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So here's the ChangingMinds Blog, from site author, David Straker. This is my more personal ramblings, though mostly about changing minds in some shape or form. Please do add your comments via the archive or the right-hand column below.  -- Dave


Sunday 20-April-14

Negative online reviews: the surprising effects

Do you check what other people have said online before buying things? Very likely you do. A recent 'YouGov' study showed Amazon, Tripadvisor and Yelp to be top 'goto' sites for reviews. It's a phenomenon of the modern age that we can get what we hope is honest, unfiltered opinion on pretty much anything. I'm sure it's one of the keys to Amazon's success and I certainly take notice of what others say.

Reviews, however, are not necessarily accurate. A whole industry has sprung up of people who will, for a price, write nice things about you product all over the place. They will also, even more deceptively, write nasty things about your competitors. A way to detect these types of review is that they are often very short, typically along the lines of 'this product is terrible' and little else. By comparison, more honest reviews tend to tell a story, explaining why the product didn't work for them.

But what people who criticize products do not realize is that when we are reading their reviews, we are also judging them. If they seem like grumpy, unpleasant people who criticize and little else, then we will take less note of their comments. On the other hand, if they seem normal, giving good reason for problems, then we are more likely to believe their reviews. Beyond this again, if they seem like really nice people, being almost apologetic in their criticism, then a curious reversal can happen.

If a reviewer is particularly nice, showing themselves to be decent people by using terms such as 'I'll be honest,' and 'I don't want to be mean, but...', then people reading their negative comments are far less likely to view the product as being poor, perhaps thinking that this is a rare occurrence. In one piece of research people were willing to pay $41 more for a watch if they read a negative but polite online review.

When do negative reviews increase sales? Perhaps being critical, particularly in an area or at a level unimportant to the reader, shows the reviewer to be more honest and so what positive things they say are treated more seriously. There can even be an associative effect. The honest person has associated themselves with the product, so the product gains credibility from that person, more so perhaps than a similar, competing product.

Hamilton, R. Vohs, K.D. and McGill, A.L. (2014). We’ll Be Honest, This Won’t Be the Best Article You’ll Ever Read: The Use of Dispreferred Markers in Word-of-Mouth Communication, Journal of Consumer Research, (forthcoming)

Sunday 16-March-14

Thinking about death

It's not something we do too much of. Even though we know we will die some day, we tend to ignore this and act as if we are going to live forever. In our deep need for identity, the thought of not existing is so painful we blot it out. Yet sometimes we have to think about death, most typically when somebody we care about dies. We look at the coffin and wonder, 'Where did the person go?' And we shudder at thoughts of our own mortality and hope to get out of there as soon as is decent.

I have seen something of death, as my mother and elder sister each died slowly of cancer, knowing that the end was in sight. My sister managed it very well. She separated death from dying, reasoning that while dying may not be too comfortable, she would either not experience being dead or be in some kind of heaven.

A typical response to being faced with death is to become more religious. In times of war, pestilence and other great threat, people flock to churches and pray hard for life. Jessica Tracy and colleagues did some interesting research that showed the way that thoughts of death changed people's thoughts of God. In particular, the idea of Intelligent Design appealed more (and the ideas of evolutionary theory less). The basic ID reasoning that the order in the universe can't have just happened, so there must be some intelligence behind it all.

Most, but not all, people are swayed by thoughts of death. The people who Jessica Tracy found kicked back hard were those trained in the natural sciences. Their beliefs in science had been so deeply embedded by their training that they saw ID as a threat, even when considering their own mortality.

I've long held the view that if God exists, it's not as an old chap on a cloud, but something beyond my understanding. So it would be a bit arrogant to deny the possibility of him/her/it existing. Yet by the same reasoning, it would also be rather arrogant to believe that I understood God. I also do not make direct correlation between God and death. The existence of a greater intelligence does not mean I will survive (in whatever form) after death.

