Nudging: For the Good of Consumers

“The more mindless you are when you shop, the more you are going to be poked and prodded to buy the manufacturer’s products. We’re trying to give consumers the same power the companies have.”

– Colin Payne

Nudging has emerged as a prominent theoretical framework to inspire changes in the environment where a choice takes place to gently persuade or nudge people’s behaviour. Brands have been historically using the nudging principles mainly to spur consumers to buy more products and services.

But, this is changing.

When Richard Thaler signs copies of the best-selling book Nudge, which he co-authored with legal scholar Cass Sunstein, he always writes “Nudge for good” next to his name introducing awards for brands that leverage these insights for the good of the consumer.

Max Bazerman, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, points out the paradox. “The question is, are we affecting human behaviour, or are we affecting human behaviour for good?”

We know shopping is like driving, it happens by default or what we call intuitive thinking or System 1. 70% of us follow the same path in the supermarket in every shopping mission and only one-third of purchases are planned in advance.

Some examples of positive nudging originate from a research conducted by New Mexico State University:

Sectioning the grocery cart to provide separate space for fruit and veg yielded the result of a 102% increase in purchases of fruits & veggies.

Implementing large green arrows on the floor that lead to the fruit and veg – when arriving at the decision point to go left or right, shoppers followed the green arrows 9 out of 10 times.

Placing a mirror at the end of shopping carts serves as a constant self-reminder, as opposed to running on autopilot.

It’s all about framing the choice in a positive way. Increasingly, brands are using these principles to advocate better choices.

As e-commerce platforms and sellers expand, consumer policies need to ensure that the rules and regulations that apply to online shopping are up-to-date and effectively protect all customers.

Research shows that messages appealing to the customer’s emotions, such as ‘To avoid disappointment, please ensure that the product you are buying is compatible with your device”, combined with an emoticon (a sad face) were the most effective in preventing a participant from purchasing an incompatible product.

Surprisingly, a traditional warning message, such as “Please ensure that the product you are buying is compatible with your device” was as effective as no warning message at all.

Brands want consumers to enrich their life experiences rather than just acquiring goods. It is to be said that the brands that are expected to grow are the ones that demonstrate their commitment to nurturing a greater sense of community and genuine concern for consumers.


Case-study of Danone encouraging kids to drink more water:

A study carried out in Spain revealed that children and adolescents do not drink enough water. More than two-thirds of them do not comply with the European guidelines.

Font Vella Kids are fun water bottles specifically designed for boys and girls between 4 and 11 years old. They are 33cl natural mineral water bottles combining a bottle shape and the visual of children’s favorite Disney characters to nudge kids to have more water.

The healthy hydration campaign has reached 2 millions homes, with an almost 17% increase in the children’s segment category.


Case-study of Wrigley’s and Keep Britain Tidy to reduce littering:

‘Bin it for Good’ initiative addresses littering and challenges behaviour of people occasionally dropping litter on the street rather than putting it in the bin.

The initiative included transforming the litter bins in participating areas as charity collection pots! These pots had eye-catching bin wraps featuring a new local charity or cause each month, supported by local media coverage and social media outreach. The communication coverage explains that the more litter goes into the bins, the more money the charity receives. So, by binning litter, local people help their community in two ways: by making their local area neat and clean as well as supporting a donation to a local charity. There was care taken in selection of charities as well. They were selected to appeal to local people, either by locally elected representatives or through a council poll.

The result: littering reduced by a whopping 42%!


Vatsala Rathore

Associate Director