Moving towards Swachh Bharat (Mint)

This article written by us appeared in the editorial section of Mint on 30th September 2016

A couple of weeks back, a video made by a private organization promoting the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, featuring Kangana Ranaut and other Bollywood actors, went viral. The video depicted the picture of goddess Lakshmi disappearing from photo frames when people indulged in littering. The narrator on the video was Amitabh Bachchan, who said that the goddess of wealth lives only where there’s cleanliness. It ended with a plea by Bachchan and Ranaut to keep the country clean by not littering. Though the government didn’t issue this particular video, it has issued other, similar ad campaigns in public interest that promote the use of a public toilet instead of open defecation.

It is largely believed that ad campaigns change public behaviour by creating a change in people’s mindsets, which in turn leads people to take the desired action. But changing behaviour is not so easy. There are too many assumptions for this model of awareness leading to action.

The first assumption is that people can recall the message all the time. The second assumption is that the message is successful in motivating people to such an extent that it prompts them to act. The third assumption is that at the moment of actual behaviour, people would have the right amount of motivation, and also the ability to act in the desired way. That is a tough ask.

This is not the first time that the government has used ad campaigns to try and change public behaviour. In the recent past, campaigns like Save Fuel, Save Money have been aimed at changing driver behaviour by asking them to switch off car engines at traffic junctions to save fuel. Do you remember the campaign? If you don’t, crores of rupees in the form of advertising have been wasted. But let’s assume you are one of the few who do recall this message. Has it changed your behaviour? Do you now switch off your car’s engine at traffic signals?

Most people don’t. It’s a lot of effort. You need to turn the ignition off every time you wait at a traffic signal. And when the signal turns green, you have to turn the ignition on, listen to frantic honking because you haven’t moved immediately, change the gear from neutral to first if you are driving a manual-gear car, get frantically honked at again, put the hand-brake down, and finally get moving. Even for people who are highly cost-conscious or environmentally conscious, it’s too much effort.

That’s why campaigns are a money-draining and time-consuming way of attempting to change behaviour. In the UK, for example, in the 1970s and 1980s, the government spent millions on TV, radio and billboard ads educating people to wear seat belts. Researchers F.M. Streff and E.S. Geller estimated that by the end of the 1980s, 80-90% of British people had seen these ads eight-nine times each.

One would assume that showing people being launched head-first through their windscreens would make people respond. But it turned out that most people weren’t wearing seat belts. It was when the law changed in 1983, along with strict policing, that most people started wearing them.

Behavioural science suggests that a lot of the messaging on educating people to change behaviour seems powerful and emotional in the spur of the moment, but eventually doesn’t change behaviour because mere awareness rarely leads to action.

Changing behaviour is tough. People don’t always behave in the desired way. People should be exercising regularly, but many don’t. People shouldn’t be overeating, yet many do. The traditional way to change behaviour is to make people aware of the pros and cons of a particular act. But this method is ineffective, because most behaviour is instinctive i.e. subconscious. We aren’t always aware of the reasons for our actions. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to make someone aware of their behaviour, convince them that change is necessary and motivate them to change.

Behavioural science, on the other hand, uses subtle on-time nudges to enable the desired action. It focuses more on the ability to perform the desired action in the last mile than on motivating people. These nudges are based on a combination of behavioural economics, cognitive neuroscience and psychology. The nudges are designed to automate the desired action and for it to take place right at the moment of action.

For example, to reduce honking, we conducted an experiment in which a red button called Bleep was fitted on to the dashboard of the car. When the driver pressed the horn, the red button would begin to beep and flash. In order to switch it off, the driver needed to press the button.

The button made the driver conscious of the habit of honking by giving him immediate feedback in order to reduce indiscriminate honking. In a six-month experiment, Bleep reduced honking by 61% on average.

Similarly, a nudge was used in Copenhagen, with green footprints painted on the ground, pointing the way to the nearest garbage bin, that reduced littering by 46% by painting.