Yet I also know that my views are not necessarily true as, ultimately, truth is a personal construct. Belief is assumed truth, and we each have the capacity to assume. And all this rambling is perhaps just another displacement, intellectualizing about beliefs in order to avoid thinking about death. My belief about death is that it is life's last great adventure. As I shuffle off these mortal coils, if I still have some form cognitive functioning beyond brain death, it'll be a new journey of understanding. And if there's nothing there, then as my sister concluded, that won't be a problem either.

Tracy, J., Hart, J., and Martens, J. (2011). Death and Science: The Existential Underpinnings of Belief in Intelligent Design and Discomfort with Evolution. PLoS ONE, 6 (3)

Sunday 09-March-14

The Value of Time

How much do you value time? Do you love every minute, carefully? Do you chew every mouthful like a tasty meal? Do you see infinity in a grain of sand? Or does time flash by and you wonder where it is gone. Mostly likely you are too busy to notice the passing moments, let alone days and years.

A curious question around this is that young people seem to value their time less, while older people value it more and a dying person grasps desperately for one more moment. 'Where did the time go?' is a common and perplexed complaint that even the young may experience.

Here's a simple formula that can help explain this:

Let V = value I place on my life
Let N = the number of years I think I've got left
Let y = the value I place on the coming year
Let d = the value I place on today

Then y = V/N
And d = y/365 = V/(N*365)

This shows how we spread value outwards. Money is similar. If I have a million dollars, then I care little about ten dollars. But if I have only twenty dollars, then ten dollars is represents half my total wealth and I value it greatly.

(For the technical, time appreciation probably has an exponential basis as we discount future value. This model uses an inverse law for which value drops off rapidly in the same way as a negative exponential curve).

To appreciate each day (and dollar) more, change your formula. Value your life more. The time of your life is all you've got to have the time of your life. Spend each moment as if you were a poor person spending their money.

So when you think about time:

  • Look back with appreciation, not regret.
  • Look forward with excitement, not fear.
  • And look at now with wonder and gratitude.

Sunday 02-March-14

Mindfulness and sunk costs

The Sunk-Cost Effect is a pernicious little trick that our minds play on us where we get rather paranoid about the money we have spent or the effort we have expended. It is as if you have dug a hole looking for treasure, then learn that you are unlikely to find the pot of gold where you are, but still keep digging as not only do you do not want to waste the work you have already done, you would also feel rather embarrassed to have to admit you had made a mistake.

So how can we get over this? What is the best way to admit that the investment didn't work and to get out while the going is if not good, then not as bad as if we kept going.

Mindfulness is an odd kind of method that crosses over from esoteric Eastern religion into serious Western science. It typically involves a kind of meditation where you calmly focus on a single item and enter some kind of light trance state. Andrew Hafenbrack and colleagues got subjects to practice mindfulness in just fifteen minutes of guided, breathing-based meditation, and then tested them for vulnerability to the sunk-cost effect. Remarkably, their susceptibility to this common cognitive bias was significantly reduced.

The likely reason for this happening is that mindfulness pulls you into the present moment, letting go troubles of the past. When making decisions where there is a sunk cost, your focus on the present will naturally pull you away from the past. This is all good for removing negative effects, but it is not always a good idea as sometimes understanding the past can be very helpful in making wise decisions. Mindfulness is still useful for letting go of troublesome history, but it needs to be coupled with calm consideration of the lessons of the past which may lead to an every better decision.

Hafenbrack A.C., Kinias Z., & Barsade S.G. (2014). Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias. Psychological Science, 25, 2, 369-376

Sunday 23-February-14

Inspirational Messages and Rants

I just read this post, which is a rant about people posting 'inspirational messages', those brief exhortations to be good or happy that litter Facebook and office walls.

In the manner of many rants, the poster uses copious insults, accusing the reader of being a 'dumbass' and more. So why should insulting me persuade me? Why didn't I stop reading after the first unpleasantness? I was certainty tempted but I read on, curious to know what would make a person so angry and whether they might offer good reasoning.

Oops. I'm already persuaded. To read, at least.

Ranting is even more effective when face-to-face. We attend to angry people, perhaps because we are concerned, but often because of the anger message of 'if you do not listen I will hurt you'. It is not nice, but anger often works as an attentional and maybe persuasive device.

