There’s a very common mental state we experience every day of our lives that makes us greatly underestimate the likelihood of something bad happening to us. Psychologists call it the ‘normalcy bias’, and it’s a pretty helpful thing. Without it, we would be less able to relax and enjoy our lives. Instead, we’d live in constant fear of bad things happening to us, frantically anticipating the next disaster we are sure to encounter.
But, thankfully, the normalcy bias help keeps most of us sane, safe in the knowledge that any disaster that has never happened to us before, almost certainly never will.
This same bias means we tend to ignore well-intended warnings about our own safety. Faced with a warning that pickpockets are known to operate in the vicinity, most of us will either ignore the warning or, at most, quickly check that our bags and valuables are secure. Rather ironically, these same personal checks are often spotted by pickpockets nearby helping them identify exactly where our valuables are, transforming us from passer-by to victim.
While every effort is being made by the police to apprehend the culprits, educating the public to keep their belongings safe is still the best way to reduce crime. Placing more warning signs doesn’t always help, and sometimes has the opposite effect. So how can we educate vulnerable pedestrians without inadvertently helping the pickpockets?
The UK’s Crimestoppers charity recently appointed OgilvyOne to help find new ways to tackle London’s pickpocketing problem. And the solution was little short of genius.
Crimestoppers employed former pickpockets and sleight-of-hand experts including magicians to place leaflets into the pockets and bags of passers-by. The leaflets were designed to mimic high value items like smartphones, wallets and tablet computers, all desirable objects for pickpockets. The simple premise was that if someone can put something in your pocket, they are also capable of taking something out. When the chosen ‘victims’ later found the leaflet on their person, they would feel compelled to read the advice and accept how vulnerable they were.
The reason this campaign is so clever is that it invokes a very profound effect upon our normalcy bias. OgilvyOne’s goal was to bring about long term behavioural change from members of the public. By surreptitiously placing the leaflets, they put the recipients into a ‘hot state’ where their normalcy bias could be instantly reprogrammed. This ‘hot state’ effectively brought the frightening prospect of being pickpocketed into sharp focus, thereby ensuring that future trips around London would take place with a greater awareness of the risks.
A very clever strategy indeed, and one that can be mimicked by other brands who take the time to understand the deeply rooted and entrenched reasons why we humans behave the way we do. Next time you’re wondering why it seems so hard to change behaviours, the answer may lie in finding creative ways to break habits and shake people into paying attention.
Read more about this delightful campaign: