Monthly Archives: May 2010

Choice Architecture

Rory Sutherland gave me a brilliant example of choice architecture.
At a school in the USA, the girls in their early teens had just discovered lipstick.
They would go into the female toilets to apply it.
Then, giggling, they’d leave the imprint of their lips on the large mirror.
This made a lot of extra work for the cleaning staff.
The head teacher asked the girls to stop.
Of course they ignored her.
So she took the girl’s to the female toilets for a demonstration.
She said, “It takes a lot of work to clean the lipstick off the mirror.”
She said to the janitor, “Please show the girls how much work it takes.”
The janitor put the mop in the toilet, squeezed off the excess water and washed the mirror.
Then put the mop in the toilet again, and repeated the process.
From that day on there was no more lipstick on the mirror.
That’s choice architecture.
You don’t try to force or nag people into doing what you want.
You accept that they are free to choose.
But you set up the choices to help them choose what you want.
The girls could still choose to kiss the mirror.
But now they know, and everyone else knows, their lips will be touching water from the toilets that everyone uses.
Suddenly it’s not quite so attractive.
No one wants to be kissed by lips with water from public a toilet on them.
Of course they’re still free to choose.
But the architecture of the choice encourages them in a certain direction.
Just the way architecture encourages people to use buildings in a certain way.
You design the building the way you want people to use it.
That way you don’t have to nag people.
At the National Portrait Gallery the problem was very few people visited the upper floors, while the ground floor was always packed.
People couldn’t be bothered climbing flights of stairs.
So they borrowed an idea from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim building in New York.
And they changed the entrance.
They installed a large escalator right by the entrance, taking visitors straight up to the top floor.
The exhibition now started at the top floor, and worked its way down to the ground floor.
The stairs were now for walking down not up.
Quite literally, choice architecture.
Recently, M&S had been running a campaign about environmental responsibilities.
Their strapline was, “Plan A, because there is no plan B.”
One of the ads they ran said that instead of throwing your old M&S clothing away, you should give it to Oxfam.
And, when you did, you’d get a £5 M&S voucher.
Think about that.
M&S found a way to get customers to feel good about buying more clothes.
Firstly, they needed them to create more room in their closet.
To get rid of some clothes.
But don’t just throw them away, recycle them.
And when you do you get a voucher to encourage you to come back to M&S.
Look at the way the architecture of choice was set up there.
You’re free to choose.
You can either hang on to your clothes or throw them away if you want.
But no one else will benefit.
If you give them to Oxfam other people will benefit, and so will you.
You’ll get a £5 voucher.
Of course you can only use the voucher at M&S.
But you don’t have to use it, no one’s forcing you.
And incidentally, look how environmentally conscious it makes M&S look.
A writer at our agency, Rob DeCleyn, found another great example in his local paper.
A particular village in Kent had a problem with litter.
Sweet wrappers, crisp packets, soft drink cans and bottles.
So the local shopkeeper didn’t complain or nag the children.
He just wrote the their name on the crisp and sweets packets when they bought them.
That’s all, just the child’s name.
And the litter problem cleared up almost immediately.
That’s choice architecture.
The children could still choose to throw their wrappers in the street when they’d finished with it.
They didn’t have to put it in the litter bin.
The only difference was that now everyone would know whose litter it was.

See you don’t have to threaten, or restrict or dictate anyone’s choices.
If you’re clever, you can just rearrange the architecture.

Read more on Choice Architecture…

Politicians may express a desire for transparency, but when it comes to advertising…‘Rules, what rules?’

The appointment of M&C Saatchi by the Conservative Party
to steer the party’s and David Cameron’s advertising made for an intriguing
start to this year’s election campaign. The old Saatchi and Saatchi team are of
course famous for the advertisement for Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 Conservative
Party campaign, “Labour isn’t working” which
some suggest won the Tories the election.

It’s arguable whether the 2010 campaign has
produced much in the way of memorable advertising to rival that infamous piece
of work with both the Tories and Labour appearing to have resorted to spoofs
and old clichés. But how far can the parties go in the advertising battle to
win the voters?

The advertising codes of practice (known as the CAP and BCAP
rules) enforced by the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) require all
advertisements to be legal, decent, honest and truthful but MPs argued that the
codes ought not to apply to political advertising for elections.