But anger does not create truth, even though the angry person wants it to. The ranter's logic starts with reason but descends into the slippery slope fallacy of showing that inspirational messages do not apply to every situation (and hence, fallaciously, to no situation).

Looking beyond the foolishness, there is some reason here. Blindly accepting exhortations of any kind is no substitute for thinking. And acceptance is not enacting. As the ranter points out, being happy is often harder than wanting to be happy.

A real danger of inspirational messages is that they become mental candy, delightful moments of sweetness that change nothing. There is also the danger of being numbed by their frequency or even reacting against their controlling intent.

The answer, as ever, is to think. Enjoy the buzz of inspiration, then muse on how you could act differently as a result. You do not need to be a perfect person, but perhaps these little messages can help you to be, on average, happier. And in this troubled world, surely that is a good thing.

Sunday 16-February-14

Lesson Plans that Work

My wife is a former teacher, whose latter years were blighted by a young head of department who seemed to think formal, written plans was essential for the success of every lesson. By charting the teaching, moment by moment, the principle suggests a controlled march towards universal learning.

But lessons are not that simple. First, children learn differently and at different rates. Their motivations also vary wildly as they struggle towards adulthood. Teaching is more like herding cats than marching soldiers. If you try to force the plan, you will get either mystified compliance or outright rebellion.

So should you just not plan? Should you start with a general intent and feel your way forward? Somehow this seems just as blind and progress is likely to be slow.

In practice, my wife never stopped planning. She was constantly thinking, collating materials and preparing for every one of her lessons ahead. Contrast this with the formal planner who sits down, devises a plan, writes it out, then goes off to do other things. When you complete a task, you get mental closure, whereby you can let go of it, putting it behind you. Who, do you think, was most ready for their lessons?

In fact in a recent revelation, my wife realized that most of all she was preparing herself. With all the thought beforehand, she could walk into the classroom confident and ready for anything.

Formal planning can yet be a good thing. For the inexperienced it is a discipline that can help marshal their thoughts. If you are working in a team, it is a useful shared communication. It can also be a record that may be re-used at a future date.

Formal planning can also create a paper mountain that is never used again. My wife talked often about her teaching within the department, seeking ideas and freely sharing things she had found effective. In this way she influenced not just her students (many of who still communicate with her, years after they left school), but also other teachers. I suspect that if she just wrote it down and filed it, then few if any would have read it, let along have gained the benefit of a dynamic conversation.

Eisenhower said 'Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.' It seems he was right.

Sunday 09-February-14

Pretend to sleep: it's good for you!

The placebo effect is a well-known phenomenon, where people believe their doctors can heal them and that pills prescribed will be effective. This belief is so strong that even taking pills with no medicine contained (placebos) can lead to an improvement. This is the power of belief, of mind-over-body even to the point of combating illness.

Now researchers have taken it a weird step further. Building on work by Tang and Harvey (2004), Draganich and Erdal (2014) told half their sleep-monitored subjects that they had 16.2 percent REM sleep the previous night, which indicates poor sleep quality. The other half were told they had a healthy 28.7 percent REM sleep. Then they were given a difficult arithmetic task, in which those who thought they'd had a good night's sleep outperformed those who thought their REM sleep was limited. Further research also confirmed that belief that a person has slept well leads to a superior performance.

So if you want a friend to do well in a taxing task, tell them that they slept well, perhaps mentioning evidence such as that they were snoring loudly! Maybe even you can act in ways that suggest to your own subconscious that you slept well, stretching well in the morning and telling yourself you have had a good nights sleep. Try it and see what happens.

Draganich C, and Erdal K (2014). Placebo Sleep Affects Cognitive Functioning. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory and Cognition.

Tang, N.K.Y. and Harvey, A.G. (2004). Correcting distorted perception of sleep in insomnia: a novel behavioural experiment? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 27-39

Sunday 02-Feb-14


What is inertialessness? I had a conversation about it recently with a friend who writes the splendid Sources of Insight web. It's an idea I played with years ago for an organizational design that allows it to turn on a penny, and has a general focus on change.

