Advertising, Behaviour Change, Behavioural Economics, Marketing Strategy, Persuasion, Predatory Thinking, Social Decision Making

Sperm-bank promotion strategy. It’s a toss-up.

Today the news that the UK’s National Sperm Bank, set up a year ago, has only nine donors so far, and is about to unveil a promotional campaign to ramp-up the volume of in-flows.

I can’t wait.

On the surface, it seems a straightforward problem to solve. But read on…

Turns out the sperm bank needs ‘super-sperm’ not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill, 33-Acacia-Avenue sperm. This is because it needs to survive the constant freezing and unfreezing process inherent in the final customer service procedure (giving infertility sufferers the chance of a child).

Out of 100 potential donor applicants, only ten survive the screening process and only 1 of those 10 will actually become a donor.

The lucky participant must attend the clinic twice a week for four months and, in exchange for £70 a session, abstain from ejaculating for two days before each visit, which essentially ensures an entirely monogamous relationship with the clinic, for the duration of the programme.

And that’s before you get to the customer selection process. People in the market for sperm tend to be quite choosy, apparently. They want donors of 6’ or more, for instance, which rules out 90% of potential UK donors straight away. And they all want doctors or barristers – most of whom are too busy, too rich, or both, to sign up.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that most donated sperm in the UK currently comes from Denmark and USA.

The forthcoming advertising campaign will ape a successful precedent in Denmark, in which men are challenged to prove their manliness by demonstrating the ‘vigour’ of their ‘guys’. A follow-up planned for Christmas is going to ask men to consider giving “an alternative Christmas gift”.

I’ll be delighted if either of these approaches works. But I wonder if they’ve learned as fully as they might, the lessons behavioural economics might teach.

In one sense it’s a bit like the Royal Marines campaign, which broadcasts the fact that 99% need not apply. “We’re only for the hardest nuts,” they say.

But the sperm-bank version would have to be – surely – “Have you got the ballsiest, bounciest swimmers in the business? (And are you also over 6’, handsome, intelligent, well adjusted and gainfully employed in a respected professional occupation). If so come and subject yourself to our test and win yourself the prize of wanking into a test-tube for four months in exchange for not much money and the eternal admiration of all your friends – who you’ll definitely tell straight away”.

Better surely to normalise the act of one-off donation, along the lines of blood donorship (where they don’t tell you – and please don’t ask – how many already donated blood samples need to be excluded from the transfusion bank).

That way the largest possible number of men could begin to imagine it was normal, your duty even, to donate, without becoming alarmed as to the potential consequences or commitment.

Once you’ve got your contingent of suitable donors in through the door, you could then explain what they’ve got themselves, and their “guys”, into.

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Advertising, Behaviour Change, Equality, Moral Decision Making, Persuasion, Social Decision Making

Can we all agree to agree? Just sometimes?

I listened to Peter Hitchens’ piece on Stigma yesterday evening on the wireless. You’ll be able to get the full blast on iPlayer for the next few days.

He was arguing that, whilst we often pretend that our society has moved beyond stigma as a controlling force, it is actually alive and well – in a new and disturbing form.

Stimga itself, he suggested, has become stigmatised.

Postulating critical or even questioning views on the situations and lifestyle choices of others is now beyond the pale.

Try and share any kind of non-majority opinion about the way someone else lives, and prepare to be hounded by the Twitterati and Arsebookers with their digital pitchforks and burning e-torches.

It made me wonder about the film we’ve just done for Stonewall, the LGB charity (www.NoBystanders.org.uk).

It launched last Friday at the Stonewall 25th anniversary dinner – and has subsequently been shared (a lot) online.

Übertweeters Caitlin Moran, Stephen Fry, Danii Minogue, Clare Balding, Dame Penelope Keith and countless millions of others have supported, much to our – and Stonewall’s – delight. The elusive Zeitgeist seems to be with us, for a change.

The idea behind it, on the eve of the first actual gay marriages, was to make two points:

Firstly, even in our apparently permissive society, gay people are still routinely teased, bullied and discriminated against in schools, in workplaces and in public areas, up and down the country.

Secondly, the roots of homophobic bullying are similar to bullying levelled against any kind of separately identifiable group (Jews, Blacks, Honkeys, Fatsos, Gingernuts, Spakkas etc.).

We’ve been talking to  Stonewall about beginning to move beyond the core constituency of gay people they represent, and the liberal intellectuals who support their objectives through an innate sense of socially progressive conviction.

With the big legislative battles more or less won, theoretical equality is sorted.

Now they need to find a way to engage with more socially conservative audiences, who probably still represent an overwhelming majority in the UK, even if they have been cowed into the state of seething, non-PC silence that P. Hitchens outlines.

In this case, it seemed we might be able to forge a bond of togetherness by talking about humans in general, rather than humans in particular: How we tend to define ourselves and our groups not by who we are, but by who we’re not.

My enemy’s enemy is my friend – as the old maxim goes.

Our little film begins in the playground, a place where even the most confident have felt the odd-pang of vulnerability as they suddenly find themselves on the outside of the group, rather than the in. For some, it’s the start of a life-time of alienation and abuse.

It attempts to recognise that gay people are not the only individuals who are marginalised because of things about which they can do little or nothing.

So are we just bullying people ourselves?