The argument is that it is inappropriate for the ASA, as a
non-elected body, to intervene in the democratic process; that ASA rulings
would have little practical value because the complex issues involved meant
that rulings would probably be made after election day; that ASA adjudications
would come within the arena of political debate; and that party political
advertisements are always subject to a disproportionate amount of media scrutiny.

Perhaps a lot of disillusioned readers will be unsurprised
that the codes – which apply to all other advertisers – do not apply to our
politicians, but that does not mean
mistakes have not been made in the past or that no rules exist at all.

Political parties are not permitted to advertise on
television, save for the party political broadcasts. In addition the
Broadcasters’ Liaison Group produced guidelines that the parties must
adhere to. Unsurprisingly, TV
commercials have to be legal and not infringe any copyright or other
intellectual property rights and they must comply with the Ofcom broadcast codes,
but crucially, accuracy remains a matter for the parties.

In non-broadcast media and on the
internet, political ads are unrestricted and political parties are keen to get
their messages across as vocally as possible. Though the days of billboards
being plastered across the country with political advertising are probably
over, (because the rules on media owners providing free space to political parties
has been made illegal), the rise in the importance of the internet may well
outstrip the importance of the outdoor medium. As well as the party website,
all the party leaders have their own blogs and micro sites, but there is still
a risk that an edgy campaign can backfire.

The now infamous “Demon Eyes” adverts featuring Tony Blair
with fiendish eyes only appeared in three newspapers but the advertisements
were condemned by the church and the Advertising Standards Agency banned the
image. Voters claim to despise negative political advertising but it works,
especially with younger voters.

From the Tories beaming Gordon Brown billboard (itself a
rather frightening sight) with the words “I
let out 800,000 criminals early, vote for me”
to the photoshopped image of David Cameron that led
to a plethora of spoof versions, the campaigns have been hit and miss with both
voters and the parties alike. It’s perhaps not surprising that all the ads look
the same, given the similarities between the parties.

With the lack of regulation surrounding
election campaign advertising, voters can rely on little more than their own
intuition when it comes to believing the facts portrayed. A general election is
a battle ground. Under such conditions, do you think self-regulated accuracy
might sometimes take a backseat?

Palomba is a partner at Reed Smith
specialising in advertising
law and regulation and past Legal Director of the Institute of Practitioners in

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Editor’s blog: Vote for whoever you want

We’d never insult your intelligence by telling you how to vote. But make sure that you do.

One of the more bizarre British rituals surrounding the election process is the age-old tradition of readers being told by their newspaper or magazine how they should vote. With many media this is an agonising process; you could feel the uneasy frisson going on within the FT as it decided to plump for the Tories after an extended dalliance with Labour (there are more pinkoes within the Pink ‘Un than you might think). The Guardian is as eccentric as you’d expect, with some writers refusing to toe the editorial line. You have to hand it to the BBC: it does an amazing job preserving its impartiality under what is currently intolerable pressure on the organisation.

With others it is a pantomime process. If you believed today’s hysterical Daily Mail, a failure to vote Tory would lead to a slaying of the first-born, a plague of frogs and a return of Neil Kinnock to Number 10 (the final dread event being a far worse nightmare than the first two). The Sun is still more crass, with Tory-convert Simon Cowell its front page splash pontificating about knife crime – a subject on which I feel sure he is an expert sans pareil. (‘Shank Idol’, anyone?)

We’d never insult your intelligence or prey on your privacy by suggesting where you should place your cross. Politics, like religion, is a deeply personal business, prone to cause upset when others trample over one’s beliefs. I won’t even tell my wife what I do in the Lambeth polling station tomorrow evening. We trust you to do the right thing.

But one thing: make sure you do vote. I can’t be doing with any of these feckless youths and others who say that politics has nothing to do with and nothing to offer them. Go and spoil your ballot paper if you have to – but don’t just refuse to get involved. Think of those individuals over centuries who sacrificed a lot to bring about universal suffrage here. Democracy remains a privilege. Just ask the billions of unfortunates within repressive regimes such as in China who do not enjoy the good fortune to elect those who rule over them.

