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Nudge marketing: a real helping hand

Interview of Eric Singler by Chantal Dubon-Chevallier (MCI/MS/MI)

Eric Singler
Causing the general public and consumers to change their behaviours simply and at lower cost is the challenge of nudge marketing. The initial successes have made it a topic of interest for marketers around the world.

Eric Singler is the author of "Nudge Marketing: how to effectively change behaviours" and "Green Nudge: successfully changing behaviours to save the planet".

Eric Singler is the Managing Director of BVA, in charge of the BVA Nudge Unit, and co-founder and Chairman of the NudgeFrance association.




Can you give us your definition of nudge marketing?


Nudging is a small action that aims to encourage the targeted individuals to change their current behaviour and adopt a new behaviour that benefits themselves, the community or the planet.

This approach emerged as a result of a book released in 2008 by two US professors – Richard Thaler, Professor of Behavioural Economics in Chicago, and Cass Sunstein, Professor of Law at Harvard. It draws on more than 30 years of experiments seeking to understand and identify the factors that influence human behaviour and decisions.
What makes 'nudge' different is that it is very effective at behavioural changes achieved through actions that are very cheap to implement, while also giving individuals complete freedom of action.
Nudge marketing is the application of this revolutionary approach in the issues facing businesses.


Adding one sentence and logo has increased the support of potential donors

To properly demonstrate the power of nudge marketing, can you give us an example of it?



There are now many examples of concrete applications of nudge, as several governments - such as those in the US, United Kingdom, Singapore and more recently Germany and Australia -, as well as international corporations like Unilever and PepsiCo, are beginning to use this approach.
In the United Kingdom, the Cameron government's "nudge unit" was involved in discussions surrounding organ donations by asking the question: how can we increase the number of donors to save lives? The action's channel is the government website gov.uk, the last page of which encourages visitors to sign up to the organ donation programme.
The involvement of nudge consisted of inserting a new message on the page: "Every day thousands of people who see this page decide to register", as well as the logo of the public health system (NHS). 
Introducing this simple message - which costs nothing - attracted a potential 96,000 more donors over a one-year period.
This message activated a major tool of influence on visitors to the site, namely social norms. What other people do is very important in our decisions: knowing that thousands of people were registering was enough to encourage lots of other people to do the same.


What tools does this new form of marketing use?


As shown by the previous example, nudge changes the decision-maker's mindset and encourages them to adopt the desired behaviour by activating a powerful influence lever.
A deep understanding of human behaviour is therefore the foundation of the nudge approach, which was created from a discipline - behavioural economics - that has gradually revolutionised our knowledge of this subject: how the citizens, customers, users, patients and employees that we all are make our decisions in our daily lives. This science of behaviours, for which the figurehead Daniel Kahneman received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2002, drew on economics, psychology, cognitive sciences and decision neuroscience to demonstrate, through numerous experiments, that human beings are far from rational. We are often illogical decision-makers who are very influenced by our emotions, by social interactions and by the context in which we make our decisions. Behavioural economics identified all of the major influence factors that form the basis of our behaviours.
Nudge marketing therefore draws on this new knowledge to put in place particularly effective strategies and actions.


Are all individuals receptive to these approaches in the same way?


The decision-making rationales identified by behavioural economics are human. We are therefore all influenced by the same overarching factors. However, the intensity of this influence varies and is a function of numerous factors that are personal, cultural and contextual at the same time.
This is why nudge marketing draws both on the knowledge of overall influence factors and a precise understanding of the specific behaviour of the target whose behaviour we want to change.
To create effective nudges, you need to be able to identify the explicit and implicit (unconscious) barriers to adopting the desired behaviour in the population concerned based on ethnographic studies, then identify which of the major overall influence levers are capable of being the most influential in the specific context in question. You can then start creativity sessions to devise nudges.
Nudge marketing is therefore the art of drawing on fundamental knowledge of human influence factors to apply it to a particular context and target in the right way.


campbellis soup Nudge

Which commercial situations are the most suited to utilising nudge marketing?



 A nudge marketing approach is relevant when the objective is to encourage the transition from an existing behaviour A to a new behaviour B among a determined target. The scope of intervention is therefore extremely wide: how do you encourage customers of brand A to switch to brand B? How do I make sure that my customers don't switch to my competitors? How do you design a point of sale or website that generates more conversion from visitors to buyers? How do you create mailing whose content is read more or whose rate of return is higher? How do you formulate an advertising message that is more effective at generating the desired behaviour? How do you present your price offering so that it is perceived as being more attractive? And how do you make your promotional offer more attractive?
On this latter subject, Professor Wansink conducted a very interesting study in the US, using a price promotion put in place by the soup brand Campbell's. The basic offer was very simple: the standard price of 89 cents was crossed out and reduced to 79 cents. Wansink tested - in a group of comparable stores - the effect of adding the message to the sign advertising the promotion at the aisle-end: "Limited to 12 boxes per person". The average number of boxes purchased was 3.3 in the basic promotion, compared with 7 when adding the message. This is a good example of a nudge that activates an influence lever known as "anchoring". The mechanics are simple: setting a "limit" acts as an "anchor" and communicates the idea of scarcity and a good deal. Sales then double.
Nudge marketing can therefore be spectacularly effective in numerous situations, but only if you have a good understanding of the effects on which it draws.


Nudging for good

Aren't there risks in terms of ethics and therefore image when using it?



 This question is fundamental. Like growing numbers of businessmen - of whom the Unilever CEO Paul Polman seems to me to be a perfect example - I'm convinced that tomorrow's major companies will be those that can combine business and ethics. There is no antagonism, only mutual strengthening. By building relationships of trust with their consumers, by being capable of giving them products and offerings that meet their expectations while also taking their long-term interest - and that of the planet - into account, companies will be sustainably effective.
The nudge approach forms part of this issue: it can only be used when you know how to devise initiatives that combine business interest and benefits for the customer or the community. Otherwise, it's manipulation and, in the open world in which we live, it's unacceptable and very dangerous for a company's future.
Nudge marketing therefore needs to be ethical, which means choosing the subjects in a relevant way. On this subject, the largest European association of consumer goods brands, AIM, recently launched a noteworthy project called "Nudging For Good" to encourage its members to use the nudge approach using the AIM-BVA toolkit to help consumers develop ecologically responsible habits in their daily consumption. 
I believe that Orange forms part of this movement of socially-aware companies with noteworthy initiatives in this respect, such as the Digital Society Forum.



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