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Herding trolleys

I have been interested, as many have, since the publishing of the eponymous publication Nudge, in behavioural economics. Yet I have also realised that I had been interested much longer than I knew what it was called. So, thank you, professors Thaler and Sunstein for enlightening me.

Shopping trollys

Behavioural economics is about getting people to change what they do. We mostly hear about the well-trumpeted social examples of new ways to get us to pay our taxes on time, ways to cut down the alcohol we consume and to recycle more.

What role is there for behavioural economics in marketing communications? Whether they are communications in the public, social or private sectors, all benefit from the fundamental understanding that people are not rational. Great creative folk have always understood this and great ideas in marketing are borne of insights into what people really think and how they behave.

Take my picture above. Much as I would like to shop more in my local shops in Leytonstone to where I moved two years ago, it is inevitable that I have to go to Tesco every now and then. The first hurdle I have to navigate in this huge store is a labyrinth of trolleys. I also have to steer my way past them, in fact usually more of them, as I leave, rather more burdened than when I arrived. Now compare this to my recent trip to my nearest Waitrose in South Woodford. Not an abandoned trolley in sight.

One of the behaviour insights of academics and practitioners in this field is that people refer to norms in their behaviour. It gives them a sense of permission, be that permission to behave well or behave poorly. One trolley abandoner at Tesco is giving permission to another, whether or not that person really wanted to do this knowing that it would be better to leave the trolley in the trolley park, preventing the trolley slalom and any associated health and safety risks, never mind the inconvenience.

Our work on channel migration, recruitment and citizen engagement is more creative and more effective thanks to behavioural insights. I’m convinced that we could get Leytonstone’s trolley abandoners doing the right thing within a few months given the chance.

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