91猫先生

An analogue ‘dark nudge’ that still matters

by | 10 Nov, 2022 | The Brands Blog

Technology and digital transformations have revolutionised both our lives and our relationship with marketing and brands.

It is accepted that this has led to a mix of good and bad practices, behaviours and interventions.

The digital world has also created a new lexicon of terms and jargon that marketers need to keep up with! The dark nudge or sludge is one such new addition to our world.

Thaler and Sunstein, leaders in behavioural thinking, describe a nudge thus:

鈥楢 nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.鈥

A dark nudge is an aspect of choice architecture that encourages a consumer to make a bad or personally detrimental choice. It magnifies cognitive bias to encourage or discourage changes in behaviour. Not all dark nudges are created equal and this creates a nudge-spectrum and shades of grey. This varies dramatically from genuinely harmful choices to digital marketing or AI that simply encourages consumers to make fast, System 1 (S1) choices, without the time or energy for full consideration.

The Behavioural Hub of the Competition and Markets Authority has recently published a on the taxonomy of online choice architecture (OCA) and how certain practices may harm consumers as well as competition. An accompanying provided supporting evidence. Mapping out and bringing structure to such practices help lead the discussion on how to regulate the digital environment and how to best prevent activities that are obviously harmful.

Playing devil鈥檚 advocate for a moment… the marketing world has long contained a range of nudges of various shades that have encouraged S1 approaches long before we even knew what they were! The purpose of this Brands Blog is to highlight one that has been a cause of much debate and angst between brand owners and retailers… look-alike, copycat or ‘parasitic’ packaging. This is where a competitor uses shape, typography, language, copy and colour to make their product look as much like the trusted branded product as they can possibly get away with.

In practice, copiers can mimic influential elements of brand packaging largely unchallenged. Unless they infringe trade marks, copyright or other enforceable IP [intellectual property], they can sail very close to the wind as the standard of evidence required by the courts to find against them is challengingly high.

The copiers claim they are not trying to copy anything but reflect established category norms to help shoppers navigate the fixture and find their products. Brands feel that this is an attempt to piggy-back on years of investment in a brand鈥檚 distinctive elements, the visual assets by which shoppers recognise and understand them. That, in the end, it is a subtle way to 鈥榯rick鈥 a shopper鈥檚 S1 brain into picking up the wrong pack.

What harm is done? Perhaps little at the individual shopper level, as the products in the look-alike packaging can be good, but it would be wrong to not see this practice as a form of dark, or at least a 鈥榙irty grey鈥, nudge. Evidence suggests that hundreds of thousands of shoppers have bought products they didn鈥檛 intend to, due to the similarity. It is unknown how many more leave the store with a different purchase to the one intended due to misassumptions over the product and its provenance, or the fact it looks familiar when it isn鈥檛.

The only reason a copier would go to the trouble of impersonating the packaging of a leading brand is to encourage shoppers to think it is the same 鈥 on all levels of quality and experience. Within this, and given how people shop at speed, copiers will expect some level of misattribution and selection errors… … in their favour. Not only can they expect to sell more, but there is also evidence they can charge more.

Interestingly, when they have their own equity to defend, retailers can suddenly, and miraculously, start to believe in the impact and harm of dark nudges. Witness Lidl鈥檚 recent spat with Tesco. The discounter claiming that Tesco鈥檚 Club Card logo, using a yellow circle on a blue background, was mimicking the Lidl logo and, it claims, piggybacking on their value credentials. Who would have thought it!

Since the evidence broadly supports that a shopper makes a brand or own-label preference choice before they get to the shelves, similar packaging does not support the shoppers鈥 choice architecture. It is not open, transparent and consumer-centric 鈥 the attributes of truly modern commercial systems.

Whoever is responsible for monitoring or judging these issues should start to reconsider their response to these 鈥榙ark鈥 nudges and their impact on consumer choice and decisions in the S1 world of physical retail. It is still as relevant as the dynamic newness of the digital space.

 

Tim Brooks is an independent consultant and Board adviser, including to the Council of the 91猫先生


Click here to email this to a friend, or share via using the social buttons below: