What Does Social Proof Have to do with Human Decision Making?

We all know that when we are put in a new social situation, the best thing to do is to take cues from those around us, especially those with more experience in the situation, in order to fit in. For example, when we start a new job we often look to others to gather social cues on how we are supposed to act, what we are supposed to do and even when we are supposed to laugh. This is nothing new in human behaviour, after all, we are all tribal beings.

Looking for social cues from our peers is part of a much larger condition of human behaviour. As tribal and herd animals, humans feel most comfortable when they are assured they are following the norms of their specific cultural group. In behavioural economics this is called social proof.

Social proof is the psychological occurrence where people assume the actions of others or the actions of the majority is the correct behaviour for a given situation.

Social proofing is a powerful tool for marketing and advertising that has been used for decades. Think of the old McDonald’s signs promoting the number of burgers sold. That is a prime example of Popularity Social Proof.


McDonald’s is not the only company doing this. In fact it was a popular marketing technique long before Behavioural Economics ever became mainstream. However now we have a name for it and a much deeper understanding of why humans care about social proof.

With the increasing amount of online marketing, advertising and purchasing, it’s no surprise that social proofing has exploded in the last decade. Here are a few popular ways of using social proof to impact consumer behaviour:

Expert or Celebrity Social Proof

An expert on a specific subject or a celebrity gives their stamp of approval to a product or service. This causes people to actually judge the product or service not on its own merits but on their impression of the expert or celebrity. For instance if you believe the expert to be stylish, cool and hip, you will consider the product they like as also being stylish, cool and hip.


Case in point: Air Jordan’s are still the best selling sneaker in Nike’s history.

 User Social Proof

User social proof occurs when a user openly approves a product or service. It is often found online in the form of customer testimonials, ratings, likes and reviews. Seeing other people believe in a product, talk about it and rate it causes people to feel confident in the product and often persuades them to buy it.

unbounce Unbounce, an online landing page builder, does a great job of using customer testimonials to assure customers of their excellent product.

Wisdom of the Crowds Social Proof

Wisdom of the Crowds Social Proof is when a product or service is so widely adopted or liked that the user has no need to question its validity or quality and easily buys into the idea. This often occurs when a certain threshold is achieved. For example it is easier to convince someone to watch a YouTube video with 1,000,000 views than if the video only had 100 views. The larger number of hits the first video has stands to validate the quality of video. It is also what helps videos go viral.


The Gangnam Style video got over 1 billion hits in 5 months.

Wisdom of your friends Social Proof

Wisdom of your friends Social Proof is when our peers or friends like or approve products or services. Since we both like our friends and consider them to be similar to us, we often find it easy to quickly like or adopt this product of service. From a simple recommendation of a product or service by a friend, to seeing a brand liked by a friend on Facebook, what our friends approve impacts our feeling about products and services.

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As you can see, social proof plays a huge role in marketing and advertising. But that’s not all there is to it. The above examples all fit into what is called positive social proof, where the desired behaviour is in line with what is shown. For instance a customer review says they love the product. This is the dominant way of using social proof.

However, with an even greater understanding of the dynamics of social proof it is also possible to use negative social proof. Negative social proof means using examples of behaviour which is not desired, in order to get the outcome that is desired.

This version of social proof is rarely used because it is easy to use it incorrectly. Here is an example of how negative social proof fails.

The Petrified Forest National Park in the USA noticed small pieces of their petrified forsest were being stolen by visitors. This was leading to the erosion of the National Park by visitors. In an attempt to stop people from stealing the petrified wood the park put up sign reading:

“Many past visitors have removed wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest”

This actually led to an increase in destroying trees since people thought it was ok to do since so many others had. They felt they were following the norm and therefore didn’t feel discouraged in stealing the petrified wood.

However, if used correctly, negative social proofing can be amazingly effective. Here is a great example:

The experts over at Draft FCB Institute of Decision Making used negative social proof in an ingenious way. While working to come up with a marketing campaign for Dead Space 2, a violent video game aimed at teenage and young adults guys, the Draft FCB teamed realized that what the users wanted the most was a game their mom’s would hate. Draft FCB then produced a commercial showing how disgusted mothers were by this game. This use of negative social proofing worked to re-enforce the branding of the video game and led to an increase in its sales.

