[tweetmemediggfacebook] You perform better if you’re being watched. Better as in more equitably. More ‘proper’, some might say. Why? The Authority Effect: we’re sensitive to whether our actions are being observed by others. It’s true even if no one is actually watching: A picture of a person will do. (Frankly, we’re an odd species.)


As [ax]http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9424-big-brother-eyes-make-us-act-more-honestly.html[/ax]documented in the June 2008 edition of the New Scientist magazine, researchers experimented with the authority effect using an office tea & coffee ‘honour box’ price suggestion poster with supported by either an image of flowers, or an image of human eyes, rotated weekly.
People paid 2.76 times more when the sign included the pair of eyes.


And it’s simply a picture. A black and white one, too.

“Frankly we were staggered by the size of the effect…”
Gilbert Roberts, Researcher

How do you take advantage of this effect to increase the use of seat belt wearing? Like most of the behavioural anomalies we fall prey to, there’s more than one way to execute this effect to change driver behaviour: to a person with a marketing-shaped hammer we could make them a piece of film; to a person with a policy-shaped hammer we could formulate a piece of legislation.

[rightcol]1. Policy-shaped hammer

If we perform better when a picture of a stranger is watching us, what about if it’s a real person watching us? What if it’s one of our family? What if it’s one of our children?

The seat belt wearing statistics in the US didn’t start to climb dramatically until the Federal Government mandated children wear seat restrains in the back of a car. How ever much a driver wants to fight-the-man and strike a blow for freedom by not wearing a belt, when his/her child asks why they’re not wearing one opposition crumbles. Seat belt use amongst adults rocketed up. Compliance was all but secured by an army of inquisitive children. All parent’s are observed. And no parent wants to be a hypocrite. ([ax]http://www.gladwell.com/tippingpoint/index.html[/ax]Gladwell, Tipping Point)

2. Marketing-shaped hammer

This film made by Sussex Road Safety Partnership uses the driver’s wife and child to watch over him – and indeed express their desire to save him – by being the support that holds him back during a crash. We can easily put ourselves in the driver’s seat, and imagine our close family embracing our life. We are being observed, by proxy.

This film recently won the Gold World Medal at the New York Festivals International Advertising Awards (an award scheme our founder has been a judge on), beating the likes of VW, Nike, and Chanel. (And it only cost £47k).


We’re sensitive to whether our actions are being observed. Knowing this is one (big) thing. Knowing how to act on it, is another (even bigger) thing.