Here's notes I made about it.

The physical principles of inertia are a good metaphor for how it could work in a company. Newton’s first law and all that. As a first notion, I like this definition:

Inertia: the resistance an object has to a change in its state of motion.

Inertia is measured as resistance to change in rotation.

I = m x r^2

Where I = moment of inertia, m = mass and r = distance between axis and rotation mass.

Total inertia is also a summation: I = ∑i mi ri2 = m1 r12 + m2 r22 + ..... + mnrn2

You can do something like this with companies, too, summing the effective mass and virtual distance.

So mass is important as is the distance of the center of gravity from the turn point. How do you measure mass? Maybe by resource, a combination of heads, resources and investment (because surely the past is very influential in organizational inertia).An easy way to inertialessness is to outsource everything, sustaining only a very small core (it’s almost the man and dog story). I’d suspect you can do a lot in here with crowds and clouds.

Where are the turn points and center of gravity in companies? Note how distance is squared, making this a highly influential factor. How can you bring the turn points closer to the center? In the information and communication age, there’s few excuses.

Mostly resistance is about people. It happens in heads and there’s much to do in reducing resistance to change. In Tai Chi, the exponent feels the root of the other and breaks it, constantly keeping them unstable so they can be moved anywhere quickly. Related to this, it’s about being on the edge, between order and chaos, stability and shift, and so on.

A way to destabilize is to sustain an experimental culture. Rapid innovation, development, failure and learning. And to sustain this passion without wearing people out means celebrating every stage, so even when they’re failing, people feel like they are contributing. We’ve all been on projects that got canned and seen other folks get all the credit just because their project somehow got past random hurdles. There’s also a role in all this for a corporate jester, a truth teller, a stimulator, a shaker of inertial thinking.

Inertialessness also needs sensitivity to external forces. Companies aren’t moved unless they feel the force, and sometimes they are so aerodynamic the winds of change blow right past them, at least until the hurricane picks them up and breaks them. The filter from detection to decision also may well need attention. It’s easy to either filter out the diamonds or get smothered by the dirt.

Sunday 26-January-14

Beautiful Adverts

Adverts use a range of techniques, from the hard-sell approach with rapid assertive talk and pushing the product at every point, to soft-sell dreamy scenes where you think 'that's nice, but what are they selling?' Clearly they all can work, otherwise they would not be used. Advertising is not an exact science, but it is something like evolution: experiments shows what works. It's a big-bucks game and finding a new formula can have significant returns.

We all know that sex sells (at least in the right context), but what about beauty? Can you use beautiful people in adverts with the insinuation that if you use the product, then by association you will be beautiful too? And indeed it works, as the many adverts with pretty people proves.

In recent research, Debra Trampe and colleagues asked 150 subjects to rate four versions of a product poster. The poster was for either a diet product or a deodorant, and used female models with either a standard body or a with their body 'digitally enhanced' to look leaner and more attractive. Also, half the subjects were told they would have to write a review of the product, which forced them to think harder about it, while the other half were just asked for first impressions.

Those subjects who gave only first impressions rated both products higher when the more attractive model was used in the poster. Those who had to think about the product rated the diet product higher for the attractive model, but were not swayed by beauty in the advert for deodorant. A second study using shampoo and a home computer confirmed the findings.

The bottom line is that, aside from ethical concerns, there seems to be little harm in using beauty in much advertising, although sometimes, including when the product is beauty-irrelevant and the viewer is paying close attention, it adds no value.

It is also possible that beauty can be harmful, for example where you want the viewer to associate more with the person in the advert. For this, many adverts now use 'people like me'. Cleaning products is typical. At one time this was shown using a primly-dressed housewife. These days it is more likely to be a harried person with kids rushing all over the place.

