November 2016 | Mark Bell

It is 7 years since Rory Sutherland’s presidency of the IPA where he championed the role of Behavioural Economics in our industry. I along with Dave Trott and many others became part of his task force to add Decision Science to the long list of tools to be used by agencies.

I would like to use my month’s residency of the APG website to reflect on the role behavioural science is playing in our industry. How transformative has it been and what is the most effective way that we, the planning community, can use it going forwards?

I would like to hear from you, not just in the UK or Europe but further afield. How is behavioural science playing in a role in your agency? Is it something that has always been part of your work but not distinctly identified? Or is it desired by planners but ignored by others? Whatever your view, let’s have a chat and hopefully make Rory proud of the seed he sowed back in 2009.

Week 1
Fact or Fiction?
Week 2
The Nuts & Bolts
Week 3
A Practical Application
Week 4
A review
Show More

Fact or Fiction?

10 November 2016


Thank you to APG for giving me a platform through which to talk about Behavioural Science in the planning world. We have got a lot to talk about over the next couple of weeks.

Firstly, here is a picture shown by Paul Craven at the 2014 Nudgestock:

Imagine you see the sign in a busy city street, what would you do? The common answer is that without even thinking you would tap your pocket that contains your wallet or bring closer your handbag that has your purse. Obvious isn’t it, we all do it? However, the part of the response that I have been interested in is ‘without even thinking’. We don’t stop, look up, read the sign, look around for pick pockets, and then confirm our valuables are safe. We just catch a glimpse of the words ‘pick pockets’ and ‘this area’, tap our valuables and move on. Our minds just nudge our hands to do the work, we don’t really acknowledge we are doing it. 

This is a great example of our System 1 thinking, referred to by Daniel Kahneman as our Thinking Fast mode. For the majority of the day we are going about in our default mode and not really paying attention, but clever signs like this nudge us to take action and check all is okay. But is it okay? Of course not, standing underneath this sign is a pickpocket. He sees you tap, knows where your valuables are and ten seconds later is swiftly removing them into his possession. This sign is a terrible nudge, a far more effective one is the fly in the urinal but I will save that until later in the month.

For us planners, the key insight here is that we all too often produce creative work that is designed for a consumer’s System 2 (slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, conscious) when actually we must be pre-occupied with designing for System 1 (fast, automatic, frequent, subconscious). Audiences on the whole don’t pause to reflect and take in everything that we are trying to tell them so that they can make a more informed, educated decision (System 2). We must instead design creative work that appeals to our intuitive (System 1) self as this is the part of the brain which typically governs our decision making. This to me is the importance of Behavioural Science in our work.

I hope you found that introduction interesting because since I was invited onto Rory Sutherland’s Behavioural Science Task force in 2009 I have been obsessed with integrating this thinking into our work at OLIVER and Dare. I stuck the word ‘Experience’ in front of Planning and subsequently we are using Behavioural Science on a daily basis. We’re using it for a whole variety of outcomes for different clients, from helping young people save for the future, to making loyalty schemes more relevant and preventing consumers from being overwhelmed by choice.

I have often had push back from planners that this nothing new, and writing my Primitive article last year I do kind of agree. But are we, the planning committee, doing enough to ensure our clients are fully appreciative of the value that Behavioural Science has in their customers’ decision making? My hypothesis for this month is I still don’t think we are doing enough.

So I would like to use this guest editorship for the next four weeks for two reasons, firstly to have a bit of a ‘state of the nation’ and discuss with you, the planning community, how Behavioural Science is being used in your agency. Ogilvy Change have of course under the magnificent stewardship of Rory Sutherland championed and lead this field, but I am seeing Behavioural Science starting to come to the forefront of agencies’ offerings. If you think it isn’t I’m going to guess that it is, but you just don’t realise you’re using it.

It would be great if I could get a group of planners together from a number of agencies (digital, social, media, creative etc). I’ll buy the drinks and we can have an informal chat about the world of Behavioural Science in your agency, existing or not. If you are interested drop me an email and I will get something arranged towards the end of the month.

