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We think far less than we think we think

Don't underestimate the influence of arousing, visceral drivers on decision-making. To quote the economist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman: “We think far less than we think we think we think"

Mary Lewis Lewis Moberly

Do you remember the details of your journey to work this morning?  Have you ever driven somewhere and realised you can’t remember actually getting there? Whilst this isn’t something to be encouraged, ‘autopilot’ is a neurological survival response to stop our brains exploding from information overload.

Cognitive and social psychologists as well as behavioural economists all report that over 90% of ‘decision making’ activity is performed on autopilot.  We make decisions within the blink of an eye.  We follow the crowd.  We don’t really think at all (although we’d never admit it). 

We make millions of decisions on a daily basis, which all affect our behaviour.  If the majority of decisions are made on autopilot, how can brands change peoples’ behaviour?  How can we nudge people to behave differently? Packaging is perfectly poised to be the catalyst for behavioural change.

Brands have been quietly encouraging reflective thinking for many years e.g. Tetley’s round tea bag made people stop and notice the bag during the most automated of tasks. Artisanal brewer, ‘Meantime’ in Greenwich (pictured above) has adopted the Champagne muselet and cork closure ensuring a much more involving and unexpected opening ritual, premium cues as well.

However, in disrupting patterns of behaviour, the small things that can make a big difference.  A study by Cornell University NYC showed the amount of drink someone pours can be influenced by the size of glass that they use.  Experienced bar tenders poured over 20% more into short, wide glasses, than tall slender ones.  It’s about changing the lens. Think how Guinness made a clever virtue of their slow serve, reframing a once negative into a positive ‘good things come to those who wait’.  Or Peroni, served in tall elegant glasses. Moving away from the male pint perceptions of draught lager this has really connected with its female following.

 It can also be about how you prime your environment.  A wine shop conducted an experiment to see how store ambience would affect the sale of specific wines.  On alternating days, the store played French or German music.  On days when French music was played, French wines outsold German wines by a ratio of 5:1.  When German music was played, German wine outsold French 2:1. 

Both people and brands underestimate the influence of arousing, visceral drivers on decision-making, believing their behaviour to be attributed to other, more rational factors.  We know we should never go shopping on an empty stomach and apparently, judges award more lenient sentences after lunch when they are content and satiated.  Many of our decisions are intuitive, supported by sub conscious multi sensorial inputs.  Try tasting red or white wine in a black glass at room temperature – it’s very difficult to correctly identify the colour without the visual and thermal cues.  

Hence ‘we think much less than we think we think’. Human decision-making is strongly biased in favour of the emotional, instinctive and intuitive.  For a brand to succeed it needs to ‘disrupt’ thought patterns and change behaviour in order to engage.  But you don’t have to shout and scream or cause a commotion. Small things can make a big difference.


6 May 2014