to the man.

Suffice to say we are loving this campaign, not least in a nerdy behavioural economics way, we wish it every success and will have our eyes peeled in Coles.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

one greek one cup

'Everything in moderation', as Oscar Wilde famously noted, 'including moderation'.

And he later built on that idea by adding 'Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.'

Pythagoras would not necessarily agree, as evident by this, which Adam Alter , author of the splendid Drunk Tank Pink, has described as possibly the worlds first recorded nudge. In this case towards a sense of moderation.

The Pythagorean cup is a form of drinking cup - the invention of which is credited to Pythagoras of Samos - which, firstly, allows the drinker to fill the cup with wine up only to a certain level.

Then, secondly, as the user enjoys a drink the mechanic only allows for small sips. If the drinker attempts any down-in-one style acrobatics, however, the cup will spill the entire contents out of the bottom and therefore all over the hapless aspiring jakie.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

that sinking feeling

Another toilet related snippet caught our attention this week.

NPR reports that a Latvian designer named Kaspars Jursons is trying to help solve European water shortages by redesigning the traditional mens urinal. His design includes a tap and sink right over it.

"It's not just a fancy piece of art," he says. "The idea is about function and consumption. You are washing your hands in the sink on top of the urinal, and the same water that's running is also used to flush. You don't have to use water twice, like when you use the urinal and wash your hands in separate sink."

This is of course a behavioural nudge in the form of bundling.

We should all be familiar with this from checking in baggage when going on a flight.

Most airlines will now provide the facility to pay for your extra baggage at the same point that the flight itself is purchased.

Thereby bundling all the pain of paying, into one perceived transaction and removing the unpleasantness and inconvenience of making another payment at the check-in.

For the loss averse human, paying just once feels better than paying twice despite the financial cost being identical.

In the toilet situation there are also costs involved with a two-step.

In most cases these are behavioural costs rather than financial.

Post-pee we are faced with a situation of potentially walking out without washing when a sink is not available due to other handwashers hogging the facility.

This probably accounts for a chunk of the alleged 40% of pee-ers who dont wash afterwards.

So, by bundling the pee and the wash, in theory, the majority of the behavioural cost of handwashing is removed.

Just to add, I'm a confirmed washer, despite the cost, and will never eat the peanuts on the bar.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

hey hey we're (not) the monkeys - the coda

I half expected to get some grief about the 'Monkeys can do this' post from last week.

And indeed it came.

[If this is news to you, go back and check the original post for context, and also the edit which appeared on mumbrella +comments]

But complaints were of a different sort from what I expected.

For some the Mad Men reference was unacceptable.

Mad Men being the symbol of everything that is old and out of date in advertising.

I'm not so sure.

Let's go again at the problem, but this time from an economics stand point.

And for a start, and for the sake of argument, let's accept the Lionel Robbins definition of modern economics:

"Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."


People want more of what there is less of, therefore that resource which is in scarce supply can command more value.
Good news for the supplier of a scarce resource.

The democratisation of the production and distribution of media afforded by social technologies is not in doubt.

The fact that any form of media one can imagine is being produced in huge volumes by millions of people is also a given.

But something that used to be scarce is no longer scarce therefore while there may be millions of people able to produce media in any given format for any platform the sheer ubiquitousness means that in economic terms it has little value.

So agencies need to be mindful of this.
The clients pay for the value they perceive themselves to be getting.

So when Don Draper says 'people think monkeys can do this...they can't do what we do, and they hate us for that', I believe we should heed that.

Because monkeys get paid in peanuts.

And that's why the whole anyone-can-do-it idea, this idea perpetuated principally by those of the social media confirmation bias, is generally bad for the whole communications industry.

And it isn't true.

Friday, July 12, 2013

the empowered c*nsumer

'These data belong to me, and this media belongs to me, i am the c*nsumer who is in control'

With such thoughts a fool is tormented.

He himself does not even belong to himself; how much less the data and media experience?'

The fool who knows his foolishness, is wise at least so far.

But a fool who thinks himself wise? He is called a fool indeed.

(Adapted from the Dhammapada)

a piss-easy nudge

Another interesting behavioural campaign out of Brazil.

If you recall we've also liked the Immortal Fans organ-donation appeal and the Beer Tunstile in recent weeks.

This one is titled Xixi El├ętrico – or Electric Pee – and features electricity-generating urinals on a truck at the Rio Carnival.