So there you have it, proof that social proof is a great marketing and advertising tool. When understood properly it can be used to help shape decision-making moments for current and future customers.

Video of the Week – The Boy Who Beeps by GE

‘Weird yet awesome, and interesting but still confusing’ - the thoughts that went through my mind while watching GE’s new video.

This short video talks about an epic tale of a boy who only beeps and can communicate with machines. As he grows older, he discovers his capabilities and what he can do. His special powers allows him to speak with the machines that surround him. When “the boy who beeps” converses with the machines, he is making them work better that benefits everyone.

GE tells a powerful and poignant story about the abilities and capabilities of their Industrial Internet who speaks the language of industry. The ad is designed to evoke emotions surrounding the evolution of GE and how Industrial Internet business brings software and machines together to serve various industries. Additionally, they effectively portray a vision where all machines and IT systems can communicate efficiently together. Yet having a human, the little boy, embodying the language of the industry is a symbol of GE: that they are people that are doing this and not robots! It is edgy, distinctive and vividly brilliant.

At the end of the video they quote: “When you speak the language of industry, the conversation can change the world.” GE is winking at us, saying when you’re GE and you create things such as the Industrial Internet (AKA the Internet of Things), they’ll change the way we communicate with machines, and these communications are changing the world.

We especially like how they’ve created an evocative, sentimental view of a world where we can communicate with our machines. The “boy who beeps” is fluent in machine and human languages, whereas everyone else in the ad are constantly frustrated with their machines. The Internet of Things, or as GE is calling it, the Industrial Internet, is meant to make machines work for us in a much more cohesive manner than ever before. This ad makes us excited to see how well it will work!

Peugeot brings back the GTi spirit on its 208. Special effects included.

Since we love to bring more knowledge to our readers, we’ll start by telling you that Peugeot is based in Sochaux, almost 5 hours east of Paris which is a part of the PSA group with the other French based car manufacturer Citroën. Neither of them are widely known in North America except for some of you who have been in France or have been following the World Rally Championship (WRC) or the 24 hours of Le Mans.

One of its biggest success was the hot hatchback 205 that was launched in 1983 while Peugeot was in bad financial shape. During its 15 years of production, 5.3 million cars have been sold within Europe. It has been the second biggest commercial success of Peugeot, and came at the best time to help them live another day.

A year later, they released the GTi version. This hot and racy version has been a fantastic car that allowed Peugeot to win a WRC that same year. It’s quite a success story for the Lion brand which has led to an epic commercial in 1987. Gérard Pires was the director of the ad named “The Bomber”. It features a James Bond look-alike who’s telling us that he kept its latest weapon: the 205 GTi which he used to race against a… bomber! Yes, you read it correctly, and it happened without any special effects. If you watch it carefully, you’ll even see that the bomber “hit” the car’s roof at 0:28 and manage to break the antenna.

The car was a hit, and the ad is still a classic in Europe. So when Peugeot announced a 30th Anniversary car to celebrate the 205 GTi, there were great expectations surrounding the car and the commercial.

As we are not Top Gear, we won’t review the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary, but we will have a look at its commercial named “The Legend Returns”. Released a couple weeks ago by the Paris based BETC Agency, they decided to pay a tribute to its legacy by starting out with the original footage. When you see the bomber getting closer to the 205, a more powerful and modern 208 drifts onto the ice. But wait. Is it me, or are the special effects not so great?

You don’t need more than 15 seconds to figure that it is quite bad. Remember, in the 1987, they didn’t use FX, but in this one, they used enough for a year. After the ice gets smashed by missiles, the car manages to escape the bomber, and fake-slides in the snow. Why didn’t they even use a real car and a real driver? But, the silliness reaches a new level when the 208 is being chased by a Eurocopter Tiger… Whoa. To defeat it, the talentless actor had to loop over it so the Tiger pilot gets stuck in the lift cables. The ad ends like its older brother with a woman styled like the original actress tells the actor “You made me wait” to her man.

It is with regret that I saw the 1987 ad being remastered for the worst. Too much poor special effects, craziness, and silliness. I would expect something better than that to celebrate a car industry icon. If you want to do something as bold, crazy and epic as the old one but with today’s technology, at least make it looks good. If they wanted to have a bomber, a chopper and billions of explosions, maybe they should have asked Michael Bay to direct it!

