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Continuous Partial Presence

Behavioural Engineering

[Image by bullish1974]
Once in a while, advertising transcends the stratum reserved for commercial communication and becomes a cultural phenomenon - quite literally something that can be seen to have an effect on culture.

Many posts ago, my mate Yusuf pointed out that the truly viral part of the 118-118 launch campaign, which could definitely be said to have ascended into the collective consciousness, was shouting "Got your Number!" at people in the street. They did it in the ads, then the boys hit the streets all over the UK and did it in real life. And then everyone was doing it.

The ultimate aim of all commercial communication is to spread ideas that elicit a behavioural response. Specifically, we want to influence mass purchase behaviour. But if a brand can propogate some intermediate behaviours, like getting people to shout "Got your number" or "Wassup!" at each other, then you get a whole host of additional benefits.

Before consumer generated content was a thing, people made hundreds of "Wassup" spoofs, spreading the message further. In a person's head, the behaviour recalls and reinforces the brand, and vice versa, keeping the brand salient. And, of course, behaviour is viral. Humans are hardwired to learn by imitating [see Herd]. The drive to copy is so powerful, when children are shown behaviours they know are pointless to achieve the required goals, they imitate them anyway.

Monkey see, monkey do.

This behavioural engineering seems to be at the heart of BBH's very successful, ongoing campaign for Lynx / Axe. Young males are perhaps the single target audience most prone to adopting learned behaviours - observe the instances of fist bump in any playground, or indeed pub or office for that matter. Many Lynx executions have imitative behaviours at their core. Pulse - the dance. Click. Bom Chicka Wah Wah.

If you want to influence people's behaviour, give them something to copy.

UPDATE: Mark has written a great build on this that looks at why copying is such an important human mechanism.