The most famous behavioural science framework is missing something vital
There are few contenders vying for the crown of most famous behavioural science framework but ask most behavioural science folks and they’ll tell you straight up: it’s EAST.
That’s no surprise really. EAST is short, sharp and only has 4 bits to remember: if you want people to do something, make it:
Dead simple. No training or master’s degree required. If you want more people to do something, make it easier, more attractive, more connected to others, and timed just when people are ready to make their choice. Fabulous.
Well the thing is, all is not fabulous. Something is missing.
And it’s fun.
Now ‘fun’ might sound trite there. But these aren’t just the words of some comms agency. They come from one of the godfathers of practical behavioural science – Cass Sunstein.
Cass Sunstein just wanna have fun
If you’ve seen him in the last year or so, you’ll have heard him say it. He thinks EAST should have been FEAST all along.
For him, fun is fundamental (groan) to understanding how we can influence each other to behave in ways that benefit society, and even ways that benefit the planet.
Let’s run with that planet example for a second. Just look how much of the language around climate change is punitive at the moment.
DON’T drive that car.
DON’T fly that far.
DON’T throw things in the wrong bin.
DON’T eat any beef.
DON’T put your heating on even when you’re cold.
It doesn’t sound like much fun does it? And yet the benefits of a more sustainable society would be amazing! Cleaner air, quieter streets, healthier lives, fewer McDonalds’…not bad at all.
So why don’t we communicate this shift in a way that sounds more fun?
Get an electric car! They’re clean, cheap to run and crazy-fast to drive!
Get a heat-pump! They’re quiet, cheap to run, and the government’s giving you £5,000 off them.
Get recycling! Look at all the amazing shoes, bags, clothes you can make from recycled plastics!
With all of them you can also make people feel incredibly smug for being ethical enough to buy whatever sustainable wares you’re hawking.
(Cass Sunstein keeps using a howler of an example to describe this. He talks about how Diet Pepsi was launched in Europe, and it was a total flop. But then they launched Pepsi Max 💥 which sounds super fun, and it was great success! Only problem is, er, Diet Coke is a thing and people quite like it…)
Anyway, the point is: Frame with fun
If you want people to do something, make it sound fun.
To give Sunstein his dues he gives us a couple of better examples too:
- Frustration-free packaging, not ‘greener’ packaging
- Colourful dishes, not healthier vegetables
But could more positive behaviours be reframed in a more fun way?
Perhaps London’s Congestion Charge zone could be reframed as a clean-air zone (clean air-rea?)
Or National Insurance – could that be your ‘Giving-Back Contribution’?
We can certainly frame things in a more fun way to make choices look more attractive.
But can we also go further?
Don’t just make it sound fun. Make it actually fun
Why are so many of the things that are so important in life so dull to do?
Tax returns. GP registrations. Welfare sign-ups.
Can’t we inject some motivation into these processes to make them more attractive to do?
There’s been some great examples of this down the years already. The series from The Fun Theory from way back when did some great work:
- Turning staircases into piano keys to get more people taking them over using the escalator
- Making bins sound like they’re miles deep
- The chewing gum litter target
- The bottle bank arcade
Some enterprises have even taken fun even further and created real products, like:
- The ballot bin – which reduces cigarette butt litter by 46% where its used.
- Or the speed camera lottery – which reduced speeding in Stockholm by 22%.
- Or the famous urinal fly – which reduces, ahem, “spillages” by 80%.
The evidence is there that this stuff works. So, genuine question: why don’t we see more attempts to make pro-social behaviours more fun?
The digital world is really good at this stuff, but not always ethically
In Nyr Eyal’s book ‘hooked’ he created a model for how to get people addicted to apps:
The model looks like this
- You trigger people to ‘play’ – With advertising and notifications.
- Make people do an action – By making it super-easy or tempting to do.
- Give people variable rewards – To reward them but also keep them excited by which rewards they’ll get after each action.
- Ask people to invest something – Like a recommendation to friends, or spending in-game credits.
Sometimes people do this really well, like in Duolingo where you’re practically addicted to learning a new language before long, it’s so damn fun.
But often it’s used to loop people into gambling spirals like the Playstation/Xbox game ’FIFA’. One person has admitted to spending a cool $280,000 buying players on it. That’s real money, for non-real in-game credits.
What we need is good, clean fun
Luckily, people absolutely hate companies that use fun to manipulate them. In fact some countries have already gone so far as to ban FIFA for being too akin to gambling.
So when we’re making life more fun (and generally speaking we absolutely should) we have to bear in mind:
What outcomes will making this behaviour more fun lead to?
If the answer is ‘incentivising gambling to make some big company a fast buck’, then we’ve got a problem.
But if it’s incentivising a boring task that actually benefits the individual and others around them, like timesheets, tax returns, or learning a language?
Well. Why aren’t we having fun yet?