social norms

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Enviromedia produces a new social norms ad about teen smoking in Texas.

The ad follows a similar structure to the “15 and falling” campaign about teen smoking in Canada by combining a descriptive norm message.

So do social norms ad targeted at teens need a dash of teen humor to make them stick?

The Nudge blog asked Enviromedia creative director Doug Irving for a peek behind the curtain about the ad’s origins. Doug said his team wasn’t aware of the “15 and falling ad” campaign, but definitely drew from the lessons of social norms work.

We knew from research (our own (qualitative research) and (the) Texas Dept. of State Health Services’ (quantitative research)) that peers are the biggest influencers among teen smokers. We’re also familiar with the power of social norming as a behavior-change and myth-busting technique. So when we came across a stat that so vividly illustrates how smoking has become a fringe habit, bingo…

That’s the science. As far as the art, we know you have to present your compelling fact in an entertaining way that cuts through the eight zillion other advertising messages teens have learned to tune out in a typical day. Humor isn’t the only way, but when it’s on the money, it’s hard to beat.

When our creative teams share their initial raw ideas, I’m searching for something that’s got the right balance between memorable, repeat-viewing-worthy weird and still delivering that message. Anything that drifts toward finger-wagging or adult versions of “cool” never makes it to the client meeting. If it makes everyone laugh the fifth time you present it, that’s a good sign.

In this case, spots involving a falconer, a coughed-up lung and the shushing foot seemed to hit the sweet spot. Some additional testing with teens in the target confirmed the foot as the winner. And here we are today.

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The follow-up to the terrific Embrace Life PSA about wearing seat belts. Tim Nudd’s assessment that this ad is not as “compelling and magical” as the original is spot on. Still, it’s a nice illustration of the power of social networks in shaping behavior.


Well, it’s still open for starters.

For every ten customers, Panera says six leave the amount suggested for each food item, two leave more, and two leave less, reports the Associated Press by way of the Washington Post. The most paid for one meal? $500.

Overall, the pay-what-you-want-cafe performs at about 80 percent of a similar retail store, which is enough to generate $3,000-$4,000 a month in “profits” that end up going to a job-training program for at-risk youths.

Only a few take advantage of the system — “lunch on Uncle Ron” as (Panera founder and Chairman Ronald Shaich) calls it. He still fumes over watching three college kids pay $3 for $40 worth of food. Generally, peer pressure prevents that sort of behavior, he said.

“It’s like parking in a handicapped spot,” Shaich said.



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1) Asked about what scientific concept would improve everyone’s cognitive toolkit, “Richard Thaler proposes attaching the word “aether” to substitute for any variable that is asserted rather than proven — so, “business aren’t investing because of aether,” as opposed to “businesses aren’t investing because of uncertainty,” writes Ezra Klein.

2) French government develops strategies for “green nudges.” Pdf of paper is here. Hat tip: Olivier Oullier

3) Progress Energy in North Carolina will begin showing people how their energy usages compares with that of their neighbors. Hat tip: Environmental Economics.

4) Impulse saving in India (at the end of the article).

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Too bad. Otherwise, they might try a different message.

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A classic Monty Python clip about the social norms around haggling, first spotted by Oliver Payne at the The Hunting Dynasty.

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Tampopo is a great classic Japanese comedy about food, but this scene is all about social norms.

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Spotted by Jon de Quidt, who thinks the statistic that 1 percent of youth commit serious violence sounds like a lot of youth. Wondering what constitutes “serious” violence?

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You may have heard about Panera Bread’s special non-profit store that it opened last month in St. Louis. Instead of charging for food, the store lets people pay what they wish, similar to the bagel or coffee donation box you might see in an company’s office. It’s too early to know how successful this venture will be, and what kind of information about it Panera will make available, but here’s a prediction: It won’t be all that successful. People will offer to pay a fraction of what the food retails for. Say, less than 50 percent, probably closer one-third the retail price.

Why? These sorts of pay-what-you-wish arrangements work best when the product is specifically not associated with a standard market, and therefore where social norms are likely to apply more strongly. Panera is a for-profit business that operates in a market environment. Opening a single non-profit store won’t change that, and the consumers who visit know it.

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The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health tried the guilt tactic in its anti-binge drinking campaign.

The National Social Norms Institute emphasized the moderate drinking that most students do in its anti-binge drinking campaign at Georgetown University.

Guess which one was more successful? Georgetown? Or Saskatchewan? It wasn’t even close.

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