Photo credit: Julian Hanford
Photo credit: Julian Hanford
A view from Dave Trott

A view from Dave Trott: It's all down to heuristics, guv

My dad had ten brothers and sisters.

Uncle Billy was the youngest.

During the war, Uncle Billy had been a marine.

When he came home, my grandad left him his window-cleaning business.

This consisted of a bike, a ladder and a book of names.

He cycled from job to job with the ladder on his shoulder.

But Uncle Billy was a natural entrepreneur.

He was also a workaholic.

He built that little window-cleaning business up into an office-cleaning company.

By the 70s, he had three offices (shop fronts) at the Elephant and Castle, and about 80 vans.

I was just starting out as a junior copywriter at BMP.

One day, I asked Uncle Billy how his business was doing.

He said the recession had been a real problem for him, but he’d found a way round it.

I asked him what he meant.

He said: "Well, we had everything looking nice: all the staff wearing nice uniforms, all the vans painted in matching colours.

"Logos on everything: uniforms, vans, letter-headed notepaper, business cards, the lot.

"The problem was, we looked a classy company and, in a recession, that’s not a good thing.

"All your clients are looking to cut costs.

"They began complaining about prices, checking every penny on every invoice, even shifting to cheaper companies.

"I had to do something fast.

"So I got rid of all the uniforms – I made everyone wear their own jeans and T-shirts so they looked scruffy.

"I painted all the vans different colours with no name on.

"I got rid of all the logos and letter-headed paper. We did all invoicing on plain paper.

"We looked rough as arseholes.

"I told the clients that, because of the recession, we’d had to cut costs to the bone. We couldn’t cut them any further.

"Everyone could see they weren’t paying for luxuries."

I asked Uncle Billy how it was working out.

He said: "Oh, it worked a treat. I kept all customers and I got lots of new ones. I even put the prices up and everyone paid without a murmur – no-one said a dicky bird. Best thing I ever done." 

Uncle Billy had never taken a marketing course.

So he’d never heard of Richard Thaler’s book Nudge.

Uncle Billy didn’t know he was utilising the cognitive bias of the framing effect. 

In fact, he didn’t know anything at all about the heuristics of behavioural economics.

But, like most ordinary people, Uncle Billy didn’t need a book to tell him how the human mind works.

To Uncle Billy, it was all just a bit of creative common sense.

Use your loaf, as he would have said.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three