There’s plenty wrong with UK plc at the moment. But there’s also a lot that’s not too bad. Whatever you think about electoral reform, the way we do elections – given an unexpected fillip by the new TV debates – is something we can be quietly proud of.

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Bitchy politics and a three horse race

As we head for the last 24 hours all the guns are firing against the opposition, the trouble is now each party isn’t sure who the opposition really is, it’s a three horse race, or maybe two if you read some newspaper’s comments on Brown’s blunders. Gillian Duffy has flown out of the country to escape journalist, who can blame her? There’s even a Gillian Duffy for PM group on Face book. At least no one can say it wasn’t a fun election.

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Does Election knocking copy work?

Misleading election leaflets, ‘Orwellian’ poster campaigns and plain, simple lies. Will negative campaigning prove a vote winner or floating-vote swinger.

When David Cameron accused Gordon Brown of negative campaigning in Labour leaflets at the TV debate, we dived straight into MESH’s real-time Experience Data to see what 1,100 floating voters from Research Now’s panel were saying.

But the study is not a poll in the usual sense, instead, MESH asked people to text whenever they see, hear or experience anything to do with one of the political parties. They tell us the party, the occasion, how it made them feel and how likely the experience made them to vote for a party. So, we pick up all voters’ experiences, whether they are checking out a debate, seeing a party poster stuck in a field or having a chat about TV news with work colleagues.

And what does it tell us?

Well, we’ve noticed a big surge in leaflet experiences. In the week of the first leaders’ debates, 6% of all floating voters’ experiences were with leaflets, compared with 11% this last week. We’re getting more texts for posters too (up from 8% to 10%). TV news and the leaders’ debates – still influential touchpoints – have slipped from 26% to 23% and 18% to 13% respectively. Following the excitement of Nick Clegg’s first TV debate performance on 15 April, politics has this week gone local.

But are the leaflets actually persuading anyone?

Actually, they are. 16% of Labour leaflet experiences are persuading people to vote for them. But 32% of Labour leaflet experiences are persuading our floating voters NOT to vote for them (a net persuasiveness of -16%). Over half of all leaflet experiences (53%) are making no difference to people’s likelihood to vote Labour. On the other hand, Liberal Democrats are doing much better with their leaflets (net persuasiveness of +25%) and the Conservative are faring a bit better this week than last with theirs (+17% v +8% net persuasiveness).

What’s pushing people in one direction or the other?

Actually, their opponents’ negative campaigning in itself isn’t having the worst effect for Labour. It’s Labour’s actual record which has been negative over the last few years. Seeing a Labour leaflet is reminding our floating voters of what they’ve done wrong. One participant commented “Mr Brown has got the country into a bloody mess and I feel very negative about Labour”.

But this has been Labour’s problem right from the beginning. Negative campaigning does compound the issue, and can often rebound on the party putting out the knocking copy as one floating voter comments.

“It did annoy me as it pointed out that the Conservatives wouldn’t match the Labour Party with their two week targets for any suspected cancer patients to be seen. As most people know someone who suffers from cancer, I feel it is a cheap shot at trying to almost blackmail voters.”

In stark contrast, the positive delivery of Lib Dem leaflets was seen to positively persuade our voters, particularly at the local level.

“This was a leaflet featuring Clive Sneddon. In it he talked about increasing the tax threshold to £10k, no tuition fees for children, investing in public transport, renewable energy and energy efficient homes, and also talked about giving people the right to sack corrupt MPs. Made me feel very positive and was very no nonsense.”

The Conservatives did lots of leafleting early on but it was overkill for many. Their heavyweight poster campaign also backfired in terms of tone. Many floating voters thought putting Brown’s face on a poster with a negative line was cheap and off-putting. One participant, with a poster right outside their house, commented “the poster campaign for the Conservative party opposite my house looks positively Orwellian.” It’s important to remember context.

Traditionally, negative campaigning is used to depress the vote amongst an opponent’s weak supporters. It works less well, if at all, with floating voters.

In the UK 2010 General Election, negative campaigning isn’t working. People are looking for simple believable policies. This explains why the Liberal Democrat experiences are coming through so strongly. What remains to be seen is what all these experiences add up to.

We’ll continue to collect floating voters’ intentions each week and we’ll find out how they actually vote on 6 May. That’s when we’ll be able to correlate negative experiences to votes.

