Since the beginning of the Covid-19 global pandemic, the world has come together to support one another in beautiful acts of kindness. Behavioural scientists call this The Reciprocity bias.

Children have been painting rainbows in their windows, neighbours have been buying each other groceries and huge organisations have been providing financial relief for their customers – all with the united effort to survive this crisis.

Is this just a simple act of kindness, is it reciprocity or is there really a difference?

Reciprocity is a social norm, where humans mirror another person’s act of kindness or negativity with the same action. I scratch your back and you scratch mine mentality.  If someone does something nice to us, we feel compelled to reciprocate the action and return the favour.

Brands have effectively used reciprocity in their marketing to raise brand awareness and attract new customers because of the mutual benefit.
TOMS’ successful one-for-one campaign raised their profile by donating one pair of shoes to every pair bought and Spotify’s app download grew exponentially after offering a 30 day trial to all new customers.

But during Covid-19, we have seen brands pivoting their businesses to help fight the outbreak but display incredible acts of kindness, with no strings attached.

Here are some examples:

Pret are providing all NHS staff with free hot drinks for and 50% off everything else.

Tesco creating special trading hours for NHS staff.

Uber giving free rides and free meals to all NHS staff.

Fitness brands and celebrities are providing free online workouts for people and families, to keep fit whilst in lockdown.

Joe Wicks providing the nation with 9am online P.E. lessons for all the family.

Barry’s Bootcamp proving 3 online classes everyday on Instagram Live for free. (Classes would typically cost £15-20)

Fashion icon Burberry is using its vast global supply chain to fast track 100,000 surgical masks for the NHS, retooling their trench coat factory in Yorkshire to make non-surgical gowns for patients, as well as funding research into a single-dose vaccine.

Mcdonalds, Audi and Coca-Cola all changed their logos on Advertising campaigns to help spread the word on social distancing.

Pret - reciprocity bias
McDonalds - reciprocity bias

These brands have displayed wonderful acts of kindness during a global crisis and in the long term these brands and celebrities will inevitably be thought of favourably and will no doubt reap the rewards.

Was their end goal to create reciprocal warmth towards their brand, or was it a selfless act at time of global suffering.

Does it really matter when everyone has come together and benefited during some very scary and unprecedented times?

What is Behavioural Science?

Behavioural Science has been around since the 60s. It blends elements of psychology and economics to identify the mental triggers, or bias, nudges and heuristics, that affect the decisions people make.

This blog series is your go-to guide for a snapshot into what these triggers are, and how they can be used in marketing to influence consumer behaviour.

The Behaviours Agency

We’re a creative agency that uses behavioural science to create impactful ideas and experiences for retailers and brands. We call it creativity informed by behavioural science. If you want to know more about how do this, get in touch now.


By Janey Leonard-Myers

Senior Account Manager