When was the last time you purchased something as a direct result of a piece of advertising, marketing, PR? Maybe you had seen an advert on the bus or Tube, been prompted by an email based on loyalty card membership, or read an article in a magazine? And when was the last time you have taken a lifestyle decision, based on the promotional work of these creative industries? It has always been apparent that some promotional or push messages work for some people and not for others, and the trick has been for anyone engaged in advertising, marketing, PR to work out the audiences, the messages and how the most desirable response might be achieved. Sometimes the right connections and communications are made, sometimes it’s a little bit more hit and miss.

From work emanating from concepts of social marketing the public sector has seen the creation of nudge theory and thinking (and indeed a Government team once set up to exploring the idea of ‘nudging’). Nudging involves trying to move people in the ‘right’ direction in their decision-making but with a design that is slightly less opaque. Rather than encouraging the member of the public to ‘buy this’ or ‘do this’ it might simply offer options where there is only one conceivable ‘right’ choice. It might design the offer so there is simply no choice at all. It could be seen as manipulation with all the best intentions.

With Touch Design soon to host a stand at the forthcoming #commscampnorth we thought we might take the opportunity to discuss some of our recent learning and work about ‘nudging’ and would be delighted to hear from public and voluntary sector communicators about their experiences of this approach. In some of our recent work we have increasingly been thinking about how the nudge factor should possibly influence campaign development.

In particular, we have been adopting learning from the EAST framework – making our approach easy, attractive, social and timely. Making things easy often means selecting the healthiest option as the default choice. Ensuring that everyone is tested for a disease and that people have to opt out of screening makes it much more likely that a behaviour will happen. Making things attractive relies on the fact that our attention span is limited and that attractive messages are more likely to resonate. Making things social is based on the concept that human beings are strongly influenced by what others do, creating social norms. Even simply telling people what others do in the same situation is effective – doctors have been seen to prescribe antibiotics at a lower rate when told most of their peers were doing this. And finally, making things timely works on the thinking that people are more receptive to changes at some times than others. This may link into religious or other life events or even times of the day. We applied the EAST framework in our work with a local CCG on a recent bowel screening campaign, establishing the process as a social norm and making it timely to someone’s life course.

There’s loads to discuss about nudge theory and a lot more for all of us to learn. We’re looking forward to listening and learning from you all at #commscampnorth – see you soon.

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