A look into data related to social influence of negative messaging.
Joey, a high school student dressed in blue jeans and red Adidas shirt stands against a chain link fence on the edge of the school yard waiting for his ride home after school completely engrossed in pac-man on his gameboy. Seemingly out of nowhere he hears a voice say his name, “Hey Joey,” but it’s not just any voice. It’s the voice of Kip, one for the most popular seniors in the school. As Joey turns there’s Kip holding out a joint. “Want a hit” asks Kip. “No thanks” says Joey.
Remember these commercials? You should. They were played constantly during the late 80’s and early 90’s. They were part of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign which was created to try and help fight the war on drugs and give kids an example of how to say no. Undoubtedly, at some point nearly every kid was going to be offered the opportunity to try drugs and they needed to know how to say no. Sounds great, right? The only problem was that it didn’t work. In fact it was shown to have had the opposite effect. Here’s why.
Social Influence – Monkey see, monkey do!
Kids who saw these ads were actually more likely to smoke marijuana or do other drugs. The ads took what was a private act (most people don’t do drugs in public) and they made it public. Let’s think about observability and what’s called social proof. Before seeing the message, millions of kids may have never thought about doing drugs. Others may have considered doing drugs but were inherently weary about doing them. If we really look deep into this message, yes, it’s telling kids not to do drugs, but more importantly, it’s telling and showing kids that their peers are doing it.
So now picture yourself as a teen sitting at home and one of these PSA’s comes on. Essentially, what you see is that the cool kids all do drugs. And not just a few cool kids, but all the cool kids. If they are putting all this money into a ridiculous amount of these ads saying to avoid this, then a TON of your peers must be doing drugs and many of them are the coolest kids in school; and, you had no idea.
Studies have shown that the more kids saw these ads, the more they came to believe that lots of other kids were doing them. And the more they came to believe that other kids were doing them, the more they became interested in trying drugs themselves.
Now this is basic human nature and there is ample literature about the validity of this (email us and we’ll send you some suggested reads). The more others seem to be doing something, the more likely people are to think that thing is right or normal and what they should be doing as well.
This was a completely unintended consequence in her defense, there was no way Nancy Reagan and her team would have known this without trying the ads and doing the studies.
Now to answer the question you are all asking, “What the heck does this have to do with R3?”
Think real hard about the major themes of the information we are flooding the digital world with. Not the actual titles of the content, but rather the themes behind the content. “We need more hunters” or “The number of hunters is shrinking at an alarming rate” and “Fewer and fewer people are hunting” “there are less and less hunters every year” and the list goes on but you get the idea.
Now, every one of us knows that this is all true. What many of us don’t realize is the perception of this and the effects that it has on people through subconscious channels hardwired into our human brains. If you want to get someone not to do something (in this case: not to give up hunting or not to avoid trying hunting), then don’t tell them that a lot of their peers are giving up hunting or avoiding even trying hunting.
We are literally telling people that the majority of the population surrounding us every day aren’t hunters and that the few that are, are giving it up at an alarming rate.
Want to know what the themes we put out are actually saying?
“Hunting is no longer cool, hardly anyone does it anymore and if you are still a hunter or thinking about trying it, you are basically an outcast in society.”
It’s fall, you’re 23 years old, the year is 1995 and the Macarena has spent 14 weeks as the number one hit on the billboard charts. For 14 weeks now, every Friday night you go out with your friends to the local dance club and sure enough, at some point during the night a person requests the Macarena. The next thing you know there you and your friends are all doing the dance. One of your friends hates the song, most of your friends like the song and you are somewhere in between. But whether you love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between every one of you (including the hater) does the dance because literally every other person in the place is doing the Macarena. No one wants to be the killjoy as the only person not dancing.
On week 15 the Macarena is no longer the number one song and when someone requests the song only about 75% of the people in the club get up and dance. On week 16 at the songs request, only 50% of the people get up and dance. Week 17 and only 25% of the people get up and dance and week 18 literally only a handful of people in the club get up and dance. What happened on week 19? You guessed it, nobody danced the Macarena.
When the Macarena comes on the radio, every one of you still taps your foot, maybe you move your head around bopping to the beat and overall, you all still like the tune but why isn’t anyone getting up and dancing. The fond memories of fun and excitement from 14 crazy Friday nights is still strong in each your memories and you all really enjoyed the fun that you all had doing the Macarena but none of you are still dancing to it at the club. Why??
I can guarantee this is not what everyone wanted to hear but unfortunately, its reality. This type of social influence plays a part in each and every one of our lives, every single day. “That’s what everyone else is doing, so I don’t want to stand out among the crowd.” Whether you think you do this or not (most people have trouble seeing this in themselves), you do. We are hardwired this way and there is ample science to back it up.
We need to look long and hard at our messaging and what the themes behind these messages actually say. The negative effects of some of the most innocent and well intentioned messages can have long term and often detrimental outcomes to our overall goals.
Nobody likes someone who just points out a problem without proposing a solution and I don’t intent to be that guy. So what can we do to create positive messaging which works toward our desired outcome?
Focus on the successes!
We need to show people how many people around them DO hunt and how many people which are like them and have shared values are starting to hunt and bringing others with them. Show people how many others around them ARE hunting, rather than showing people how many others around them AREN’T hunting or are GIVING up hunting. We need to paint hunting as “the thing to be doing”. We need to create a social epidemic. If we can in fact inspire people to participate in hunting, then all of the conservation benefits will come as a result.
How do we do this? We combine two things. Stories and emotion.
We evoke the necessary emotions needed to inspire someone through narrative story telling. We build a Trojan horse (story) and we make sure that we fill that horse with the correct information and messages to inspire (emotion) folks to hunt.
Spitting off a bunch of data about how much money hunters paid to conservation or data about how conservation will suffer without hunters literally doesn’t even get read and the few who do read it, it doesn’t stick. Or at least it doesn’t stick enough to provoke change. Do you think the person outside smoking a cigarette hasn’t seen the data of how smoking is bad, or the person plowing down a Big Mac hasn’t seen the data of how bad some fast foods can be for their health? No, they have seen it dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of times but yet they don’t change.
What can change a person however is if something happened or that person heard the right story which touched their emotions.