Notably, the current investigation further provides important implications regarding our approach to the challenges of driving behavioral change.
While not Profound, Important Implications provide all the great taste of persuasion but with none of the calories from science. Consider. Researchers ran a commitment/consistency Cue with guests at a California hotel to encourage the guests to reuse towels and in so doing save the planet from certain destruction. Really.
Population growth and modern industrialization have increased human impact on the natural environment. Climate change, pollution, and water scarcity are just a few of the ongoing issues in resource conservation. Energy-related activities account for over 85% of our human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, and it is estimated that at least 36 states will face water shortages by 2013 (US Environmental Protection Agency 2011a, 2011b). These realities are hard to escape.
What any of this has to do with persuasion science eludes me, but then I’m getting older and haven’t read the latest research stat and methods books which doubtless now include political philosophy as a new skill to master. I’ll take the authors at their Rationale and assume the science of this old Cue is changed with the nearing collapse of civilization. So. Procedures.
Upon arrival, hotel guests were directed to the reception desk. At the end of the check-in process, a trained hotel employee presented guests with a card stating the hotel’s commitment to the environment, followed by a commitment message with an option to join the hotel’s environmental efforts. We used two types of commitments: general (be environmentally friendly during hotel stay) or specific (reuse towels during hotel stay). To further induce signaling and reinforce the commitment, after receiving the completed commitment card, the hotel employee handed a Friend of the Earth pin to some guests who chose to commit. Notably, branded pins are highly valued by the majority of this hotel’s guests, and wearing them is a tradition. In fact, hotel guests often wear multiple pins using a branded lanyard and tend to “check out” each other’s collections. Consequently, we expected those receiving pins to actually wear them during their stay.
We see immediately the commitment/consistency Cue. If you’ve taken a stand you must stay consistent with it! It’s the foundation of the Foot-in-the-Door tactic. Get the Other Guy to sign a petition, wear a pin or a hat or carry a tag or sign, and that’s the commitment. When the Other Guys are Low WATT, it’s more likely They will fall for the commitment play and then thoughtlessly behave consistently with that commitment. You never want the Other Guys to go High WATT on this because if They really thought about the situation They’d realize that doing something so demanded as signing a petition in public or wearing a pin has nothing to do with the ultimate TACT whatever that may be. Of course, all this is very old news and extremely well-established and one wonders what is new here. Well?
In this article, we propose a novel approach for increasing guests’ participation in towel-reuse programs. Our investigation, which hinges on theories of self-signaling, commitment, and consistency, takes the nudge approach and prescribes a simple yet effective mechanism for increasing individuals’ compliance with environmental appeals in an applied setting.
Nudge. Of course. How foolish of me. Nudge changes everything. This isn’t one of the oldest persuasion plays in the book. This is one of the newest plays you’re being persuaded to buy!
It fooled me. I thought this was just an old Cue employed yet again on a prosocial TACT and more specifically yet again on the same prosocial TACT of reusing towels. How many times do you have to do this before you believe FITD exists and works, especially with prosocial TACTs? Apparently at least one more time: But call it a Nudge.
Yet this study provides Important Implications when it only runs, Hey Diddle Diddle, pretty much in the middle of effect sizes meta analytic studies have reported. Past all the hoopla in the dramatic reporting of this paper, the results they report are Small Windowpanes, about a 10 point improvement in towel reuse among guests who got any persuasion manipulation compared to those who didn’t. Nearly 60% of people in the Control condition (no persuasion plays) asked for reused towels. In the various Treatment conditions, towel reuse was between 60-70%. A Small and predictable Windowpane.
And that “self-signaling” thing. Reread the procedure.
To further induce signaling and reinforce the commitment, after receiving the completed commitment card, the hotel employee handed a Friend of the Earth pin to some guests who chose to commit. Notably, branded pins are highly valued by the majority of this hotel’s guests, and wearing them is a tradition. In fact, hotel guests often wear multiple pins using a branded lanyard and tend to “check out” each other’s collections.
Some, among a population of Other Guys who are already riding the Big Green Machine with the Friends of the Earth, give them a groovy pin they can wear and compare and what do you get: A predictable, proven, and piddling Small Windowpane. What do you think would happen if you tried this at the Dew Drop Inn in some flyover Red State. “Friends of the Earth? Oh, you mean the power company!”