Foisting our liberal values on the poor traditionalists who cling to their view of the world as it was bequeathed to them by their forefathers?

Certainly one man seems to think so.

A brave lone voice in the relentless digital agreement-fest stands out. Here’s one of his (many) contributions:

RussellTweet

I truly believe no one at Stonewall wants to force their “perverted” way of life onto this dude. Nor do I.

Really.

We were only trying to see if non-gay people were as against bullying as gay people are. And whether we could forge a huge “alliance of the different” to challenge some of the worst excesses of human nature, that we all share.

Surely there are some things on which we can all agree to agree?

It makes me regret we didn’t include “Bigot” as one of the insults.

And to try and get Mr. Russell to realise he’s just like the rest of us – and welcome him to join us.

On the inside of the tent, pissing outwards.

http://youtu.be/agLrVvCUkzI

 

 

 

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Behavioural Economics, Marketing Strategy, Persuasion

When did you stop beating your customers?

I don’t for a moment imagine that the clever and experienced marketing people employed by Britain’s banks have failed to keep up with the latest thinking in behavioural economics. I know quite a few of them and they’re all super sharp cookies.

So I’m really scratching my swede as to why they’re all spending so much money reminding us how shabbily they’ve behaved for the last umpteen years.

 “We’ve changed,” they’re all shouting.

“We’re on your side now,” they’re all bleating.

“We’ll make things simple for you,” they’re all promising.

Virgin Money – who I never really lumped in with the “really-evils” anyway – are promising me “Banking you can see through”.

“I’ve always been able to see through it, matey,” I mutter to myself.

Every penny they spend reminds me about the problem. Every ad they issue makes me question (again) their motives.

And – as is usual in financial services – they’re all doing and saying the same things, reaching for the same solutions, exploiting the same insights, gleaned from the same customers, in the same focus groups, through the same research companies.

And they’re reminding me that banks are all still the same: still shit and still wishing they weren’t.

If you can’t be bothered to read “Thinking Fast & Slow”, I’ll give you something easier to absorb:

  1. Telling people you’ve changed just reminds them what a monster you used to be (people in advertising used to have a name for this phenomenon called, “When did you stop beating your wife?”)
  2. If you must advertise, find something you’re actually good at (perhaps even a little better at than others?) and try and make that thing desirable to the people you’re trying to attract (You may not succeed with everyone, but at least they won’t hate you for standing up for what you do best and trying to have a go)
  3. If there is literally nothing even potentially desirable about the things you do and the people you are, keep your head down, rather than flushing even more of your customers’ and your shareholders’ money down the bog.

As my hero Tom Lehrer once said, “I feel if a person can’t communicate, the very least they can do is to shut up”.

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Behaviour Change, Social Decision Making

Opening Isinbayeva’s mind

Minds are like parachutes, they say. They work best when they are open.

But actually most of our minds are closed most of the time. And it is extremely hard work opening them.

To the astonishment of most of her co-competitors, Yelena Isinbayeva, the world champion pole vaulter, spoke out yesterday defending the new Russian laws, which ban people from giving information about homosexuality to under-18s.

In fact it’s their astonishment that’s astonishing.

Building on the breakthrough work done in behavioural economics by Kahneman, Tversky and many others, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has built an impressive and persuasive theory about the nature of social and moral decision making.

He paints a picture of humans as “90% chimp, 10% bee”: Motivated predominantly by self-interest and the protection/promotion of small family groups, but also able to suppress [some] self-interest and make compromises in order to co-exist with other humans in larger groups that can compete more effectively.

Haidt provides compelling evidence that rational debate between opposing points of view rarely changes opinions. It seems we are all rubbish at seeking evidence in a balanced and objective way, to challenge the things we think we believe.

If we wish to believe, we seek evidence that supports our position. If we wish to disprove something, we search for the evidence that does that. In either case, we don’t search very hard. Changing our mind takes effort and uncertainty – two things we are genetically programmed to avoid.

Using the opinions and mores of those that surround is the most prevalent example of this predilection for idle evidence gathering. Ms. Isinbayeva, bolstered by the supposed authority provided by national legislation, presents Russians as distinct and different, “Maybe we are different than European people, than other people from different lands. We consider ourselves normal, standard people, we just live with boys with women, women with boys.”

Jonathan Haidt argues two primary prerequisites for opinion and behaviour change:

  1. You must feel you hold a minority opinion.
  2. Secondly, you must feel that, as a result of holding this minority opinion, you will be harshly judged or censured by a community of people whose views have an impact on your emotional or physical well-being.

This suggests that until the world’s community of athletes – Ms. Isinbayeva’s peers and her ‘professional’ society – becomes more important to her than her sense of identity as a Russian, her views will not change (assuming of course there is no unprecedented social and cultural liberal revolution in that country any time soon).

If we challenge her and threaten to strip her of her role as an Olympic Youth ambassador, the evidence suggests her position will only harden.

We need to embrace her and convince her that athletes are a world community and have an opportunity – even a responsibility – to act as an inspiration to everyone, beyond promoting narrow national interests. We need to persuade her that she can share in, benefit from and promote the progressive values this of this young, dynamic, international community, because of the admiration in which they are  held by us non-Olympians.

We need to show her she can be a citizen of the world, not just a pole-vaulting Russian.

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