To nudge or not to nudge

Consumers: Can they, should they be nudged?

Tonight I attended a panel at the RSA on whether or not consumers should be nudged.

The first two panelists, Sir Martin Sorrell and Dr Andy Wood, decided to address Corporate Social Responsibility at WPP and Adnams respectively. While interesting and impressive, neither panelist directly addressed the questions of whether or not customers should be nudged.

Fortunately, Dr Sally Uren of Forum for the Future decided to address the question directly. She began by saying that a value-action gap existed. In other words, most consumers care about sustainability, but don't act on that concern.

She then suggested five steps could be taken to try to close that gap.

  1. Sustainability has to be integrated into the brand. Most consumers take only 45 seconds to decide what they want to buy. They don't read labels.
  2. The message must be simple. She gave the Ariel Turn to 30 campaign as an example.
  3. People need to feel good about their decisions.
  4. People need to feel that their actions matter. She brought up the recent huge increase in recycling as an example of a lot of small actions affecting a much larger change.
  5. Give feedback.

She concluded that consumers should be nudged, but that behavior change alone wouldn't be enough. Technological innovation also has a role to play, but is useless unless people start using improved technologies.

While I still have my doubts about nudging, both ethically and in terms of overall effectiveness, I thought her five steps felt somewhat familiar. Much of what she proposed sounds like basic advice for improving the user experience of a website.