We can just hope for Peugeot that the 208 GTi isn’t as cheap and synthetic as this ad…

Personalized Treatment Options With Dr. Nikolis


My philosophy revolves around providing my patients with the best possible result.  – Dr. Andreas Nikolis

facilities-bgA few months ago, Jeff Hart partner at Victoria Park, reached out to us to help him build an online brand for renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Andreas Nikolis who has a treatment center at Victoria Park.

With this project we had the opportunity to build the good doctor’s brand from the ground up: identity, story, design, photography, etc., and put some of our new team member’s skills to the test. One of the best parts of this project for us was having almost total creative control over the design of the website that included an on-site shoot to creative direct the photography for the site – and the results speak for themselves! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll be familiar with this month’s issue where we discussed the importance of good photography. Images that are custom-tailored to a web experience will be worth a thousand more words than stock.

When we collaborate with our clients to produce custom stock for web, print, or any experience, the story is far more beautiful and intriguing. With Dr. Nikolis we were lucky to have this opportunity.


Working in collaboration with Jeff Hart, Leisha MacDonald (marketing director at Victoria Park) and Dr. Andreas Nikolis, we were tasked with building Dr. Nikolis a brand identity, producing his brand narrative, and finally designing and developing his website. In the words of Dr. Nikolis “Make it modern and sexy. Not like every other treatment center website”.


The challenge for our creative team was to create a visual story from the ground up that was different from every other treatment center or medispa. We needed to ensure that it was clear that they deliver highly personalized treatments. We also had to ensure there was a level education on the topic(s) to build trust with potential clients. We knew we wanted to incorporate big, bold imagery, custom photography, and modern typography to help tell this story.


Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 12.11.13 PMWe developed the site using ThemeFortress’s WordPress Reverie theme built on ZURB’s lightweight Foundation framework. Thinking mobile first, we ensured that the site is fully responsive for the ultimate experience on any device or screen. Taking Reverie to the next level we integrated a ton of custom features for end-user management.

Check it out and tell us what you think.

Fun Friday Post – Advertising Fails

This Fun Friday post brings you a good laugh from advertising gone wrong.

We have seen a lot of campaigns that are misinterpreted when it is advertised internationally. Companies that are well known, such as Pepsi, KFC, Coca-Cola, etc. have made the mistake of mistranslated slogans. We posted, a while ago, about how Pepsi came up with a new slogan and when translated into Mandarin, it transformed into “bring your ancestors back from the dead” – yes, so hilarious!

And now, we’re providing you with more humor and examples of mistranslated slogans from other companies.

  • Nokia’s new smartphone – Lumia – translates to Spanish as the slang word for prostitute.
  • When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, its “Fly In Leather” campaign was translated to “Fly Naked” in Spanish.ip.bitcointalk
  • Coca-Cola phonetically translated the brand name in Chinese- “Ke-Kou-Ke-La,” which means “Bite the Wax Tadpole.”
  • Parker Pen, a ballpoint pen maker, translated their slogan to Spanish to enter the Mexican market. Their slogan is “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you,” and mistranslated into “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”
  • Electrolux, a Swedish vacuum cleaner slogan in the U.S. translates to “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.” Yeah, they are going to get a lot of sales…
  • images-4When Vicks started providing their products in the German market, they realized later on that the German pronunciation is “Ficks” which translates into “sexual penetration.”
  • General Motors introduced their “Chevy Nova” in South America, and they did not realize that ‘No va’ translates to “It won’t go.”

In conclusion, marketers need to be aware when advertising globally, because a slogan can literally be lost in translation, resulting in a misunderstood campaign. Although they are entertaining, this reflects poorly on the marketers who didn’t take the time to make sure the was represented appropriately in other languages, cultures, etc. If your brand is putting thousands if not millions of dollars into a campaign, the least you can do is check for accuracy!


Real Business.” 10 Translated Slogans Gone Wrong- Web. 17 Oct. 2014

13 Funniest Mistranslated Slogans Ever” | DailyCognition.” 13 Funniest Mistranslated Slogans Ever | DailyCognition. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

The Human Brain is Irrational. How Behavioural Economics Explains Our Irrational Behaviour

Imagine right now you are craving chocolate and these are the offers available;


A Lindt truffle for 15¢ or a Hershey’s Kiss 1¢. Which would you choose?