Trampe, D., Stapel, D., Siero, F., and Mulder, H. (2010). Beauty as a tool: The effect of model attractiveness, product relevance, and elaboration likelihood on advertising effectiveness. Psychology and Marketing, 27 (12), 1101-1121

Sunday 19-January-14

Signal to Noise

A useful principle, taken from the world of electronics, is 'signal to noise'. Radio, audio and other signals pick unwanted variation as electrons and magnetic waves pass through resistors, transistors and other components. The result is noise that you can hear on audio signals and see on TV screens. Electronic designers work hard to reduce this, seeking to make noise proportionately tiny in comparison with the desired original signal.

In broader life, 'noise' can represent any unwanted element that obscures what you really want, from the chatter of others in a noisy party to unnecessary discussion in a business presentation.

A way of thinking about signal-to-noise is 'useful to useless' or even 'helpful to hindrance' as noise can be obscuring as well as a minor irritation, particularly if it increases to higher levels. At first party chatter can be ignored but as it gets louder it makes others harder to hear.

Perfection is often impossible and a practical ratio may be better. For example in playing games, the best ratio is often around 3:1, where you spend 75% of your time doing interesting things and 25% in housekeeping and other supportive actions.

A critical activity in many situations is reducing noise. This is important early on when the signal is amplified (and the noise with it) or where the signal and noise become so entangled that later attempts to disentangle them become increasingly difficult.

So whatever you are doing, ask yourself 'What is the important signal and what is the worthless or troublesome noise?' Then seek to avoid or get rid of the noise as early as possible.

Sunday 12-January-14

How to make a video go viral

Videos are all the thing now, and a YouTube channel is often considered an essential part of a social media campaign. But with all the amazing videos out there, how do you get yours to go viral?

Well, fortunately for us, researcher Rosanna Guadagno and her colleagues decided to find out. They recruited 256 students to watch one of ten videos, then asked them how they felt and whether they planned to forward the video to other people. They started with cute, funny, disgusting and anger-inducing videos, with boring control videos on cross stitching and basket making (well, boring for most people, they thought).

It turns out that it's all about arousal, which is one of our three key CIA Needs. We all like to be aroused, to experience emotions and 'feel alive'. Even negative emotions can be desirable, especially if we are also feel safe, such as when you go to see a horror movie (if that's how you like to get aroused).

What Guadagno found was that, in order of likelihood of being forwarded to other people (most likely first), the key emotions to elicit in your video are:

  • Positive emotions
  • Feelings of alertness and attentiveness
  • Negative emotions
  • No emotion

It is perhaps unsurprising that people will forward videos that make them feel good. More surprising, perhaps is that they will also forward disgusting and annoying videos (which seemed to trigger further arousal, not just negative). This may also be explained as negative emotions can often be stronger than positive ones.

Curiously, in further research it was found that anger-inducing videos were more likely to be forwarded when they were received from what the students thought were people from other universities, rather than their own. Perhaps this was to support negative views of other universities or perhaps to avoid having negative emotions associated with friends. As videos are often shared between friends, then trying to negative emotions in your promotions, even though they are powerful, can be a bad idea unless you are bypassing the friend-sharing route.

It can also help hugely if you can pass the video to people who have a large following, such as journalists and celebrities. Many innovations and businesses got their kick start that way, when someone famous got hold of it and just sent a single tweet. So the next question is 'How do you get a celeb to watch your video', which is perhaps an even bigger challenge. If you don't have a hotline to a famous person, then perhaps you should start working on the people they know and follow.

Rosanna E. Guadagnoa, Daniel M. Rempalab, Shannon Murphy and  Bradley M. Okdied (2013). What makes a video go viral? An analysis of emotional contagion and Internet memes. Computers in Human Behavior DOI:

Sunday 04-January-14

Passion and antipassion

Should you follow your passion? Many think so, and it certainly makes sense. If there is something that you like doing, then why not do it. Make it central to your life and career.

But it is not that easy.

For a start, few people have a single driving passion. We may have a range of things we like doing, but diving headlong into one of these could drain our enthusiasm for it. Making models, for example, may be a fun hobby, but a constant pressure to deliver if you did it full time could kill the leisurely pleasure of taking time and seeking perfection.