Secondly I would like to share some tools and discuss approaches as to how you could start using Behavioural Science more specifically in your work. Tips, tricks and the good and the bad of Experience Planning.

But watch out for those pickpockets, until next week,


Chief Experience Officer – OLIVER


The Nuts & Bolts

18 November 2016


I’ve had a great response from last week’s article and am looking forward to drinks and mince pies with you all in early December. Not only does it tell me the drinks bill will be larger than expected but that we certainly have a passion if not a practice of using Behavioural Science in our planning work.

For this week’s article I wanted to focus on the nuts and bolts of how we apply behavioural thinking to our work at OLIVER. It’s all too easy to have a plan to use behavioural theory but how do we actually put it into practice? We hear terms such as ‘Social Proof’, ‘Loss Aversion’, ‘Default Choice’ and even ‘Hyperbolic Discounting’ but which ones do we use and how do we use them? Our Experience Planning process at OLIVER falls into three key areas; mapping decisions, identifying behavioural truths and applying theory. This week’s article will be explaining those three steps in a little more detail.

Step 1 – Mapping the decision-making of the audience

So where do we start? The many types of briefs we work on (creative, social, direct response etc) are united by the fact that we will create an experience that is either viewed or interacted with by an audience. We aim to create an experience that will fit seamlessly into our audiences’ daily lives, and from last week’s article we know that in most cases they will be thinking fast in system one mode when engaging with these experiences.

Obviously we are all planners and for over 50 years we have been living off the power of insight to drive our understanding of audience behaviour. So how can behavioural theory add to this and help us out? Without an academic background in Behavioural Science I’ve been fortunate to work with many psychologists over the years and the thing that stood out for me as an Experience Planner was the Theory of Planned Behaviour. This video by Professor Alexander Dreiling describes it a lot more elegantly than I can in the written word:

At OLIVER we have taken this theory and created the Experience Loop which helps us map the decision making of the intended audiences and it is step 1 in applying behavioural theory to our work.

It is important to note that an Experience Loop is mapping decisions of planned behaviour - it should not be confused with a customer journey. Personally I don’t think customer journeys exist, but that may one to discuss over a beer in a couple of weeks.

Stage 2 – Identifying the real behaviour

So we have mapped the planned behaviour and decisions of our audience and we have a brief from a client on a desired outcome, what next? We need to influence the customer, and fortunately we live in a world of data and the starting point can be easily identified. If a million people buy from brand x but only 5 thousand make a repeat purchase, data is telling us the focus should be on the right hand side of the Experience Loop. I’ve simplified ‘the area of focus’ here because there are, as we know, an infinite number of ways to justify where a brand needs to focus, but the point is we consider what we do within context of the wider planned behaviour of the audience.

Once we have the point of focus we need to dig deep into the minds of the audience; again I’ve been fortunate to lean on academics to help us do this at OLIVER. We do it by asking three simple questions of our intended audience:

  1. Why do they really want to do this?

  2. What are their perceptions towards other people's attitutes to their own decisions?

  3. How genuinely confident are they in this action?


These questions are designed to unearth the behavioural truths of the audience and can be incredibly enlightening. Try it on yourself now, with whatever it is you’re doing. I guarantee it will make you smile when you think about the real reason why we are doing something. I will give you my answers to writing this article when we meet for drinks!


So we now know the decisions and the behavioural truths of the audience, we need to influence them.


Stage 3 – Applying behavioural theory


This is achieved by applying behavioural theory to help the audiences of a brand make more well-informed decisions. With experience and great teamwork this becomes the easy part. We are fortunate that we are surrounded by reams of behavioural theory such as the List of Cognitive Biases on Wikipedia or the fantastic resources on Cognitive Lode. Applying this theory takes practice, practice and more practice, but quite quickly it does start becoming a natural behaviour. At OLIVER we regularly update a list of behavioural theories which currently stands at over 100. We have used these with our clients and have notes and data of where and how it worked. Looking at that list now the four most popular principles used are Social Proof, Scarcity Value, Loss Aversion and Anchoring. All of these are easily explained after a quick Google but over the next two weeks I will attempt to describe them in more practical terms.


