The Advertising effect having a profound effect.

The advertising effect is a book on how to change behaviour by Adam Ferrier. The final overriding message is ‘advertisers use your powers for good. And consumers, use your purchasing power to encourage the greater good’.

Advertising is about behaviour change and behaviour change and insights is something we’re all involved in. It is something charities and not-for-profits have been and should be embracing and harnessing to full effect and something I want to explore in this article.

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Advertising is an industry that knows how to influence and change behaviour. More and more we’re seeing advertising techniques being shared for the greater good. The more we know about advertising the better informed our choices become, as Adam says: from ‘mindless consumption to mindful consumption’.

‘Action changes attitude faster than attitude changes action’
Adam explains that there are three ways to change behaviour: thoughts, feelings and actions; ‘we change our actions to follow our thoughts and feelings but…we also change our thoughts and feeling to make sense of our actions’ ‘behaviour change is certainly about influencing thoughts and feelings, but most of all it’s about influencing actions’

Applied in a brand perspective in relation to a charity Adam showcases the example of Save the Children. Instead of using rational or emotive messaging, the test group that gave the most money was the one that had the action approach of writing and creating an advertising campaign for the charity. With a sense of ownership, aligned to thoughts and feelings and with a sense of autonomy the charity involved the donors; the key take out; ‘involve people in your mission through action and they will match their thoughts and feelings to make sense of the action’.

The Benjamin Franklin effect is explained as ‘the most efficient way to get someone to like you is to ask them to do you a favour’. This is true for individuals but also for brands and organisations. These days advertising is no longer passive but interactive, so what can your supporters do for your charity?

Adam shows us how we select the behaviour to influence, we are taught that action rather than thoughts and feelings is the most powerful trigger to pull, then he introduces us to the 10 action spurs to encourage the action in others:

Reframing – frames the existing behaviour in a different more appealing way
Evocation – stirring up powerful emotions to motivate behaviour
Collectivism – based on social norms; appropriate behaviour decided upon by looking at what other people do
Ownership – asks people what they think should be done, involving people in a solution
Play – embracing the power of play or gamification
Utility – offering additional benefits and services
Modelling – using a high profile credible person to inspire or inform behaviour
Skill up – showing someone how to do the behaviour
Eliminate complexity – removing barriers
Commitment – asking for a small favour first to build up to a bigger agreement

Charities and not-for-profits whether consciously or not have been making good use of these principles e.g. collectivism unlocking cash by asking people to act in a way that creates a social acceptable signal to other think; #nomakeupselfie, Movember, wearing ribbons, red nose days or the ice bucket challenge. Reframing desired behaviour as something that is already happening and likely to get the approval of significant people in their lives e.g. suggesting that lots of people have already donated as a way to encourage more donations. Using emotional advertising or advertising that shocks (Charity shock tactics – do they work?) and asking people to develop an advertising campaign for the charity like save the children did or giving out free bananas to encourage reciprocity. 

Dan and Chip heath in their book Made to Stick explore the idea that you are ‘More likely to make a charitable gift to one needy individual than an entire impoverished region’. It is why your brain wants to help one child in need, not millions. This is the Mother Theresa effect; ‘If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will’ we respond to individuals rather than abstract causes. They explore the idea that the mere act of calculation i.e. thinking or being shown statistics reduces our charity giving, once we put on our analytical hat we think less emotionally.

Adam introduces us to the excellent report by Sanders, Halpern and Service (2013) applying behavioural insights to charity giving.
The report looks at four different behavioural insights:

– Make it easy
– Attract attention
– Focus on the social
– Timing matters

It looks at five field experiments or randomised controlled trials which were extremely effective and significantly raised donations. A recent example of making it easy is the new SnapDonate – charity logo-scanning app, supporters scan charity logos with their smartphone and instantly donate through Justgiving.

Behavioural insights draws on research from behavioural economics which is a useful tool to help influence (or ‘Nudge’) the decisions people make. Behavioural economics is encouraging us to give more cash to charity, using ‘nudge’ theories to encourage giving. Crawford Hollingworth showed us how charities are playing on our behavioural heartstrings, showcasing two great examples of using Behavioural Economics by piggybacking two already deeply ingrained habits and behaviours – shopping and cash withdrawal.

Governments around the world are embracing ‘nudge’ with units dedicated to applying behavioural science to public policy and after the recent launch here in Sydney Behavioural Economics and Behavioural Science meetups are now in London, New York, Zurich, Copenhagen and Sydney. After success in the US and UK a behavioural insights team have set up in Sydney under the department of premier and cabinet and in 2014 the Behavioural Exchange; the world’s first global behavioural insights conference took place here in Sydney. It is an exciting space to be in and around, how are charities and not-for-profits learning and adapting the insights that Adam and people like Richard Thaler are sharing?

Adam shows us the principles:

Select the behaviour to change
Assess it against motivation and ease
Work out which action spur to use
Apply that spur with creative flair

As charities and not for profits we have the ability to apply these principles to grab people’s attention. Have you got some examples of how charities and not-for-profits are getting ever more inventive at utilising behaviour change, behavioural economics and behavioural insights? Has your charity used any of the action spurs to encourage behaviour change? Advertising persuasion powers can be used for good it can assist a good cause or make a not so good cause better. The advertising effect will have a profound effect on your thinking and approach to changing people’s behaviour.

You can hear Adam speak about his book The Advertising Effect on November 20th here in Sydney as part of the Behavioural economics and behavioural science meet up

Or follow the conversation @SydneyBEnet via the hashtag #BENSyd

Further reading –

Sanders, Halpern and Service (2013) applying behavioural insights to charity giving.

Video in relation to behavioural insights to charitable giving

Government blog in relation to behavioural insights to charitablegiving

Playing on our behavioural heartstrings

Behavioural economics is encouraging us to give more cash to charities

A very comprehensive behavioural economics guide:

Charity shock tactics do they work?

Five ways to make your charity campaign go global

Why your brain wants to help one child in need, not millions:

Giving out free bananas

Snapdonate case study:

Save the children case study:


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