In practice, you have to try in order to know if something can be a sustained passion, which in the real world leads to job-hopping. Regularly changing jobs can certainly help you explore, but this is not free. At each switch you start from the bottom, which can dent any career progression even as it gives you helpful breadth and self-knowledge. Employers like neat resumes and aren't keen on letting you just 'try stuff'.

Another reality is that happiness at work is often as much social as technical. It is more often good colleagues and managers that make it fun and productive rather than passion or pure skill.

Consider the 'triple job dilemma'. In priority order, you want: (a) something you enjoy doing, (b) something you are able to do, and (c) something where you will be paid enough to support the lifestyle you want. The dilemma is that you have to do it backwards. If nobody will pay you, then how will you live? The very common result is work you can tolerate but don't love.

When I was young, a wise old uncle said 'You can't always do what you like, but you can like what you do.' I took the advice to heart and have had a varied and always enjoyable career. With an 'antipassion' approach, I've looked first for decently paid jobs, then worked like crazy to build skills, and along the way looked for how I could enjoy it all. Sure, I've had restarts, but, it has mostly worked and has never been boring. Eventually it all kind of converged and I found myself with a unique perspective that helped me to some well-paid and enjoyable work even as others were holding their breath and hoping to reach retirement before the axe of redundancy fell.

In this reversal, passion comes from work and choice rather than magically being there, in full strength, from beginning to end. Sure, some things didn't work out, others faded, and new possibilities tempted change, but most of all a positive attitude gave me motivation and helped me succeed.

Sunday 22-December-13

The Flight of Time

This time last year we'd just moved to the Welsh countryside and were covered in boxes. And now, a year has flown by. We've rebuilt the kitchen, the main bedroom, repainted loads and replace a roof. We've also grown vegetables and started to figure out what we'll do when all the DIY is done.

It's been quite an experience. But most of all, the experience has been of time flying by. We're both relatively recently retired, a state which has the effect of breaking the pattern of getting up at what used to be 5am for the long commute into London. The weekends back then used to mean something, but now it's just when the shops get busier. There was an amusing quote on TV's Downton Abbey just after it started, when the dowager countess looked mystified when somebody mentioned the weekend. 'A weekend? What's that?' she queried. Only now do I really get it.

I still work on the website and do occasional consulting contracts, but the weekends that were such a relief from the intensity of a 'proper job' now are just as busy as other days. And it has been pretty much non-stop. We may get up as late as 9 or 10am, but by that time I've spent several hours writing or researching. I've a seven inch Nexus tablet which means I can work when I'm horizontal as well as when I'm out in town. After the daily write-fest, I get on with the house work, which currently is a complete revamp of the main bathroom. When the weather improves, there'll be more outside as I've covered up a big area with black plastic and will be growing lots of our own vegetables. And one of the great luxuries of retirement is being able to spend more time with my wife, who's also highly practical about the house and garden.

Time. It's the great leveller. No matter who you are, we each have the same amount each day. While physicists know it as one of the great variables, along with space, energy and matter, it is experienced very differently by each of us (and each of us experience it differently every day). While solid things stay the same size, time seems to speed up or slow down depending on your situation. Yet as we get older, so I've found, it just accelerates more and more. It seems that there's an inverse law involved: the less time you have left, the faster it goes and more precious it becomes. One day, I'll hit the end-stops and then maybe get some empirical evidence of what happens when we die (or not, as the case may be). But until then I'm going to live as much as I can. And that is one of the joys of retirement -- you are in charge, at last, of the whole day.

So whether you are young and carefree with your life stretching out seemingly infinitely before you, or like me you're making the most of your final years, please do have a splendid seasonal break, whatever your beliefs may be.

And do enjoy every fleeting moment.

Sunday 15-December-13

What is 'easy'?

Have you ever thought something quite easy, told someone else about it, then been baffled as they find difficulty in doing it or just argued that they could not do it.

The problem lies in the way we decide. While the most accurate way is to seek facts and understand chains of cause and effect, in practice much of our decision-making is based in emotion. In fact the final choice always has some emotional content.

