I have a thing for manipulation. No people, no. Manipulation is not a bad word. It’s just a more explicit way of saying what we are trying to do all along with marketing and advertising. We are trying to get people to do what we want. But we call it – very decently – influence or persuasion or hide it in AIDA. But let’s call it what it is and have some fun about it. Because isn’t it a true art to be able to manipulate things into the way you want them? Okay, I will nuance this a little bit. Or, more precisely, give it some context. I don’t know if you ever heard of or read the book ‘Nudge’ by Richard Thaler. It is a must read for everybody in marketing and advertising. The subtitle is: ‘Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness’.

I’ll give you my definition of nudging: it’s manipulation for the good of people. It’s all about the science of behavioural economics. Or how can we do small interventions that steer the choices of people in a direction that is good for them. Think about turning a staircase into a piano, so people will take the stairs to play on it and in the meantime get some exercise without noticing it.

For those who know me, you know that I’m not really the philanthropic kind. So although I think the book is intriguing, I am not per definition in it to make people more healthy, wealthier or happier. I am a big believer of self-direction and profoundly hate people with an external locus of control. In other words, people who believe that things that happen to them are caused by powerful others, fate or chance – Wikipedia puts things so well… but I am drifting off. Because ‘Nudge’ does bring something very, very interesting to the table. And that is the art of choice architecture. And that is something that for me is an essential art brands should master nowadays.

‘Nudge’ does bring something very, very interesting to the table. And that is the art of choice architecture

Steering choice architecture can be very playful, fun and light-hearted. So, it is a form of manipulation you really cannot feel bad about. But smart choice architecture can also add real value to a brand. They often take shape in small ideas in the retail environment that I would immediately archive under ‘design for excitement’, because they are not only smart, but also put a smile on your face or make you talk about a brand. But let me give you an example and then you will get where I’m going right away. After all that’s what I promised to do in this column: show you some small ideas that create brand excitement that I think are much more valuable and less intruding than traditional advertising.

Last week I was in Cambodia. And in Cambodia there is a franchise called the Blue Pumpkin. It’s a bakery, patisserie and good coffee place. This is what they did in their store:

A smart retail choice architecture intervention.

I think it’s brilliant. It’s ultimate choice architecture. By placing this little sign, they actually add a lot of value to the brand instead of putting it simply into ‘discount’. What this sign did for me is saying: hey everything you find in here is freshly baked, because after 20 o’clock we put the less fresh ones on sale. So I have a choice: do I wait for the discount or do I go for the real thing that is apparently as crispy as the crispiest thing in the world. It’s a perfect example of a small idea that opens a whole range of brand attributes. And that’s what I love: manipulation in the gentlest form, because I choose a cinnamon roll immediately. So they very tenderly manipulated me into buying something, but in a good way. How could I resist something that must have rolled out of the oven the same morning? I was immediately confirmed in my right choice and it tasted great. And I’m recommending The Blue Pumpkin to everyone visiting Cambodia. Including you.