My guess is you would pick the 15¢ Lindt; it’s a good deal. You probably realize a 14¢ difference in price is a lot better deal than a supermarket would offer. In your mind it’s worth an extra 14¢ for the better chocolate. Now imagine the price is reduced by 1 cent. There is still a 14¢ difference between the chocolates but now the Lindt is 14¢ and the Hersey Kiss is free. Which would you choose now?

Duh, the free one!

A study at MIT conducted just this experiment and found that people overwhelmingly chose the Lindt in the first example and the free Hershey’s Kiss in the second example. This directly contradicts what economics teaches us. There is no change in the relative cost of two examples, the difference is 14¢ in both examples and therefore people’s preference should not change. But it did.

This study was conducted as part of a larger experiment on human decision-making. For years traditional economics has been the dominant theory regarding financially decision making, informing us that humans always make logical, self-serving, and rational decisions based on carefully reviewing the cost and benefits of each option presented. As advertisers we all intuitively know that this is not true. We all know that “buy one, get one free” works a lot better than “50% off if you buy two”.

Like advertisers, the human brain doesn’t concern itself with the laws of traditional economics. In reality the human brain is irrational. So irrational that at first it is hard to understand and predict. So, as advertisers, what tools exist to help us predict actual human behaviour?

Enter Behavioural Economics. It’s a relatively new field of combining Psychology and Economics to better understand how humans actually make decisions. Part science and part art, Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy Change calls it, “…closer to weather prediction than conventional science”. Behavioral economics is not about what people want to do, or what they tell others they will do. It is about what people actually do when faced with a decision in real life. Behavioural Economics takes into account things that effect behaviour such as mood, surroundings, peer groups, and even level of arousal. Looking at the human brain from this seat one begins to understand why free is infinitely better than 1 cent.

It is no surprise that this deep understanding of human behaviour is starting to make its way into the boardrooms of some of the largest advertising agencies worldwide such as Draft FCB and Ogilvy. I believe Behavioural Economics has a lot to offer advertising, as it is a great way to inject pure strategy into a naturally creative industry.

Follow my discussion of Behavioural Economics, my unorthodox experiments and my curiosity about the human mind in this weekly blog series. We’ll delve into the world of advertising strategy with a specific interest in how it can successfully be informed by Behavioural Economics.

This is the first article of a weekly series.

Sources: Shampan’er, K. & Ariely, D. Zero as a special Price, MIT. http://web.mit.edu/ariely/www/MIT/Papers/zero.pdf Halonen, E. In The Wild: Rory Sutherland, 2013. Indesion. http://indecisionblog.com/2013/03/18/in-the-wild-rory-sutherland/

Canada pretending to be Australia just for a couple days. And Vice Versa.

Today, the temperature has been 24°C which makes this October 14th the hottest in Montreal since 1970. In the meantime, our Aussie friends have a massive storm in New South Wales which has brought 20 cm of snow to the Blue Mountains (about 2 hours east of Sydney).

Is the Earth acting normally? We’re not sure. Yes there is cycles, and yes, there will always be some days like these. But since we live on Earth, we are responsible towards it, don’t you think?

You’ve heard about Carbon Dioxide (CO2), or methane (MH4). But did you know CO2 has increased by 30% since mid-1700s while MH4 increased by a whopping 150%! 60% of the methane on Earth isn’t coming from natural sources. It means that we are producing it somehow: landfills, coal mines and “enteric fermentation” from the livestock. Even the methane coming out of the Canadian and Russian permafrost is our fault.

For your information, methane is 20 times more effective at preventing infrared radiation from escaping the planet than CO2. With that in mind, you shouldn’t be surprised that NASA confirmed last Thursday (October 9th) the presence of a methane cloud above New Mexico’s San Juan basin almost the size of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area).

People are still looking at their wallets before making eco-friendly choices. We need to have an incentive to change, beyond leaving our children with an unrepairable planet. They need to save money as IBM has illustrated in this ad:

But should we believe in ecology only when it helps us saving money? Shouldn’t we think about it on a everyday basis, like respect?