A confounding factor here is that our need to appear reasonable means we like to explain our actions (to ourselves too). So when we make a decision based on emotion we have to back-fill our reasoning, which can lead to some pretty strange-sounding rationales.

We also need to feel capable and in control. No matter how easy someone else says a task is, if we hold even the slightest fear we may fail, then we convince ourselves that the task is not that easy, and should either be put off or ignored altogether.

So next time somebody is cautious when you have asked them to do something easy, don't just say 'it's easy!' Try to understand it as emotionally difficult and modify your persuasions accordingly

Sunday 08-December-13

All day breakfast

Breakfast is a meal we eat first thing in the morning, when we literally break the fast of the night's sleep. Yet many eating places advertise 'All day breakfast'. So what is this all about?

Breakfast in most places is served only in the morning, giving way to lunch around midday. This gives it a scarcity aspect, which makes it more desirable as we want what we cannot have. Breakfast is also generally a meal people like as they may well not have eaten for 12 hours or so.

So suddenly being allowed to have 'breakfast' any time of day might well seem like a splendid idea. It may well not be breaking any fast, but just the name and associated pleasurable thoughts is enough to make it terribly tempting.

Sunday 01-December-13

Christmas Adverts

It's Christmas and advertisers are going into overdrive as they try to get people to buy their products for Christmas presents. And unsurprising really, as many retailers take a large proportion of their profits in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

So perhaps it would not be unusual to expect some hard selling techniques. Yet, in the UK at least, many retailers take an opposite approach. Rather than say 'buy here, now!' they go for the warm fuzzy feeling, with pictures of smiling people, hugging and having fun, all accompanied by nice, friendly music. These adverts are seldom short and often employ such as animations or multiple celebrities, making them very expensive. Often, they are like little movies all of their own. They are particularly popular with big stores and chains such as Marks and Spencer, and John Lewis. Coca Cola also gets in on the act with illuminated trucks jingling through the world like an urban santa's sleigh. Interestingly, just who they are advertising is not always clear even until the very end.

What is happening here is that the advertisers are tapping into the emotions of Christmas, including happiness and family closeness. They are putting a lot of effort into making you feel good, then (and only then) connecting into the brand. Perhaps also they are creating a reciprocal obligation where you feel so grateful to them for being nice, you want to give something back by shopping with them.

For a collection of UK adverts this season, an easy place to start is in the Metro's Battle of the Christmas Adverts. Note that several are over two minutes long!

Your Comments

  I read your "Wooing Journalists" piece under the 'Analysis' tab, as well as this article.  You mentioned 'reciprocal obligation', which is the mechanism at work for both articles.  I once worked for a national (U.S.) builder that bought most of it's lumber from one corporation.  The account was worth $millions.  Each year, the lumber corp. awarded free trips to Las Vegas where the builder's employees were treated lavishly.  We reciprocated by continuing to buy from that lumber company.  The thought occurred to me that our U.S. politicians are treated the same way by lobbyists.  While the practice is supposed to be illegal, they still find ways to get around the law.  Politicians are no strangers to reciprocal obligation.  They woo the voters and journalists alike, just as they are wooed by the lobbyists.

 -- Eric

Dave replies:
Indeed, Eric. Back scratching is alive and well around the world. While democracy and civilization should minimize it, human nature (including simple greed as well as obligation) fights for it.


For more, see the ChangingMinds Blog! Archive or the Blogs by subject. To comment on any blog, click on the blog either in the archive or in the column to the right.


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20-Apr-14: Negative online reviews: the surprising effects


16-Mar-14: Thinking about death

14-Mar-14: The Value of Time

02-Mar-14: Mindfulness and sunk costs


23-Feb-14: Inspirational Messages and Rants

16-Feb-14: Lesson Plans that Work

09-Feb-14: Pretend to sleep: it's good for you!

02-Feb-14: Inertialessness


26-Jan-14: Beautiful Adverts

19-Jan-14: Signal to Noise

12-Jan-14: How to make a video go viral

05-Jan-14: Passion and antipassion


22-Dec-13: The Flight of Time

15-Dec-13: What is 'easy'?

