In 2011, psychologist Daniel Kahneman published his best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which put forward the central thesis that our brains have two distinct parts, dubbed System 1 and System 2.
The book proposes that, as a result of these distinct parts, there is a dichotomy between the two different ways that the brain forms thoughts.
System 1 is all about instinct, and is the part of the brain that makes quick, easy and unconscious decisions in less than half a second (Think Homer Simpson). System 2 on the other hand is the more reflective part of our brain, dealing with our rational and conscious decisions (Think Spock).
These systems form a core tenet of a field of study called ‘behavioural science’, as they help us explain why consumers make the purchasing decisions they do - and as a result, help advertisers understand how to nudge them in the right direction.
In 2015 we collaborated with Ogilvy Change through Alfresco Labs to prove the power of behavioural science in out-of-home advertising by persuading shoppers to try a free sample of dry-roasted crickets. No small feat for a nation renowned for its timid taste.
Using advertising which featured key nudges appealing to the unconscious part of the brain (System 1 - Homer), the creative we used persuaded 126% more shoppers to sample the bugs compared to advertising which was designed to appeal to the more rational part of the brain (System 2 - Spock).
But that experiment was offering free samples - quite different from asking shoppers to hand over cash for a cricket curry.
So to bring the experiment into the real world, we recently teamed up once again with Ogilvy Change, JCDecaux and edible insect specialist Grub to see how effective behavioural nudges are in persuading shoppers to actually buy a challenging new product.
The experiment took place over six weeks in UK Planet Organic stores. In two stores, we had no advertising. The next two stores had poster advertising promoting a cricket-packed Grub bar. These ads featured rational messaging appealing to the System 2 part of the brain (“Eat Grub bars, made with crickets. Tasty, nutritious and sustainable!”).
The final two stores featured creative using behavioural nudges designed to appeal to System 1. These ads used key nudges including normalisation (“2 billion people enjoy insects globally”), localisation and fear of missing out (“You can be the first in W1”).
The use of normalising and localising nudges was supported by Kinetic's proprietary research, which revealed 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).
...And the results?
The sales uplift from the store with no advertising to the store with rational advertising was an impressive 74%. But the sales increase from the rational advertising stores to the stores carrying the creative designed to appeal to System 1 was a staggering 270% - a clear vindication that applying the right behavioural science nudges to advertising really works.
Behavioural science has been around for more than 40 years and the IPA has done stellar work in applying the theories to advertising, so why are we still seeing so much rational copy when 95% of our daily decisions are made by the unconscious, System 1 part of the brain?
Creatives should be exploring how adopting a System 1 approach can give their clients the competitive edge. We are seeing progress - in today’s digital age, localisation and personalisation nudges are increasingly finding their way into ads, but creatives need to take this further.
Using these methods are effective for all advertiser categories, but crucial for new product launches. Those still relying on rational messaging will be left standing.