Meanwhile, to keep India clean, we first need dustbins that are easily accessible and cannot be stolen. They could be designed to include that extra bit of motivation for use—for instance, by having two sections and a question such as: “Who’s your favourite actress: Kangana or Deepika?”.

How to turn your weakness into your strength

There have been many well-known cases of brands touting their weaknesses and being liked for it. Avis car rental’s memorable slogan ‘We’re No.2. We try harder’ that meant when you’re not no.1, you have to try harder. Or 1950’s Volkswagen Beetle’s campaign that Beetle wouldn’t win any beauty contests, but its strengths were durability, fuel economy and price. Or Stella Artois’ ‘Reassuringly expensive’. In fact the third largest auto insurance company in the US, Progressive Auto Insurance is known for letting its customers know about its competitors rates too. Although Progressive clearly has better rates in many instances, it’s not always the case. Inspite of this Progressive has grown successfully.

Social scientists Valerie Trifts and Gerald Haubl also support Progressive’s practice. In their study participants looking to buy books online were more likely to shop from a moderately priced bookseller when that bookseller also provided its competitors prices, which were sometimes lower.

Why does this strategy work? “Arguing against your self-interest,” says Robert Cialdini, “creates the perception of honesty and trustworthiness. This puts you in a position to be more persuasive when promoting your genuine strengths.”

This persuasion technique could even be applied when selling your car. Volunteering negative information about the car, especially information that the prospect would be unlikely to discover by himself/herself should do some good for his or her trust in you and your vehicle.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that this strategy can be effectively used only if your weakness is genuinely a minor one in comparison to your strengths. Like Francois, the 17th Century French writer and moralist, wrote, “We only confess our little faults to persuade people that we have no big ones.”

Source: Valerie Trifts and Gerald Haubl – Information Availability and Consumer Preference: Can Online Retailers Benefit from Providing Access to Competitor Price Information? – EBusiness Research Center Working Paper 06-2002

How to show off without being labeled as a show-off

Here’s an interesting story we chanced upon that overcomes the dilemma of being seen as a show-off when you may be trying to establish your credentials.

There is a certain real estate agency in the US, which has a sales and a rental division. Customers who would call the agency would typically first speak with a receptionist who, having identified which division they needed to speak with, would say, “Oh, rentals, you need to speak to Penny.” or “You need the sales division, you need to speak to Sheldon.”

Upon the recommendation of a group of behavioural scientists – Robert Cialdini and colleagues – the receptionist started using a slightly tweaked approach. The receptionist would now say, “Oh, rentals, you need to speak to Penny, who has over fifteen years of experience renting properties in this neighborhood. Let me put you through now” or “I’m going to put you through to Sheldon, our head of sales. Sheldon has twenty years of experience in selling properties like yours.”

Everything that the receptionist spoke was true. But for Penny or Sheldon to say the same thing would have been have been at the risk of being liked less and seen as boastful and self-promoting and as a result, not as persuasive. The customers ignored the fact that this introduction came from someone who was connected to Penny and Sheldon and would benefit from this kind of introduction. Penny and Sheldon reported a significant rise in the number of appointments post this Behavioural Design nudge. Lastly, but most importantly, the intervention was costless to the company.

No wonder, inspite of written recommendations being a prominent feature of Linkedin, it has further introduced recommendation of skills, to enhance the user’s credibility as well as LinkedIn’s usability.

By the way did you know that my partner Mayur is a super talented designer?

Know the basics of creating habits

This is the story of Claude Hopkins, who helped establish tooth brushing as a daily habit. Yup there was a time when tooth brushing wasn’t a habit .

So how did Hopkins get people to brush? He found a cue, a reward and a craving for that reward.

Faced with the task of selling Pepsodent, he sat down with a pile of dental textbooks. Dry reading, much of what we do to keep the blog stories interesting. That’s when he chanced upon mucin plaques on teeth. It’s the film that builds up on teeth regardless of what you eat or how often you brush. The film is a naturally occurring membrane that you can get rid of by eating an apple, running your finger over your teeth, brushing or vigorously swirling liquid in your mouth. Toothpaste didn’t do anything to help remove the film. But that didn’t stop Hopkins from exploiting his discovery. He decided to use this film that was universal and impossible to ignore, as the cue to trigger the habit of brushing.