So there we go, a bit of theory but hopefully enough to get those not using behavioural theory to start using it more, and for those already are, to see another agency’s approach to its application.


Next week I would like to put the above into practice and see how we can make joining the APG even more influential than it currently is. Don’t forget if you want to join me for drinks on Thursday 1st December, send me an email and I will add you to the list.

Until next week,

Mark Bell

Chief Experience Officer - OLIVER


A Practical Application

28 November 2016

Thank you for the interest shown towards the chosen subject of Behavioural Science in the planning world. I’ve had many responses from both here in London and further afield. The word has spread, I’m spending this evening on the phone to agencies in America talking about their own application of behavioural theory. For those closer to home we have agreed on this Thursday 1st December for minces pies, drinks and behavioural chats, the venue is The Prince of Wales Feathers, opposite Warren Street Tube, I suggest meeting at 6:30pm, anyone is welcome.

Next week I plan to write up my musings and observations but until then and after spending last week talking about the nuts and bolts, I would like to apply behavioural theory to something close at hand - the membership of the APG. Now the awkward part, one slight problem here is I’m not a current member of the APG ... “What?” I hear you say. Unfortunately, it is true, over 15 years of calling myself a planner and I’m not even a member of the greatest planning community on the planet. I’m not going to bore you with the excuses just give some applied thinking of how we can catch out rascals like me that call themselves planners but aren’t APG members.

First up, did you know most planners in London are APG members? Straight away I’m using the power of Social Proof within the Inspiration stage of the Theory of Planned Behaviour that I explained in last week’s article. Social Proof probably has to be up there in the top ten behavioural principles used at OLIVER. It has to be used with caution though, as sadly it is well reported that the obesity epidemic in America has been further caused by the announcement that ‘most people in America are obese’, reassuring all that if most people are then it is the norm and nothing to seriously worry about. 

Okay so most planners are APG members, a great bit of Inspiration, but what is going to make me Decide (remembering the experience loop from last week) to become a member? The current membership of £140 (+VAT) will be going up on the 01 December 2016. Don’t worry, it isn’t really, but if it was, I would have just used Scarcity Value to ensure people aren’t only inspired, but in a moment of panic rush to commit to becoming a member before the price hike. I do wonder if the ticket application for Wimbledon tennis is made ever more competitive because of the known scarcity of tickets and rush to get an application in for a summer event during the winter months. Be warned with the applications of Social Proof, Scarcity Value and in fact any behavioural principle, we as planners have to be careful that we are not mis-selling. You can’t say it is the most popular choice unless of course you have the data to prove it and if you are making something scarce by giving a limited time offer the price does have to change. I noticed that Black Friday has become Black Weekend and even today (Monday) it is still Friday for some retailers. Is this mis-selling? On a serious note the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is very hot on the mis-selling of financial products using behavioural theory, so do check out their website if you are ever unsure.

Back to my APG membership, I’ve been Inspired through Social Proof, I’ve Decided to join through Scarcity Value so how do we make the Action of joining as simple and persuasive as possible? Fortunately, there is one behavioural principle that rises above them all when it comes to presenting choice, that is Framing. How do we frame a decision to make it easier for the customer? The almost ‘classic’ behavioural case study is that of The Economist as told entertainingly by Dan Airely in the following video.

How can we package up the APG offering so that the Framing of the decision persuades us to act? As an idea:

APG 2017 Award Entry £100
APG 2017 Membership Only £140
APG 2017 Membership plus 2017 Award Entry £140

There are many different ways in which we can make it easier for people to overcome the barrier of price, and Default Choice is one of these. In this example of Behavioural Science we preselect one of the options for the audience.

So that’s it, my decision to join the APG has been influenced by behavioural theory. There is then the second half of the experience loop to consider, where the APG must Validate my decision of joining and get me to Participate beyond my initial reason for signing up. This can become the topic of a whole other article – we can look at how we can use behavioural theory to Mimic the behaviour of the member. Something we can talk about on Thursday night.