According to creators JWT Brasil:

'Every year, at Carnival, Rio de Janeiro must deal with the same problem: Carnival enthusiasts end up using the streets as a bathroom, and the stench is impregnated through the city for days.
The situation is so serious that, since last year, authorities have detained people found peeing out of place.'

In an almost classic reward substitution nudge, patrons are required to 'use' the urinals in order to generate the leccy to keep the tunes going, rather than the previous default - and somewhat anti-social behaviour - which involved 'going' in doorways and suchlike, in the street.

As an added bonus the electricity is, of course, generated in an eco-friendly manner.

Police time is not wasted in booking bladder-challenged revellers.

And, a smashing promotion of the hosts, Brazilian grass roots music non-profit Afroreggae.

hat-tip Springwise

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

monkeys can do this

There was a minor story this week that is probably of no interest to anyone outside of the Australian communications business, but is worthy of a brief bit of commentary here.

The Sydney arm of PR agency Porter Novelli ran a 'job ad' via Twitter, they were looking to hire an account director.

Applicants had to tweet their 'application' as a cute one-liner and tag it #socialcv.

Predictably the hashtag got hijacked and turned into a joke.

Mumbrella (Aussie comms industry news site) have captured the story as it unfolded.

Here's a link.

While recognising the relative unimportance of this in the grand scheme of things I'm compelled to comment that, while it was not the smartest thing Porter Novelli will ever do, that's not the main story.

The comms industry as a whole seems to be infatuated with youth, and a result the assumption that 'youth' are best placed to manage social media comms simply because they know how to operate the tools and are 'digital native' or whatever is rife.

The cliche of 'social media strategy' being the domain of the hapless intern is a cliche for the simple reason that it is still very common.

As you will notice if you follow the story, finally towards the end of the day some grown-ups at Porter Novelli seem to have intervened and have been able to flip it and save some face.


Theres a quote from Don Draper in season 2 of Mad Men that came immediately to mind.

In this scene the young (and still aspiring) copywriter Peggy Olsen glibly described one of her ad concepts to Don with the clarification that 'Sex sells'.

Don retorts 'Who says that?

Just so you know, the people who talk that way think that monkeys can do this...

...they can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.

Stunts such as this one really mean that the joke is on us, as a whole communications industry.

To the outside looking in,we all look like those monkeys that Don Draper describes. If social media PR and and digitally driven comms in general is going to continue to have any credibility in business then we need to do much better than this.

Leaving children in charge of the shop is bad strategy.

And, in general, the idea that an industry publicly communicates that a candidate able to manage a clients business is likely to reveal themselves by their ability to tweet something funny doesn't say much about the likely quality of the thinking that clients are paying for.

In psychology they call this the 'effort reduction framework' and attribute substitution - a human cognitive bias which enables us to answer difficult questions by substituting the original question with an easier one.

This process is useful when choosing one kind of baked beans over another but choosing candidates to guide a clients business seems to me to be something that requires a bit more critical thinking, or else it's true.

Monkeys can do this.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

choice architecture

I've been contemplating the below screen capture from the Guardian mobile app for a few weeks but i'm none the wiser.

Is it a behavioural economist in the subs department having a laugh?

Or is there something in the fundamental arithmetic that I'm not getting?

Saturday, July 06, 2013

heuristics and biases. watch and learn with Katie Hopkins.

If you have even the most cursory of interest in behavioural stuff, human psychology and decision making then this clip from UK daytime TV, which has gone YouTube gangbusters in just a couple of days and features posh mouth and former reality TV 'star' Katie Hopkins, is for you.

Hopkins incurs the wrath of the presenters, guests and viewers for declaring that she uses certain mental shortcuts in order to decide which children she allows her own to play with.

She does this simply by answering the initial 'difficult' question about which she has little information to base her decision...

'Should I allow my child to go over to unknown child x's house to play?'

By instead substituting with a different, easier question...

'What does the name of child x and the location of child x's house tell me about the 'kind' of family that the child comes from, and therefore what are the most salient ideas I have about the socio-econimic circumstances and behaviours of these type of people'.

These shortcuts - and there are a few - that she predominantly relies upon are pretty much universal heuristics and cognitive biases.

The most immediately evident are:

Firstly, the affect heuristic.

