When the iPhone was launched in Poland, dozens of actors were paid to stand outside stores queuing. This technique utilises the third of Cialdini's six principles of influence – social proof. As social creatures we like what other people like. We assume that if lots of people are doing something then it must have some value and worth to it. Accordingly, by having actors queue up waiting to buy the iPhone it signals that the product must be desirable and worth having to passers-by, hence making them want to buy it also. We are particularly susceptible to this principle when the people we see seem to be similar to ourselves, which is why just seeing 'regular people' queuing can be a stronger force in persuading a wider audience to buy a product than, for example, seeing a multi-millionaire businessman waiting to buy the product.The effectiveness of this principle was investigated by Goldstein, Cialdini and Griskevicius (2008). Over 80 days they collected data on 1058 instances of potential towel reuse in a hotel in Southwest America. For some of the hotel visitors (control condition) there was a sign positioned on the towel racks in their room that read:
“HELP SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. You can show your respect for nature and help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.”
For others (experimental condition) the sign read:
“JOIN YOUR FELLOW GUESTS IN HELPING TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. Almost 75% of guests who are asked to participate in our new resource savings program do help by using their towels more than once. You can join your fellow guests in this program to help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.”
If the guests chose to participate in the reuse program then they were to drape their towels over the curtain rod, if they didn’t want to participate in the program then they were to leave their towels on the floor. If the principle of social proof works as an effective persuasion technique then the researchers should find that those guests in the experimental condition (viewing the sign stating how 75% of guests reuse their towels) should be more likely to do so themselves.
As shown in the above figure this is exactly what they found! 44.1% of the visitors who viewed the sign stating that it was the norm for guests to reuse their towels did so compared to just 35.1% who viewed the sign stating the reusing the towels would help to save the environment. Thus it appears that the guests in the experimental condition used the actions of the majority of previous guests to decide that reusing the towels must be a good action with some value to it. Just as Orange Poland hoped that passers-by would come to imitate the behaviour of those actors in the queue, the hotel chain hope that new guests will come to imitate the apparent actions of previous guests. And more often than not their hopes will be fulfilled, all thanks to the power of social proof.
Reference: Goldstein, N.J., Cialdini, R.B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 472-482.