Anchoring Effect, I Choose You!

Researcher and behavioural economist Leigh Caldwell flagged this interesting article up on Twitter. It’s asking whether the behavioural science revolution in the legal profession has run its course. Here’s the key point.

We have now reached the point where there are so many “well-known cognitive biases” in BLE that anyone can reach virtually any conclusion, by relying on a carefully chosen set of behavioral principles.  And as I noted earlier, the state of empirical research is such that the “reality test” is too often unavailable.

This is an important point. It reminded us of something we’ve occasionally noticed in BrainJuicer discussions about behavioural science. We’ve called it – with a certain amount of affection – the Pokemon School of Behavioural Economics.


As in – “Biases – gotta catch ‘em all!” Continue reading

License To Fill

The licensing effect is among the most well-known findings in behavioural economics. When people feel that they’re making a ‘good’ choice, they give themselves permission to also make bad choices. The classic – and much-mocked – example is the guy who buys a big mac and large fries in McDonalds, then orders a Diet Coke on the side. Or the office worker who buys a salad at lunchtime – then decides to grab a cake at the counter, because he’s been good.

(I have been both of these sad individuals. The licensing effect is tough to dodge.)


Could you finish it? What if it was “regular”?

This study shows the licensing effect in full, er, effect. Label a meal “small” or “regular” and people eat more of it. But there’s also a kind of reverse licensing effect – if you label something “double-size” people eat an awful lot less.

In terms of encouraging healthy eating habits, this trick is slightly double-edged. People might lose weight, but at the expense of wasting drastically more food!

Still, it’s good to remember the licensing effect, as it’s a pitfall for many a behaviour change iniative. Even if you get people to do something good, you might be inadvertently nudging them towards bad decisions too.

This blog post comes via @neilgains on Twitter – a great guy to follow for behavioural insight.

I Belong To The Blank Generation

At BrainJuicer we love a cheeky experiment, and they don’t get much cheekier than this – researchers who decided to find out the click-through rate of an entirely blank ad.

This summary from Ad Contrarian highlights exactly why the results might go beyond cheeky and into “downright embarrassing” for digital marketers. If clicks are a reliable metric, then on average blank ads are only minutely less effective than branded ads.

Which demands the question – are clicks a reliable metric? Some would say they never have been. They’ve almost always been dreadfully low, for one thing – when companies like Nielsen started measuring banner ads in the 2000s the story was one of tiny returns, with the only ads getting close to 1% involving flashing boxes and punching monkeys. The average was shrinking fast, and kept on falling. Now it’s down in the hundredths of a percent.

A free ipod! Gee golly! (Sorry, not an actual ad)

There comes a point at which data becomes indistinguishable from noise, and click data may well have reached it. The argument was always that because it measured actual behaviour, even the smallest click-through rate was at least measuring something.

But the blank ads experiment shows that there’s a constant rate of noise in the form of mistaken clicks. In the mobile age, as fat thumbs meet small screens, this proportion will surely rise. It’s no wonder Ad Age ends up waxing philosophical: “what is a click?” it asks sadly.

We are great believers in focusing on behaviour, and that changing behaviour should be a research outcome. But – especially online – there is an awful lot of tempting behaviour to measure, and it’s easy to be seduced by that. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” the gurus tell us, and they sound very pragmatic. But it doesn’t make “If you can measure it, you can manage it” any truer. A click seems concrete, but may be as insubstantial as… a blank advert.