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Read This Before It Disappears

Paid Media Manager, Emily Evans, explores various facets of behavioural economics marketers use when advertising on social. Enjoy! (Quickly... before we take it down!)

Social Commerce

Emily Evans

1 Jul 2020

Think about the last time you purchased something online after seeing an ad on social.

You likely thought you made an active decision to click, and that your choice to purchase was a rational, considered one.

Well, you’re wrong.

Sorry about that.

Most of us assume we are using more considered and effortful thinking when making decisions (known as system 2), but far more often, it’s actually the part of the brain that automatically responds to stimulus, (known as system 1) choosing for us.

Our conscious brain has the delusion that it’s in control of everything, that all decisions we make are rational and knowing. When asked to explain why an action was taken, our brain will produce post-rationalisations to justify decisions it took, for reasons it actually doesn’t fully understand. Bizarrely, the parts of the brain which are deciding what we do and feel aren’t properly connected to the bits that do the talking, or the ‘conscious’ thinking; we’ll leave you to recall times this may have gotten you into trouble in the past.

Why is this important for a marketer?

1. When asked, people will offer explanations for why they do the things that they do, but the truth is we don’t really know why, we’ve just layered a plausible explanation on top of the action. For this reason, we need to test and learn for ourselves what does and doesn’t work on our audience, and take market research outcomes with a pinch of salt.

2. It is not true that you have to just persuade the conscious brain with rational reasons to purchase, and the desired behaviour will follow. Instead, you have to cleverly manipulate the unconscious part of the brain using techniques it will respond to. Luckily, a wealth of research has been done into what these techniques are, and how they influence purchase decisions.

If you’re advertising on social, here are three facets of behavioural economics you can use:

Loss Aversion

People tend to prefer avoiding losses rather than acquiring equivalent gains; a phenomenon known as loss aversion. It explains why penalties can often be more powerful than rewards in behaviour change; a cash penalty for smoking a cigarette instead of a cash reward for not smoking one will often yield better results.

It’s why comparison websites will tell people they could be wasting £200 a year by not switching providers, as opposed to saying they could pocket an extra £200 a year by switching; we perceive a loss as of far greater value than we perceive a gain.

Use this knowledge to frame your offers to your audience in ad copy. Build belief that they may lose out on time sensitive deals, encourage them to question whether they’re wasting money by not using your product or service, let them know the deadline for registering for a course is rapidly approaching and they’re about to miss it.

See the below social ad from ASOS, implying the user will be losing out on something good if they don’t check out the sale.


Social Norms

Since the Stone Age, herd mentality and conforming to group norms have been a good idea for your survival chances; back then, if you saw a group of people running in the opposite direction, it would have been smart to follow them to avoid getting eaten.

Although we no longer have to worry about running away from sabre-tooth tigers, we still take cue from what others are doing when making decisions for ourselves. Subtle language tweaks can result in a huge uptick in people taking your desired action; research by Cialdini, Goldstein & Griskevicius found that changing the wording on the placard in hotel bathrooms urging guests to reuse towels increased the reusage rate by 26%. This saved the chain thousands of dollars in laundry costs. The change? Instead of listing the environmental benefits of reusing towels, the placards stated that the majority of hotel guests reuse towels. People’s desire to comply with social norms increased the reuse rate.

This need to follow the grain can be leveraged in ad copy and creative; state how many Trustpilot reviews you have, use your testimonials as ad images, use language such as ‘join 2 million happy customers’ and ‘over 900,000 sold worldwide’.

See below this ad from Plum, citing the tool as ‘one of the most popular in the UK’, and using an authentic testimonial as the ad creative.


Scarcity Value

When we perceive something to be scarce, we deem it to be of higher value. Conversely, when we regard it to be plentiful, its perceived value falls.

Responsible for the comeback of the potato in the 1700s, the incredible early success of Monzo thanks to their golden ticket campaign, and the hypebeast-hysteria surrounding Supreme drops, scarcity value has long been a hugely successful marketing tactic.

In your social advertising, create the air of a club that everyone wants to be a part of. Encourage people to purchase ‘limited runs’ of stock, sign up to your newsletter to receive ‘exclusive’ offers before anyone else, and register for ‘invitation only’ online shopping events or launches. Chilly’s have adopted this approach in the language of the below advert.


Applying these principles correctly will increase demand, infer exclusivity and incentivise social users to take action as soon as they see your advert, rather than later. And, if you were already doing all of these things unknowingly, at least you can now give them a fancy name.