Moreover the reward was enticing – a prettier smile making you look beautiful. All it took to get rid of the film and look beautiful was to brush with Pepsodent.

But countless studies, including famous ones of the brains of monkeys by Wolfram Schultz, neuroscientist at University of Cambridge, have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts anticipating the reward, will it become automatic. The habit only emerges when in Schultz’s experiments the monkey began craving the juice upon seeing the cue or when a smoker’s brain starts anticipating a hit of nicotine upon seeing the pack of his/her favourite cigarette brand or when your brain starts anticipating the momentary distraction of checking your cell when it vibrates or lights up with a new message.

Likewise, Pepsodent had created a craving. Unlike other pastes of its period, Pepsodent contained citric acid and mint oil that created a cool, tingling sensation on the tongue and gums. Once people craved that cooling, tingling sensation – once they equated it with cleanliness – brushing became a habit. The tingling doesn’t make the toothpaste work any better. It just convinces people its doing its job. Two weeks after the campaign launched the demand exploded.

Many product categories can get kicking, if only they get back to the basics – cue, reward and craving for the reward.

Source: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

How reframing choices changes our decision

(In the illustration did you first see a rabbit or a duck?)

Consider the following situation. Imagine that India is preparing for the outbreak of a disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative treatments to combat the disease have been proposed.

If Treatment A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.

If Treatment B is adopted, there is a 1/3rd probability that 600 people will be saved and a 2/3rd probability that no people will be saved.

Which one do you prefer?

Most likely you prefer the certain option – Treatment A over the gamble – Treatment B.

Now lets consider a second version of the situation:

If Treatment A’ is adopted, 400 people will die.

If Treatment B’ is adopted, there is a 1/3rd probability that nobody will die and a 2/3rd probability that 600 people will die.

Which one do you prefer?

Most likely you prefer the gamble – Treatment B over the certain option – Treatment A.

Now look closely and compare the two versions: the consequences of Treatment A and A’ are identical and so are the consequences of Treatment B and B’. However, your options most probably differed. Did you choose to save 200 lives for sure in the first version and chose to gamble rather than accept 400 deaths in the other?

Embarrassed? So were we. Even when this test was shared with public health professionals in the US, they were swayed by this framing effect!

Daniel Kahneman, nobel-winning behavioural economist, explains the rationale behind our decisions. In his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, he says “Decision makers tend to prefer the sure thing over the gamble, when the outcomes are good. They tend to reject the sure thing and accept the gamble, when both the outcomes are bad. Risk-averse and risk-seeking preferences are not reality-bound.”

This shows how a small manipulation can have drastic impact on decision-making. And if you still believe that we humans behave rationally, think again.

Clocky & Tocky - Alarm clocks that literally get you off your bed

Have trouble waking up in the morning? Do you hit snooze on the alarm repeated like me, only to go back to bed and wake up later to realize that you are, as usual, late?

Here are two interesting products of Behavioural Design that could be of help. Clocky and Tocky are products created by Gauri Nanda, an MIT grad. Clocky is an alarm clock with wheels. When it’s time to wake up, these alarm clocks leap off your nightstand and run away beeping to ensure you’re awake. Tocky even lets you load your own wake up message or your favourite song.

See them in action by clicking here.

What's the best chance of breaking a brand's loyalty?

All along marketers have believed that satisfied customers are loyal customers. All along marketers have believed that loyal customers mean profits for companies. But data by behavioural scientists are making us revisit established theories of consumer behavior and marketing.

For example, research by Reichheld and Teal has revealed that between 65% – 85% of people who switch brands are either satisfied or very satisfied. If satisfaction was the key to keeping customers loyal, why are satisfied people switching brands?

Another research by Szymanski and Henard reveals that on its own, satisfaction predicts very little of people’s behavior, perhaps as little as one-quarter.