In all of us this heuristic is typically useful while quickly judging the risks and benefits of anything.
The end decision depends on the previously stored positive or negative feelings and associations that the person associate with the given situation.

Your 'gut feeling' in other words.

At the same time, she's mapping in another couple of biases - representativeness and availability.

'...Potential playmate Child X -'Tyler'- lives in the 'bad' estate round the corner...'

Hopkins then very quickly fills in the gaps to create a plausible story about Tyler based on his name and where he lives using stereotypical attributes easily associated (ie available, meaning that they come most easily to mind) with working class, council estate kids with 'common' names.
Names who's origins can be traced to pop signers or celebrities from a particular recent time frame.

Therefore Tyler from the bad estate equates to; lazy kid who does not do his homework, has irresponsible parents who are probably unemployed, or work in manual or service industries - drink, smoke and swear, generally let their kids get away with murder - and before you know it her child will be round the back of the shops sniffing glue.

For the bourgeoise Hopkins, these are extremely salient images.

Hopkins gets panned by the other guests and presenters on the show but it's worth noting that these type of processes are in fact the way that most of our decisions are made.

Very fast and done with remarkably little information.

One or two pieces of data are enough for us to make up a story and move on.

Most of the time it's a pretty useful way to operate.

(Making decisions in the Supermarket, for instance, benefit greatly from this kind of thinking.
If we didn't use shortcuts, and rationally deliberated over the ingredients, packaging and cost-benefit analysis of Tomato vs Cream of Mushroom we would never make it out of the soup aisle and likely starve to death.)

From an actual cognitive processes point of view what we can ascertain is what Hopkins real decision was to deliberately give voice to instinctive, emotional System One (the unconscious automatic process) responses - that, for the most part, people suppress when they occur for fear of upsetting social norms - and allowing these suggestions to be fully endorsed by System Two (the rational, analytical process) and therefore Katie says what was actually on her mind without System Two putting the block on it.

But that's her schtick. A kind of posh touerretes.

In a sense our own representativeness bias makes it somehow socially unacceptable for an upper middle-class, minor celebrity, woman to be controversial in this sense, however if the same story had been delivered by a Frankie Boyle 'type' it might be regarded as satire.

Having said that, Hopkins is pretty hard to like, and in a moment of pure comedic cognitive dissonance, venomously berates parents who name children after geographical locations (Brooklyn etc) despite the fact that one of here own children is named India.

Must-see tv for planners.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

yesterday never comes

I wondered why most of the music I listen to nowadays seems to be stuff that I was deep into as a teenager and a lot of the beliefs around politics and culture and my position on things in general have their roots in those years.

There are are at least a couple of explanations. One I like is the idea of the reminiscence bump.

The bump can be explained in a cognitive sense - things experienced during a period of rapid change, ie ones teens, are better encoded as memories due to their novel and distinct nature. Once you're out of that period things become more stable, and more routines develop so the number of new experiences reduces.

Another theory is around personal narrative and identity. Essentially our sense of identity develops significantly during these years and then retrospectively we organise these memories - or, more accurately, 'sets' of associations - into the story of oneself.

And it is a story. Actual distinct memories will be relatively few, so we make up the rest - a kind of cryptomnesia - in order to make it coherent. Essentially our deeply felt sense of our own self and identity is - pretty much - a great work of fiction.

Or if you prefer, a more fun alternative, as reported in PsyBlog, is to consider nostalgia as a medical affliction.

A disease that we have, in fact, been infected with principally by the people of Switzerland.

"Nostalgia was regarded as a medical disease confined to the Swiss, a view that persisted through most of the 19th century. Symptoms—including bouts of weeping, irregular heartbeat, and anorexia—were attributed variously to demons inhabiting the middle brain, sharp differentiation in atmospheric pressure wreaking havoc in the brain, or the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Swiss Alps which damaged the eardrum and brain cells."

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

i like big butts and I cannot lie

The City of Sydney has unveiled a large cigarette-filled 'Yuk' sculpture/installation in Hyde Park that aims to get draw some attention to the issue of fag ends littering the park and other areas of the street.

So reports Campaign Brief.

The conventional approach is enforcement through bans and fines but this activation uses emotional triggers; firstly the installation is novel and surprising enough that you may want to have a closer look and then, of course you have another gut reaction (disgust) upon closer inspection.

How long before a hedonic adaptation kicks in (ie the novelty wears off) remains to be seen, but an interesting tactic none the less.