On the question of whether negative messages win votes, we’ll see. But in an end of era election like this is panning out to be, somehow we doubt it. After all, the Tory demon eyes campaign didn’t keep Blair out, did it?

Fiona Blades is Founder and CEO, MESH Planning and formerly Planning Director at Claydon Heeley.

Dr. Paul Baines is Reader in Marketing at Cranfield School of Management and Co-author (With Sir Robert Worcester and Roger Mortimore) of ‘Explaining Labour’s Landslip’ (Politico’s 2005).

Read more on Does Election knocking copy work?…

Finally, Celebrities in Online Ads

If you read this blog you’ll know that I’ve written a number of times about the lack of celebrity use in online ads. After many years of waiting, lo and behold in the last two weeks I’ve spotted two. They are both good extensions of cross-media campaigns that are running outdoor, on TV, in print and online. Both online ads use clear imagery, high quality bespoke video and interactivity. Personally I’m going to give a quiet round of applause to the brands and agencies involved. These aren’t the first examples, but they do prove that marketers now fully understand the need for an integrated campaign with online planned at the same time as traditional media to get the most out of the entire mix.

Heston Blumenthal (and Delia Smith) in Waitrose’s latest campaign by MCBD

Kevin Spacey in American Airlines’ latest campaign

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Welcome to Cameron’s Big Society future

It might be light hearted, but Labour makes a serious point today in its attack on David Cameron’s “Big Society” with the launch of a viral video and its scary echoes of Thatcher’s Britain.

The video drives home what it really means when the Tories say “Big Society”, but are afraid to say that they want to cut and abandon a range of public services with their pick ‘n’ mix DIY services that mean no guarantees for patients, parents or communities.

Big society is about breaking down the NHS, breaking down local education authorities and taking apart public services and people’s lives along with it. That’s what they have always done and Cameron might be the shiny new face of Conservatives in the UK, but it is the same old Tories who do not believe in “big society”. It’s just paper thin like most of Cameron’s campaign of photoshopped airbrushing and oil slick marketing.

Cameron is as Jacob Weisberg, author of ‘The Bush Tragedy’ wrote in the Guardian today, “as buffed as a freshly washed car, and providing a similar kind of short-term uplift”.

“With Cameron’s Tories, ideas take second place to their marketing. The event is geared around his presentation of a Contract with Voters, which is printed out on a white board that Cameron signs with a flourish after his talk. Aside from being a rip-off of the Republicans’ 1994 Contract with America (also known as the Contract on America), these 16 promises are a remarkably thin effort. The hard tasks, like cutting wasteful government spending, building a greener economy and raising school standards, are left vague.” Cameron is after a contract on Britain.

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A good idea today is better than a great idea tomorrow

Colin Powell was the first black Four-Star General.
Four-Star is the highest rank you can achieve in the US Army.
Powell was subsequently Head of the Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff.
The Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff is made up of the most powerful people in the Navy, Army, and Air Force.
And Colin Powell was in charge of it.
He has held the highest, and most powerful, military positions in the entire USA.
So this is an intelligent man.
He didn’t get to the top by being flippant, or rash.
He got there by being thorough, careful, and dependable.
One of Colin Powell’s main maxims was his “40-70 Rule”.
That was the rule by which he felt all decisions should be guided.
“You never make a decision with less than 40% of the information.
But you never wait until you have more than 70% of the information.”
Now I think everyone can agree on the first part.
You need information.
It’s ridiculous to make any decision based solely on intuition.
But most people wouldn’t think 40% was enough information.
Most people would want more.
And Powell agrees.
More is better.
Up to a point.
The point at which it becomes counter-productive.
The point at which he feels it harms the ability to act.
He felt that was 70%.
But, in our business, most people would want more than 70%.
They’d need at least 90%.
Or better still, closer to 100% if they could get it.
In fact they’d wait, and research, and worry, and debate, and discuss, and worry some more, and do some more research.
And that was Powell’s point.
By the time you’ve waited to get more than 70%, the opportunity’s passed.
In Economics, it’s called “The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns”.
Draw a simple graph with the horizontal axis marked ‘Effort’ and the vertical axis marked ‘Return’.

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