How behavioural economics was used to herd shoppers

It's no surprise that advertising influences behaviour. Consumers salivate, shop and smile on seeing a successfully-executed ad. But how can brands and marketers further strengthen this power over audiences, asks Jennie Sallows, head of insight, Kinetic UK.

How behavioural economics was used to herd shoppers

Behavioural economics, the theory behind why humans make economic decisions, has been in the making for forty years. But new research has found advertisers can leverage the theory in startling ways, increasing footfall in a shopping mall by 75%.

By bringing attention to accepted social norms, we allow people to challenge them

For more than five years, the IPA has been demonstrating how behavioural economics can be applied to advertising for the financial benefit of clients. Kinetic, the world's biggest out of home (OOH) media specialist, has been understanding and applying the psychology to outdoor advertising for more than two years.

To understand the relationship between advertising and behavioural economics further, Kinetic teamed up with #ogilvychange, a behavioural science practice and part of Ogilvy & Mather, to form The Alfresco Labs. The partnership launched with a series of experiments that subconsciously influenced the movement of unsuspecting shoppers around Lakeside Shopping Centre, Essex.

Project Seen and Herd saw behavioural economics implemented in poster advertising to guide people to specific parts of the shopping centre. One experiment increased footfall to the centre's food court by 75% simply by varying the content of a poster.

With some planning and basic behavioural economic understanding we believe that any marketer can use OOH behavioural economics planning to their advantage - here's how:

Once they are seen, people herd

Consumers often experience OOH advertising in groups and are influenced by what others do - we like to follow the crowd and seek approval from our peers.

To demonstrate the power of this, The Alfresco Labs developed two posters to encourage people to eat lunch earlier. The first poster featured an image of one person. During the test, footfall increased to the food hall before noon by 25%. The second poster had the same copy, but an image of a group of people. Compared to baseline figures, this creative saw an incredible uplift in footfall of 75%.

Measure actions not intentions

We asked people why they had visited the food hall.The posters didn't make people hungry but they 'allowed' them to eat earlier/while in the mall. People often post-rationalise. While the posters played a part, people recalled their hunger as making them go to the food hall before noon.

While you have the opportunity to change certain behaviours, you still need to be realistic

Here comes the science bit - concentrate

The poster with one person focused on injunctive norms. Injunctive norms are based around what others approve or disapprove of and in the context of our experiments we focused on the norms surrounding socially accepted mealtimes. We redefined that it is socially acceptable to eat lunch before noon. This is based on the psychological principal of rules specifying appropriate conduct (Cialdini, Reno and Kallgren 1990). Essentially, we follow societal rules.

The poster with multiple people used descriptive norms, in other words we are influenced by what others are doing.

This was supported by Kinetic's proprietary research that OOH is good for social proofing, the psychological phenomenon of assuming and being influenced by the behaviour of those around you (Triggers in Decision Making 2014).

The poster was also informed by the work of Sunstein (1996) who demonstrated that perceptions about the prevalence of a particular behaviour are in reference to others.

By bringing attention to accepted social norms, we allow people to challenge them. Through this experiment we encouraged people to acknowledge the norm, question its validity, and feel comfortable breaking it.

Herding mentality

Advertisers and marketers need to think more carefully about OOH-specific copy and keep in mind that often, consumers are experiencing OOH in groups. But while you have the opportunity to change certain behaviours, you still need to be realistic. Seen and Herd attempted to encourage people to eat earlier, not suggesting that they eat something they don't like.

Creatives and planners need to think carefully about how they would use OOH to change a small thing to make a big difference by flexing that herding mentality. The posters for this experiment were the results of several months of planning, from inception to creative design to execution and measurement. More importantly, we understand why the poster with more people was more effective, meaning we can refine and improve future experiments.


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