24th October 2015

Nudge it

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Nudge It

Recently, the BBC News featured a ‘news’ item about a technique ‘pioneered’ by the Behavioural Insights Team, a group partly funded by the Government.


You’ll notice the single quotes on two words in that last sentence. Perhaps churlish, definitely necessary; the item isn’t news and the technique is not pioneering.

This new holy grail, created to get people to do what the Government wants–collect more tax in less time, get more people to attend job centres and generally persuade more people to use public services more efficiently–has been coined ‘nudging’. It uses psychology, which, translated into language in the form of letters, emails and texts, turns up the persuasion level at each stage.

I’m wondering if I’ve missed a trick somewhere in my career. I’m thinking if our beloved MPs are so out of touch, they really think this is new. Or is it the BBC that’s really behind the times?

Because if you’re in marketing, you’ll know this technique to be the art of copywriting. Nothing more, nothing less. Because it’s now being thought up by boffins sitting in on a round-table think tank and sent via our latest technologies, doesn’t make it any different. It’s still using the yonks-old idea that improving copy based on psychology, behaviour, human quirkiness–call it what you will, it’s still good, old-fashioned copywriting.

And the techniques have been around, probably since the first wheel was advertised. And definitely since before Drayton Bird.

Do. Measure. Improve. Repeat.

I’d bet, the ‘nudge’ to be a temporary buzz word. And I bet it won’t surpass what marketers have been doing for years.

But then I’d be gambling on a gut feel. Can you do that in marketing, these days?