Please do keep your examples from your own agencies and clients coming in and I look forward to meeting you all in person on Thursday night. Let me know if you want your name added to the list, but be quick though – it’s scarce - we only have room for 8 more people!

Until next week,

Mark Bell

Chief Experience Officer - OLIVER


A Review

7 December 2016

A month has flown past and my knowledge of how agencies are applying behavioural theory has been fuelled. This, my final article in this series, is my learnings from the last four weeks. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge everyone who has sent me emails, had phone calls from within the UK and further afield and gave up the first drinking night of the festive season to join us in the pub last Thursday. Your time and your honesty was greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Behavioural Festive Drinks – London 01 December 2016

Without question and probably without surprise, there is a desire for us as planners to use behavioural theory. Whether an agency is small, big, digital, above the line, I believe there will always be someone under its roof with a desire to champion the application of this science. We can single out Rory Sutherland who back in 2009 (during his IPA presidency) seeded this passion.

My first learning is that even though it is widely acknowledged that Account Planning was created in London agencies in the 1970s and 80s, there has been a significant step forward with the name of the discipline being influenced from the other side of the Atlantic. From talking to agencies in New York I saw a trend in relabelling Account Planning as Behavioural Planning with an additional planning discipline of Comms Planning coming later down the cycle. Just adding the word behavioural to the planning title initiates conversation and realisation around behavioural change. It has always been part of Account Planning but by adding the ‘B’ word I believe the science of behaviour has come to play a more specific role. From what I now know you can walk into an agency along Maddison Avenue and hear talk of influencing system 1 thinking as part of everyday planning chat.

So why not an adoption of this level back in the UK? We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves - Ogilvy Change is obviously leading the field and I’ve heard M&C Saatchi, Adam&Eve and smaller shops like KHWS make reference to the role of behavioural theory in their work – but there hasn’t been a significant shift as seen in the US. Apologies for the literal and obvious point but I wonder if the answer lies in the subject matter of behavioural theory? There are countless cognitive biases grouped around the idea of ‘short cuts to what we want to remember’ and the general desire to ‘act fast’, but has the UK struggled to change as easily as other markets simply because of the Planning name we use? Of course Bryon Sharp’s ‘How Brands Grow’ has fuelled an approach to planning with what almost feels like a universal adoption but why can’t we push this idea further and dig deeper into the world of psychology and human behaviour, applying it more generally to the everyday decisions of consumers? The more we talk about it and make reference to behavioural theory the more in time I believe it will become common practise.

Secondly, are we too reactive to a client’s needs? Again with reference to the above cognitive biases, our natural and often needed behaviour is to act fast and to respond in a way we know all too well. Behavioural theory should equip us with the skills to dig deeper into a problem. When appropriate we should use these to help us push back and change the direction of briefs to be more focussed towards creating behavioural change. We shouldn’t wait for behavioural opportunities; we should create them ourselves.

At the pub last week, the much defined subject of measuring the effectiveness of our work came up. Is the way that we use data to prove success to our clients still too geared to brand exposure rather than behavioural change? Admittedly there could be another four weeks’ worth of articles on this very subject but it is certainly something I would like to pick up, to help further develop the exciting possibilities that behavioural science can bring to our discipline of planning.

Finally, a point that is often raised is that we as planners have always been behavioural change experts or decision scientists. It is certainly a point I don’t argue; you just have to read the papers of the late Stephen King to know this. However, what has changed is the advances in behavioural science led by Kahneman, Thaler, Sunstein and many others to better equip us as planners. I genuinely believe that when we present back any piece of work we should acknowledge which behavioural science principles we are using to influence the decisions of our intended audiences.

Thank you for reading the past few weeks and please do stay in touch - I’m very keen to hear of where specific behavioural principles are used to help solve a problem for a brand. Whether it’s choosing a bottle of squash, helping someone configure their next car or enabling someone to effectively save for the future, behavioural theory has a key role to play in making us better planners.


Until next time, have a good festive break,

Mark Bell

Chief Experience Officer - OLIVER

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