We’ve all flicked through social media and had a look at how everyone from school is doing.  It’s human nature to then compare yourself to everyone else and work out how well your life is progressing. The danger is obviously that you’re comparing a warts-and-all version of your life to the version of someone else’s that they’re happy to share online. I’ve heard it said that you’re comparing your out-takes with someone else’s highlights.

The advertising industry is well aware that this is how humans work, and is how they’ve always worked. You could argue that any advertising (for a holiday, car etc) that shows someone similar to the target audience in an idealised version of reality having chosen to buy the product or service being advertised is using a little of this effect (“I could be like him, I just need to buy X”).

Some advertising more explicitly uses the social comparison bias, and it does it in one of two ways:

Using an upwards comparison, they show someone like the target audience who appears better than you to prompt you to be more like them. The National Lottery’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign did this incredibly well – lots of real-life women exercising to show the viewer that they can experience the positivity on show just by getting up and being active.

A downwards comparison is a little harder to come by, but a perfect example is the old ‘Knock-off Nigel’ campaign that attempted to make viewing and sharing pirate DVDs socially unacceptable. ‘Nigel’ is shown to be an unpopular person and a crowd of colleagues gathers around him to sing about his worst personality traits. The implication is that you definitely don’t want to share pirate DVDs and end up as someone like Nigel.

Find out more about behavioural marketing in our new report – Applying behavioural economics to marketing – 7 cognitive biases you can leverage today. 

By James Kay

Senior Account Director