Friday, June 20, 2008

Social Proof and Persuasion

The most important skill in advertising must, surely, to be persuasive.
Over the years selling has almost become a dirty word. But there is selling and there is selling. In order to have someone modify their behaviour in a useful way you have few useful options.

You can demand or compel…basically forcing or dictating your views onto another but it very rarely has any kind of lasting effect. In the end dictators are hung from a pole.

You can wow people with your brilliance. But this virtuosity, while it can be enormously entertaining, usually fails to accomplish very much.

Advertising is about persuasion. So I was interested to read about the concept of 'social proof'

"Social proof is a psychological term for the phenomenon of looking for confirmation from the crowd when you’re unsure whether to act. If you see ten people staring up at the sky, …you’ll probably stop and stare up too.

Business leaders can harness the principle. A classic example is a recent program written by Colleen Szot that shattered a nearly twenty-year sales record for a home-shopping channel. Szot simply replaced the classic call to action–

“Operators are waiting, please call now”–


“If operators are busy, please call again.”

Rather than imagining bored operators filing their nails, home shoppers pictured phones ringing off the hook. The implicit message: others must be buying, so should you.

The researchers behind Yes! set out to see if this principle could work for hotels too. Along with the usual environmental message and images of crystal clear water and rolling green fields on the cards asking patrons to reuse towels, the researchers placed a message indicating that the majority of guests already chose to reuse their towels. Guests whose cards subtly employed the principle of social proof were 26% more likely to recycle their towels than those who saw only the basic environmental protection message. That’s a big improvement at no additional cost to the hotel."

Maybe sometimes we don't have to bash consumers over the head with creative crowbars when simply thinking about our choice of words will make a world of difference.

Most of my cleverer friends agree.

(Ok, that was clumsy and obvious, but I think you get the point.)

Original heads-up via

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