Well played, National Lottery

I didn’t come up with this, I just found it on Twitter. But I wish I had. See, insights from behavioural economics are often used to optimize. To fine-tune the details. That’s ok. But I love BIG creative ideas built on biases and heuristics. This campaign combines a bunch of them.

First off, I’m reminded of Robert Cialdini’s famous hotel towel experiments. Other people, people like you, in the same spot as you, have done this. The persuasive power of similarity and social proof at work.

Then there’s the survivorship bias. We focus on the 54 times a lottery ticket in this area yielded a big prize. And pay no mind to the thousands if not millions of losing lottery tickets sold in the area through the years.

And then of course, there’s randomness versus luck. We humans don’t get probability and randomness at a deep level. We feel 54 millionaires in one area can’t be a coincidence. Even though it is.

And to top it all off, there’s a witty line. Adding that bit of creative juice that makes the ad distinctive and likeable.

Well played, National Lottery. Well played.

The Perfection Paradox

In business, striving for perfection is the norm.

But achieving it? Very, very rare.

See, striving for perfection paralyses people.

It fosters a culture where pointing out what might be wrong is rewarded.

Presenting something that might be right?

That’s like putting a bull’s eye on your work. And on yourself.

Strangely, in Dutch companies people literally invite each other to ‘shoot at’ their ideas.

The frame: ideas are the enemy. We must attack them.

What comes of this? Usually nothing.

Because finding a far-fetched reason to not do something is like scoring a hattrick in corporate culture.

You get to shine for being smart. No-one has to work hard to make the idea happen. And no money is spent.

It’s loss aversion heaven.

Except that you’re losing a hell of a lot of great opportunities.

So striving for perfection is bad. You know what’s even worse? 

Achieving perfection.

That’s what you discover when you read this interesting piece of research.

Yes, consumers will buy more if you get good reviews. Social proof works.

But here’s the twist …

They’ll buy less if you only get 5-star reviews.

Because perfection is suspicious. It makes us wonder if it’s just a facade, a fraud.


Conversely, admitting a small fault is an effective way to establish liking and credibility. Bernbach knew that when he made his VW ads.






We all subconsciously feel the perfection paradox:

If it’s perfect, there must be something wrong with it.

So forget perfection. Get to work.

Build a minimum viable product, whether that’s a strategy, an app, an ad or a company.

Then ship it, warts and all.

Because perfect just isn’t worth it.




Book review: Maria Konnikova – The Confidence Game

As a self-declared persuasion junkie, I devour books about behavioural economics, consumer psychology and neuroscience. But some of the most inspiring things I read tend to come from a slightly different angle.

Neil Strauss’ The Game for instance, is a mish-mash of sensationalist memoir, self-help  paperback and truly fascinating insights. Where Strauss dived into the world of seduction seminars and pick-up artists, this new book by Maria Konnikova* explores the shadowy world of con artists.

The difference is that instead of dodgy NLP ideas, Konnikova uses solid knowledge of behavioural economics to explain the con artists’ success. And she does so through the kind of real-life stories you’ll want to tell to your friends immediately. While your heart breaks for the victims of the con, you can’t help feeling admiration for the con artists’ sheer mastery of their dark art.

So what can we as law abiding citizens learn from card sharks, master forgers and fortune tellers? Most strikingly of all, they never use just a single technique to influence their mark’s behaviour. Like spiders, they build intricate webs out of persuasion tactics like authority, loss aversion, commitment, similarity, endowed progress … And like spiders, they do so instinctively, without reading the works of mr. Cialdini.

Silly? Or smart direct marketing? This is a Dutch example, but psychics apply the same techniques around the world. Cheap cards promise that the ‘highly gifted’ medium can solve anything from impotence to tax debts. The angle? Only desperate,  uncritical people would grab the phone after reading this. And those are the only people the Mr. Nassims of this world care to meet.

Low-life grifters apply much more long-term vision than most marketeers

Another thing that’s hard not to admire is their thoroughness. It’s a sobering thought that these low-life grifters approach their goals with much more long-term vision and commitment than the average marketing director targeting consumers. Taking a prospect through several stages on a mapped-out consumer journey? Confidence men have been doing that since at least the 1900’s.

And of course, these stages have names right out of the golden age of Hollywood: The Put Up, the Play, the Rope, the Tale, the Convincer, the Breakdown, the Send, the Touch and the Fix. In fact, it would be easy to get caught up in the romance of it all and imagine these criminals as Robert Redford in The Sting or Leo DiCaprio in Catch me If You Can. But Konnikova makes sure we don’t. By telling both sides of these stories.

And the victim’s side is equally fascinating. Intellligent and succesful people tend to fall more, not less for con artists’ tricks. They have high self confidence, believe they are above average judges of character, and feel they are special and entitled to have more luck than others. Which makes them easy marks. 

Are our own minds the greatest con artists?

In the end, our own minds may be the greatest con artists in the world. Our talent for self deception is immense (as it was crucial in the evolution of mankind). And Konnikova actually saved some of the greatest examples of this for the accompanying podcast, The Grift

Well-recorded and edited, offering additional content as good as what’s in the book, featuring interviews with both con artists and victims, The Grift really raises the bar for podcasts in this field. I cannot recommend it highly enough. And hearing Konnikova’s conversations with con artists truly adds a whole new level.

Because while she has done thorough research, her question remains: can we trust a con man’s confessions? By not sweeping this under the rug but acknowledging it, Konnikova has made her book even more compelling. Because by writing it, has she also become part of the con? And does reading it make us smarter? Can we even apply some of these insights in business as ‘White Hat con artists’? Or are we in the end still just easy marks, suckers for a good story?

Verdict: Entertaining and essential reading and listening.

*  Yes, somebody called Konnikova is writing about con artists, name-letter effect fans!

Give me a choice! (but please don’t make me choose)

Choice is a funny thing. Consumers will tell you they want more of it. And get angry when options are taken away. Even ones they never would have used.

Direct marketers have known for a while that ending an offer with “but the choice is yours” increases response.

However, when consumers actually get more options, they often buy less. And feel worse. They suffer from choice paralysis and buyer’s regret.

You see, choice makes us feel like we’re in control. Our brains like that. But choice also gives us responsibility, which we pretty much hate.

In the end, every additional option just increases our chances of screwing up by picking  wrong.

So it’s best to give people some choice, but not too much. And to cluster options: pale ales, lagers, porters. Our brains love categories (even ones that make little sense, as the mere categorization effect shows).

Creative cues can nudge people towards the ‘right’ option. The expert’s choice, our most popular model, the original flavour … there are many ways to signal that yes, the choice is yours … but some options are more equal than others.

And if then the choice is still difficult, simply reframe it through choice substitution. “The question is not which car you want, the question is do you want to love or hate driving to work every day?” People will prefer to answer the easier question and let that guide their choice.

In the 80s, pop group Wham! wore shirts with the slogan “Choose Life”. In two words they took a difficult choice: “Do I spend my allowance on a Wham! LP or one by Culture Club, ABC or Simple Minds?” And substituted it for a much clearer one: do I Choose Life or the alternative? One thing is for sure: they made it big.