The sweet music of behavioural science: How brands are changing consumer behaviour

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Daniel Bennett of Ogilvy & Mather’s behavioural practice #ogilvychange explains that the application of behavioural science is bigger than we thought, and more creative than we could have imagined.

Five years ago, many in the ad industry, government and third sectors would have been wondering what the future of behavioural economics might hold. Would it be a subset of planning? A feature in the creative mix? A common language for discovery and common sense? Fast forward to the present day and behavioural economics still refuses to be pigeonholed.

Last month saw the first Nudge Awards at #ogilvychange’s annual behavioural science festival Nudgestock. We launched the awards with the intention of being able to provide a platform to celebrate some of the best cases of applied behavioural science. As a byproduct though, this means we can over time create an encyclopedia for the community of some of the best work done in the field.

Whether it is helping top line strategy, using behavioural models to map out the types of interventions we need or ensuring the smallest details in design are correct, there is now much evidence of all applications, as Rory Sutherland would say, from campaigns to coupons.

Some changed consumer behaviour, such as Kleenex which tested a variety of product designs to encourage the sharing of tissues, and News UK, testing a range of persuasion techniques with its call centre agents.

Some changed donation behaviour, such as Marie Curie with its testing of psychologically optimised loyalty cards, and Just Giving with its experiments into the effects of giving fund raisers ‘smart targets’.

Others changed societal behaviours, Keep Britain Tidy reduced dog fouling by 46 per cent and the London Borough of Ealing council designed a programme to help rehouse residents in need leading to savings in the millions.

These cases go beyond what your average behavioural scientist normally does. For example, to reduce dog fouling, signs were erected with a pair of eyes (a psychological technique proven to increase the compliance of socially acceptable behaviours). By itself, this would be a fairly linear application of the science. However the lateral leap comes when you read that they painted the eyes fluorescent, as the majority of dog fouling happens at night (either dogs are shy or owners don’t feel the need to pick it up).

My colleague Sam Tatam, from #ogilvychange Sydney, likens this to music. In the beginning we learn to play individual notes, and apply simple psychology to simple situations. But as a result of experience we intuitively learn chords and melodies from the notes.

Judging from the Nudge Awards entries, our industry is really taking the application of behavioural science to the next level, and making the lateral leaps that only creative practitioners can.

Now, let’s all go out and continue to make sweet sweet behavioural music together.

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