This actually makes sense. As we have seen by recent previous posts ‘Think you can predict your own behavior?’ and its Part II, strong habits rule over intentions. In the face of a strong habit, we sometimes don’t buy the things we intend to. Instead, we buy what we bought before.

Says Jeremy Dean of PsyBlog when the initial choice is made to buy a product and subsequently made again and again, in the same context, then it’s likely to become a habit. Meaning we make the same choice without considering the options, because deliberation hurts the brain.

Habits can be so strong that according to research by Lal and Bell, habitual shoppers often don’t respond very strongly to incentives like special offers. Which makes creating shopping habits an even more profitable activity especially for brands.

So what is the best chance a brands got at breaking another brand’s loyalty?

The answer is – major life events. Consumer behavior expert Alan Andreasen was one of the first to point out that there are particular moments in people’s lives when their consuming habits are most ready to change. He figured the more major life events people experienced, like changing employer, getting married, moving house or the biggest of them all, having a kid, the more they had changed brands. Major life changes mean change in situations, change in environment, which means old habits get disrupted and the opportunity to break in increases.

Sources: F.F. Reichheld and T. Teal – The loyalty effect: The hidden force behind growth, profits, and lasting value – Cambirdge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2001

D.M. Szymanski and D.H. Henard – Customer Satisfaction: A meta-analysis of the empirical evidence– Journal of the academy of marketing science 29, no.1 (2001): 16-35

R. Lal and D.E. Bell – The impact of frequent shopper programs in grocery retailing – Quantitative marketing and economics 1, no. 2 (2003): 179-202

Psyblog – 

Does it really take 21 days to form a habit?

In the preface to his 1960 book ‘Psycho-cybernetics’, Dr Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon turned psychologist wrote:

It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days. People must live in a new house for about three weeks before it begins to “seem like home”. These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.’

Self-help authors of 21 days to this, that and everything, may have reasoned that, if self-image takes 21 days to change, and self-image changes lead to changes in habits, then habit formation must take 21 days. Although ‘21 days’ may perhaps apply to adjustment to plastic surgery, it is unfounded as a basis for habit formation. Here’s the proof:

In an 84-day study by researchers at University College London, 96 participants were asked to choose an every day behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day like eating a piece of fruit (behavior) with lunch (cue) or doing 50 sit-ups (behavior) after morning coffee (cue).

So how long did it take to form a habit? On average it took 66 days until a habit was formed. And contrary to what’s commonly believed, missing a day or two didn’t much affect habit formation.

But here is the relevant part. There was considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit after lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proves trickiest with 50 sit-ups after morning coffee, still not a habit after 84 days.

Interestingly, there were quite large differences between individuals in how quickly automaticity reached its peak, although everyone repeated their chosen behavior daily: for one person it took just 18 days, and another did not get there in the 84 days, but was forecast to do so after as long as 254 days!

So it’s unwise to attempt to assign a number to habit formation. The duration is likely to differ depending on who you are and what you are trying to do. As long as you continue doing your new healthy behavior consistently in a given situation, a habit will form. But you will probably have to persevere beyond January 21st if you are attempting a New Year’s resolution.

Source: Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts, & Wardle – How habits are formed: modeling habit formation in the real world – European Journal of Social Psychology 40, no. 6 (2010): 998-1009.

If you want something to happen, write it down

Hopefully by now you are beginning to appreciate how a seemingly small design intervention can make a huge difference in behaviour change. Here’s one more story that illustrates this point.

British psychologistsPaschal Sheeran and Sheina Orbell conducted an experiment in two of Scotland’s busiest orthopaedic hospitals. The participants were elderly patients from low and middle class households, who had undergone hip or knee replacement surgeries.

Recovering from a hip or knee surgery is incredibly arduous. While recovering the smallest movements can be excruciating. But it is essential that patients begin exercising almost as soon as they wake from surgery, even before the muscles and skin have healed, or the tissues will clog the joint, destroying its flexibility. But exercising is so painful that many patients skip out on rehab sessions, especially the elderly ones.

