4 Times Brands Nudged Customers to "Do the Right Thing"

Kindra Cooper

nudge marketing for brands

It’s indisputable that brands hold sway over our behavior - the aggregate of products and services we consume shapes the lifestyle we lead. Through choice architecture and nudge marketing, brands can induce their customers to adopt “socially desirable” behaviors like being polite, or jettison bad habits like smoking or texting while driving.

Recent nudge policies such as automatic voter registration and default opt-ins for organ donation make it hard to opt out of good behavior, while tax rebates for solar panels and home ownership facilitate opting in.

Brands can’t set legislation, but they can plant ideas in customers’ minds. In 2015, the European Brands Association launched an online, open-source toolkit to help marketers Nudge for Good by using the power of brands to make it easier for consumers to adopt healthier lifestyles.

“Brands have a deep knowledge of consumer behavior and marketers manage the most influential touchpoints as choice architects,” the organization, which represents brand manufacturers in Europe, claims in an introductory video on ‘Nudge for Good.’

“This is why they are in the best position to play a positive role in helping to accelerate some behavioral changes towards healthier and more sustainable lifestyles.”

But composting or eating healthy can be more expensive and time-consuming than the default MO of the average joe - eating fast food, not recycling - so the most influential nudge campaigns design an experience that creates value for customers.

“The most powerful brands in the world help customers realize some aspect of their own potential.” - BrandTrust

Here are four examples of behaviors brands have tried to induce - some noble, some debatable.

Google, Amazon and assorted coffee shops want you to be polite

A plague of impoliteness caused by waning attention spans and instant gratification is gripping the nation’s children - or at least that’s what skeptics of virtual assistants want you to believe. Researchers warn that kids who grow up accustomed to barking orders at an Amazon Alexa or Google Home might be inconsiderate in later dealings with humans. For others, it’s a matter of personal guilt.

google_homeChaim Gartenberg, a tech reporter at The Verge, installed smartlights in his apartment, which he switched on and off using Siri voice command. “Demanding that my phone turn on and off the lights started feeling weird to say aloud,” he writes, “which got me wondering: Was I being rude to my smartphone?”

Google Home responded last week by launching an optional Pretty Please feature which rewards polite behavior with “delightful responses.” The device will acknowledge requests that include a “please” or a “thank you” by saying something like: “Thanks for asking so nicely” or “You’re welcome.” Meanwhile, Amazon’s Alexa trotted out the ‘Magic Word’ feature as part of Free Time, a range of child-specific features and content, which can counter impolite demands with: “Say the magic word.”

“I’m polite to my smart assistants because I want to be polite to people too,” Gartenberg writes. “And reinforcing rude habits seems like a bad idea.”

Speaking of rude habits, a number of coffee shops around the world have experimented with “politeness pricing” in a bid to improve the customer experience by deterring stressed-out customers from being rude to baristas. CUPS Coffee & Tea in Roanoke, VA, offered three tiers of pricing for a cup of coffee, ranging from $5 to $1.75 based on whether or not customers greet the barista and say “please.”

A cafe in Nice, France did the same, aiming for a virtuous cycle of happier employees leading to better service and a better customer experience for all. “People are more relaxed now and they’re smiling more,” the owner of La Petite Syrah told The Local. “That’s the most important thing.”

Restaurants and university professors want you to put down your smartphone

A mobile app called Pocket Points rewards university students for not using their smartphones during class with points they can redeem at local businesses. Students earn one point for every 20 minutes their smartphone stays locked once the app confirms their location. As of March this year, the app had spread to over 400 colleges, according to the Chicago Tribune, with university professors recommending it to their students in hopes of improving their grades by reducing in-class distractions.

Meanwhile, a number of eateries have begun incentivizing customers to confiscate their phones for the duration of the meal so they pay full attention to the people they’re dining with instead of intermittently checking emails and text messages. Contact Bar and Kitchen in Sydney, for instance, offers restaurant-goers a free glass of wine if they let staff lock away their phones until the end of the visit.

At the high-end Petit Jardin in Montpellier, France, waiters blow whistles on customers who are caught using their phone; two-time offenders are ousted. The rationale for this is the customer experience: restaurants are capitalizing on our nomophobia (fear of missing out if we don’t check our phones) to offer an environment where we can escape it, while trying to create a lighter atmosphere overall where diners can relax and enjoy conversation.

Special K wants you to eat cereal for breakfast and lunch - for two whole weeks

Kelloggs’ Special K Challenge was designed to encourage a high-fiber diet, while supposedly empowering consumers to lose six pounds in two weeks. But this nudge campaign had an ostensible profit motive: increasing uptake of Special K products by changing its perception as a breakfast item to a lifestyle product. The diet prescribed Special K with skim milk for breakfast and lunch, two snacks that were either fruit, vegetables or a Special K product, followed by a regular dinner.

Clever marketing masked the fact that it was a short-term crash diet with no recommended changes to overall lifestyle - other than to consume an excess of Special K cereal for 14 days. Even Kellogg’s CEO John Bryant conceded in a 2015 earnings conference call that the company was “basically asking people to deprive themselves where they have less calories.”

The diet plan has been removed from its website, and the brand has since distanced itself from diet-focused messaging. In May 2017, Special K debuted a female empowerment TV ad titled ‘Own It,’ which hinted at the importance of a balanced diet, stating: “[Women] run marathons, companies, and solve problems. How? We eat.”

Con Edison wants you to cut your energy use

In a bid to distance itself from the bad press constantly trailing utility companies, Con Edison encourages its customers to conserve energy through its Energy Saving Program. It does so by dangling the carrot of a reduced energy bill as a result of refraining from high energy use during peak hours (8AM-midnight) and offering cash incentives for installing energy-efficient electric and gas equipment such as heating, AC, refrigerators and more under the Equipment Rebate Program.

Customers can also opt to share their data with third party companies to analyze and receive recommendations on their energy consumption through a smartphone app or web product. The app can also help you choose energy-saving appliances or suggest improvements to your heating and cooling system.

While there’s obviously a profitable partnership between Con Edison and the undisclosed “third party,” Con Edison benefits from more than just good PR; its customers feel that they are aligned with a brand that shares their values and cares about affordability.

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