This book promotes choice not coercion for social marketing

A frustration for those planning social marketing is that people rarely behave “rationally” when making complex but non-urgent decisions.

The psychological literature backs this up. Two professors from the University of Chicago have put together this accessible, must read book that explains it. Barack Obama is among those whose attention it has attracted by rethinking what the authors call “choice architecture”.

People rely on a range of strategies and heuristics to help with decision making, not necessarily leading to the best outcome. They stick with what they know, decide intuitively, use hunches, follow a “rule of thumb”, choose the easiest path, do nothing, or avoid the decision altogether. That is not very helpful if you are trying to get people to address the possibility that they might have diabetes. But organisations can take advantage of these strategies.

Banks expensively recruit students opening their first accounts, knowing people rarely change their banks. Supermarkets stack premium brands at eye height and within easy reach. This understanding is leading to a growing trend in social and political theory of “paternalistic liberalism”. Rather than force or require people to take up social goods, like the salad option at lunchtime, and decline things such as smoking, heuristics can be used to make certain choices more likely and others less likely. This “nudging” is all done without coercion or compulsion. Campaign strategies can use nudges to optimise choice and policy objectives.

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