08-Dec-13: All day breakfast

01-Dec-13: Christmas Adverts


24-Nov-13: Apology and trust

17-Nov-13: How about that, then

10-Nov-13: Culture, Courage and Whistleblowers

03-Nov-13: Smile and Survive


27-Sep-13: The Garden of Words

20-Sep-13: Weird old tips

13-Sep-13: The Business Dinner


29-Sep-13: Line breaks and holding attention

22-Sep-13: How to remember 60,000 words

15-Sep-13: Email spam and subject titles

08-Sep-13: Remember your grandparents!

01-Sep-13: A Tale of Two Doctors


25-Aug-13: How to handle men in three easy steps

18-Aug-13: I'm glad I'm not a woman

11-Aug-13: Be more dog

04-Aug-13: How the Mighty Fall: The Three Ages of the Great Company


28-Jul-13: The formation of value words

21-Jul-13: How to demotivate children (and teachers)

14-Jul-13: Why science and religion are the same

07-Jul-13: Sell food to hungry people


30-Jun-13: Principles of Persuasive Design

23-Jun-13: Boosting minority performance

16-Jun-13: What's in a name? It depends how you make it

09-Jun-13: Gripping fun

02-Jun-13: To hell with it


26-May-13: The smell of anxiety

19-May-13: Happiness, Busy-ness and Laziness

12-May-13: The simple complexity of avoidant instructions

05-May-13: Asking for the Truth


21-Apr-13: Blue Lights Behind

14-Apr-13: What is winning?

07-Apr-13: The three Ls of a good marriage


31-Mar-13: Extremism and Anger

24-Mar-13: The Cult of the Average

17-Mar-13: Being Welsh

10-Mar-13: The Purpose of Art

03-Mar-13: Selling to job-hunters


24-Feb-13: The flattering mirror

17-Feb-13: Does money make you happy?

10-Feb-13: Deconstructing 'Keep Calm and Carry On'

03-Feb-13: More Good Service


27-Jan-13: Hey, your computer booted up 102% quicker!

20-Jan-13: Air fresheners and adaptation

13-Jan-13: Famous for fifteen minutes

06-Jan-13: Doggy game theory


30-Dec-12: Luck, numbers and wishful thinking

21-Dec-12: The End of the World

16-Dec-12: Negative negotiations

09-Dec-12: Getting good service

02-Dec-12: Our helpful brains


18-Nov-12: Moving house, nudging lawyers

11-Nov-12: Basically...

04-Nov-12: Thinking, walking and multitasking


26-Oct-12: The Bond Blitz

19-Oct-12: Photos and credibility

12-Oct-12: Men, women, crisis and leadership

05-Oct-12: Valuable giveaways


28-Sep-12: Divided by a common language?

07-Sep-12: Don't name the pig


31-Aug-12: Connecting hearts

24-Aug-12: Face learning

17-Aug-12: Listening to friends

10-Aug-12: Oooh, hello!

03-Aug-12: How to reduce eating


27-Jul-12: A teacher's end

20-Jul-12: Cheating, criminalizing and confession

13-Jul-12: Emotionally intelligent signage and traffic calming

06-Jul-12: Getting kids to eat their food


29-Jun-12: Avoidant instructions

22-Jun-12: A public revenge

15-Jun-12: Intelligent advertising

08-Jun-12: Hot desking and human adaptability

01-Jun-12: Here and there


25-May-12: Connecting with celebs

18-May-12: Truth, lies and drawings

11-May-12: Selling raffle tickets

05-May-12: Attentional bias and religion


27-Apr-12: The limits of advertising

20-Apr-12: Selling the house

13-Apr-12: Assertion or Persuasion in Politics

06-Apr-12: Customer service language


30-Mar-12: Managing and measuring

23-Mar-12: How to sell more shampoo (or use less)

16-Mar-12: How you look changes what they say

09-Mar-12: Freedom, abuse and control

02-Mar-12: Housing pains


24-Feb-12: Store designs that work

17-Feb-12: Painting the walls smart

10-Feb-12: The extrinsic end of education

03-Feb-12: Real intimacy

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