Hey, but even Small effects can translate into big financial savings. Count the Change, baby.
In our hotel alone, estimated savings from increased towel reuse in the specific commitment + pin manipulation is 147,000 towels per year (2,500 loads of laundry, $51,000, and nearly 700,000 gallons of water).
Wow. Now, read this.
The request for housekeeping compliance data came from the hotel’s management in order to better quantify housekeeping response to guests’ towel hanging, as past experience showed that even when guests hung towels to be reused, housekeeping tended to replace them with new towels. During our experiment, housekeeping replaced 43% of towels hung for reuse with new towels (68,000 towels per year; 1,285 loads of laundry, $26,000, and nearly 350,000 gallons of water). In addition to the economic impact, a lack of housekeeping compliance possibly decreases the likelihood that guests will hang towels on subsequent days.
So. The Cue-ball earned the predictable 10 point more towel reuse under some conditions, except housekeeping killed 43% of that effect, meaning that the net impact of the intervention was about 6 points. You need to read past the persuasion to see the science here.
Who’s fooling who? This thing is billed as the New New Thing that will save the world from catastrophe yet at every turn the New New Thing looks only like the Old Old Thing and by doing it with the Nudge, you actually produce about half the average effect this Cue-ball makes. And that’s pretty much what a Nudge does. Take existing Low WATT persuasion plays, run them with Benevolent Paternalism on a progressive TACT, obtain half the expected Windowpane, and declare Important, if not Profound, Implications.
Is anyone surprised that the housekeeping staff trampled on this effect? To claim that a towel got reused because you saw it properly hung before housekeeping got there doesn’t make the towel reused. This persuasion play does not hit the TACT of reusing towels, but rather the TACT of properly asking for a towel to be reused. Anyone who does not see the difference between these two TACTs demonstrates the difference between Nudging and persuading. Consider the persuasion incompetence of anyone trying to save the planet who overlooks all the Other Guys in the production chain of reusing towels and instead only targets the Other Guys who like Friends of the Earth pins and checking out lanyards. No time for the great unwashed Other Guys who actually do the wash.
You fill the menu with tasty descriptions of TACTs that reuse towels and save the planet, but then the dish served is different. No, it’s is not reused towels, but the request for reused towels. No, it’s not actual financial savings, but potential savings if housekeeping also hits the TACT. You see the Say-Do gap.
The science in this paper is the very Old Old Thing, your great-grandfather’s Oldsmobile, and guess what? It still runs! Train check-in personnel and have them take a minute or two to run a Cue and voila, you get a Small Windowpane . . . but on what TACT? Sure, you can call it Reused Towels, except all the towels you Count are not the Change you say because housekeeping kills half the effect. The TACT is actually Cueing the Other Guys to ask for reused towels and feeling good about Themselves in their self-affirming, self-defining, self-polishing pins, leaving everyone to believe they are saving the planet when they are just getting over.
This is perhaps the best example of the Nudge I’ve seen since that silly book hit the market. Take old wine and put it in new wine skins, call it a science for public policy, then hide your weak results in slick rhetorical writing. You’re only selling the sell to those who think they sell when all anyone’s doing is looking in the mirror.
Mavens, see the Nudge as yet another Bolivian bank, easy, ripe, and luscious. The only people who believe the Nudge are people who are passionate about Change, but don’t know how to Count it. All you have to do is run any old, obvious, and effective persuasion play with a Nudge trademark tattooed on its hip and you can cash the check. You should also plan in cost overruns for “unexpected” problems with hidden conservative barriers – look for Other Guys who own guns, eat Slim-Jims, or drive pickup trucks. Conduct an extensive and expensive economic analysis of how much Change these barriers cost the intervention. You know: this team determined that 43% of their effect was lost from those idiots in housekeeping. You might try Fox News, McDonald’s, or WalMart instead.
Past the practical – perhaps Important, even Profound – implications, remember the Rules.
All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.
It’s about the Other Guys . . All the Other Guys.
Just Because You Count It, Doesn’t Mean You Change It.
All Bad Science Is Persuasive.
Katie Baca-Motes, Amber Brown, Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth A. Keenan, and Leif D. Nelson. (2013). Commitment and Behavior Change: Evidence from the Field. Journal of Consumer Research , Vol. 39, No. 5 (February 2013), pp. 1070-1084.