News & Views

The Behaviour Change Business

by Contagious Team

Adam Ferrier
, partner at cummins&partners and author of The Advertising Effect, on why advertisers should forget rational messaging and creating an emotional brand connection, and instead focus on affecting action and behaviour change 

There is a simple premise of advertising, one that we need to get over and accept. We are in the behaviour change business. None of us are paid to be happy with the status quo, at the end of just about everything we do we want people to do something: listen to our radio station, buy our ice-cream, visit our store more often, recommend us to their friends and so on.

We are in the behaviour change business, and the more we know about how to change behaviour the more effective we’ll be at our jobs.

Do you know how to change behaviour? Did you know that ‘action changes attitude faster than attitude changes action?’ So let's consider this an alternative strategy. Forget rational messaging to convince someone to do something, forget trying to use advertising to forge an emotional connection too. You may affect greater behavioural change if you get people to act. For some agencies this is heresy, the big brand ad used to create an emotional connection may be better spent getting people involved in your brand – that is getting them to act in some way.

In my book The Advertising Effect: How to change behaviour, I spend the upfront part of the book getting people to explore the right behaviour to change (hint: choose a behaviour that is relatively easy to do, and there is something inherently motivating in it for the consumer). Once you’ve chosen a behaviour to change there are (at least) ten different ways to change that behaviour – I call these techniques spurs. Perhaps my favourite spur is ‘Ownership’.

If you can give ownership of your brand over to the consumer they’ll value your brand more, and be more likely to consume. The level of ownership a brand can give over can be anything from asking for an opinion via online research, to having consumers co-construct the brand with you. Consider the following three well-established psychological principals:

1. The Hawthorn Effect: This effect demonstrates that whenever you research someone about something they’ll become more positively pre-disposed to whomever or whatever it is doing the research. I also call this ‘The Focus Group Effect’: run a focus group and no matter what the consumers incoming attitude towards your brand was by the end of 2 hours talking about your brand and being listened to I guarantee they’ll leave saying ‘Yeah I really must try brand X again’. The Hawthorn effect shows that just by being asked an opinion people will value your brand more.

2. The Endowment Effect: This effect states that if people hold something, even for a few seconds they’ll value your brand more. Physically holding it makes people feel they value it more, and will be more reluctant to give it up. Interestingly, having people physically wash their hands negates the power of the Endowment Effect. There is some evidence to suggest that touch screens, as opposed to using a mouse also give this same sense of ownership when buying over the internet.

3. The Ikea Effect: This effect, discovered by Harvard University Professor Michael Norton shows that people value something more if they co-create it. This is partially the reason for Ikea’s success (they flat pack it saving on transport costs, we then complete the job by assembling it, saving Ikea money, and ironically valuing the product more that if it had arrived fully formed). Threadless is another fantastic example of genuinely getting involved in co-creation of the brand. 

All three effects fall under the general spur of Ownership. A campaign I was involved with that demonstrates the Ownership spur was the Share a Coke campaign. This campaign put the names of consumers on the cans of Coke, and asked people to find and buy a Coke with their friends name on it. This campaign demonstrates that ‘Ownership’ is not an all or nothing thing – there are many ways to give consumers a sense of ownership without them having to have a share of the company.

In a fully interactive landscape there is no reason to do purely passive communications again, everything we do can get people involved in the communications, and get them acting towards our brand proposition. Giving them ‘Ownership’, is just one effective way of doing this.

Adam Ferrier is chief strategy officer and partner at independent creative:media agency, cummins&partners. He is also the author of The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behaviour available at OUP and Amazon