wink, wink, nudge, nudge

Something that really grabbed my attention during our Theory & Issues class was the concept of Nudges. In a nutshell, it is the idea that we are preconditioned to take certain decisions when external factors are present and align in the right direction. Now, those factors are not guaranteed to always lead to some kind of change in behaviour, but they can potentially “nudge” us into thinking and eventually acting in a desired manner.

A classic example often given in marketing classes is the positioning of goods in a store:

Need eggs? Why not pick up that discounted lamp on your way to the back of the store?

Necessities are at the back of the store, forcing you to go all the way through the entire shop to reach for them. And what about those Snickers bars and Orbit chewing gums at the counter? Surely, you don’t need more chocolate. You just bought a whole box on your way to the eggs shelf! It must have been that nice music playing in the background that kept you in for so long. Now your wallet is £10 lighter and if you keep going like this, you’ll become fat.

Speaking of becoming fat, the concept of loss aversion is probably my favorite one. Saving money, time, effort and your body from becoming abnormally shaped is always a good idea, and whose job is it, if not that of a communication professional to shape that message? It’s always better to let your audience know that they’re saving on something – nobody likes to lose, and if you fail to let them know, chances are, another factor will nudge them in the opposite direction. Those can be as varied as following the crowd or boosting your own ego because, you know, if everyone starts running for the tube exit, it’s probably for a reason, and it’s a good idea to do the same, and if donating to that environmental charity makes you feel better about your lack of recycling habits, then why not?

Here is the full table of Nudges. It must be said, they do make sense.

Of course, not everything as as simple as it seems, and critics of the Nudge school question whether the kind of manipulation that a Nudge suggests, implies a mistrust for people to make the right decisions. What if enough people get nudged, will the rest of us also do the same because everyone does it and we’re simply following the pack? Wouldn’t that just mean that originally, we got influenced by someone who can’t even make a good decision? Can we truly say that behavioural change is so easily achieved?

My take on Nudges is neither critical, nor positive, but rather practical. If you get the chance to insert a nudge in your message, do it anyway. You can’t know for certain whether you will win, but I can’t see how you could lose <wink> <wink>

I’m sure you can find your way around Google if you want to read more on the topic, but I suggest a recent blogpost by Andrew Barratt from Hill & Knowlton.

In the meantime, try not to pee all over the floor.


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