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
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)
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
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
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)
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
(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.
Mindfulness and sunk costs
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
I = ∑i mi ri2 =
m1 r12 +
m2 r22 + ..... +
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
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.
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
shows what works. It's a big-bucks game and finding a new formula can have
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2013.04.016
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
For a collection of UK adverts this season, an easy place to start is in the
Battle of the Christmas Adverts. Note that several are over two minutes
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.
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.
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20-Apr-14: Negative online
reviews: the surprising effects
16-Mar-14: Thinking about
14-Mar-14: The Value of
02-Mar-14: Mindfulness and
Messages and Rants
16-Feb-14: Lesson Plans
09-Feb-14: Pretend to
sleep: it's good for you!
19-Jan-14: Signal to Noise
12-Jan-14: How to make a
video go viral
05-Jan-14: Passion and
22-Dec-13: The Flight of
15-Dec-13: What is 'easy'?
08-Dec-13: All day
24-Nov-13: Apology and
17-Nov-13: How about that,
10-Nov-13: Culture, Courage
03-Nov-13: Smile and
27-Sep-13: The Garden of
20-Sep-13: Weird old tips
13-Sep-13: The Business
29-Sep-13: Line breaks and
22-Sep-13: How to remember
15-Sep-13: Email spam and
08-Sep-13: Remember your
01-Sep-13: A Tale of Two
25-Aug-13: How to handle
men in three easy steps
18-Aug-13: I'm glad I'm not
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
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
30-Jun-13: Principles of
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
19-May-13: Happiness, Busy-ness
12-May-13: The simple
complexity of avoidant instructions
05-May-13: Asking for the
21-Apr-13: Blue Lights
14-Apr-13: What is winning?
07-Apr-13: The three Ls of
a good marriage
31-Mar-13: Extremism and
24-Mar-13: The Cult of the
17-Mar-13: Being Welsh
10-Mar-13: The Purpose of
03-Mar-13: Selling to
24-Feb-13: The flattering
17-Feb-13: Does money make
'Keep Calm and Carry On'
03-Feb-13: More Good
27-Jan-13: Hey, your
computer booted up 102% quicker!
20-Jan-13: Air fresheners
13-Jan-13: Famous for
06-Jan-13: Doggy game
30-Dec-12: Luck, numbers
and wishful thinking
21-Dec-12: The End of the
09-Dec-12: Getting good
02-Dec-12: Our helpful
18-Nov-12: Moving house,
walking and multitasking
26-Oct-12: The Bond Blitz
19-Oct-12: Photos and
12-Oct-12: Men, women,
crisis and leadership
28-Sep-12: Divided by a
07-Sep-12: Don't name the
24-Aug-12: Face learning
17-Aug-12: Listening to
10-Aug-12: Oooh, hello!
03-Aug-12: How to reduce
27-Jul-12: A teacher's end
criminalizing and confession
intelligent signage and traffic calming
06-Jul-12: Getting kids to
eat their food
22-Jun-12: A public revenge
08-Jun-12: Hot desking and
01-Jun-12: Here and there
25-May-12: Connecting with
18-May-12: Truth, lies and
11-May-12: Selling raffle
05-May-12: Attentional bias
27-Apr-12: The limits of
20-Apr-12: Selling the
13-Apr-12: Assertion or
Persuasion in Politics
06-Apr-12: Customer service
30-Mar-12: Managing and
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
02-Mar-12: Housing pains
24-Feb-12: Store designs
17-Feb-12: Painting the
10-Feb-12: The extrinsic
end of education
03-Feb-12: Real intimacy