So the patients were each given a booklet after their surgeries that detailed their rehab schedule, and in the back were thirteen additional pages – one for each week – with instructions: My goals for this week are _________________? Write down exactly what you are going to do. For example, if you are going to walk this week, write down where and when you are going to walk.

Three months passed. The patients who had written exact plans in their booklets had started walking twice as fast as the ones who had not, as well as, getting in and out of their chairs, putting on their shoes, doing laundry, all of it much faster, than the ones who had not written anything in the booklet. Why did that happen?

The psychologists examined the booklets of those who had filled it and found it filled with specific detailed plans about the most mundane aspects of recovery. Like one patient wrote that he would walk to the bus stop on a particular day to meet his wife coming back from work at 3:30pm and the time he would leave, the route he would walk, what he would wear and which pills he would take if the pain became too much. Someone else who would exercise each time she would go to the bathroom, wrote that she would automatically take the first step right away after standing up from the couch, so that she wouldn’t be tempted to sit down again.

All focused on how they would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. They built plans around inflection points when they knew their pain – and their temptation to quit – would be strongest.

Patients who didn’t write out any plans were at a significant disadvantage, because they never thought ahead about how to deal with pain. They didn’t deliberately design their habits. So their resolve abandoned them when they confronted the first few steps.

So if you want something to happen, write all the steps down.

Source: Paschal Sheeran and Sheina Orbell – Implementation intentions and repeated behaviour: augmenting the predictive validity of the theory of planned behaviour – European Journal of Social Psychology Volume 29, Issue 2-3, pages 349–369, March – May 1999

How the world's best marketer got it wrong, but eventually got it right

The world’s best marketer – P&G launched a brand called Febreze in the US in 1996 as a spray that could remove bad smells from almost any fabric. The spray had been created when one of the P&G scientists was working with a substance called hydroxypropyl beta cyclodextrin (HPBCD). Apparently he was a smoker and one day when he got back from work his wife asked, “Did you quit smoking?” “No”, he said looking suspiciously. “You don’t smell like smoke”, she said.

P&G sensing a big opportunity spent millions perfecting the formula, producing colorless, odorless liquid that could make any stinky couch or jacket scentless. The marketing team decided that they should position Febreze as something that would allow people to rid themselves of embarrassing smells. They created two television commercials. The first showed a woman talking about how her jacket smell of cigarettes when she eats in the smoking section of a restaurant and the other, had a woman speak about her furniture smelling like her dog. In both cases Febreze eliminated the bad smells.

Febreze bombed.

P&G hired behavioural experts to help them figure out the problem and the new solution. When they visited a woman’s home, they observed that though her house was clean and organized, it stinked of her nine cats. The smell was overpowering but the woman couldn’t notice any smell. They figured that even the strongest scent fades with constant exposure. People who needed Febreze the most simply couldn’t detect bad smells in the first place!

They met hundreds of consumers looking for clues how to make Febreze a regular part of their lives. One day they met a woman, who used Febreze everyday. She used to spray Febreze whenever she would finish cleaning a room. Like in the bedroom, she vacuumed, made the bed, plumped the pillows, tightened the bed sheet’s corners, smiled with a sense of accomplishment and then took a Febreze bottle and sprayed it as a final touch. They saw the same pattern across thousands of hours of videotapes of people cleaning their homes.

That was it. The team decided to make Febreze a fun part of cleaning, at the end of the cleaning routine. They added more perfume, so that instead of merely neutralizing odors, Febreze had its own distinct smell. Febreze was repositioned as the nice smell that occurs at the end of the cleaning routine. Instead of eliminating scents, it became an air freshener, used as the finishing touch.  Febreze was relaunched in 1998. Housewives started craving the Febreze scent and the desire to make everything smell as nice as it looked. Within two months sales doubled. Now Febreze sales are more than $1 billion per year and products include candles, laundry detergents, kitchen spays, etc. P&G learned the lesson – no one craves scentlessness.

Source: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Hear the full story from Charles Duhigg here.

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