Let me start by saying, we here at DiMassimo Goldstein love a good bar crawl. Be it for a 21st birthday, bachelorette party or a fantasy football draft. A small group of friends hitting up one bar at a time in embarrassing matching T-shirts one person in the group all demanded they wear can be a lot of fun.
And then, there’s SantaCon, when thousands and thousands of overserved Santas, inebriated elves and freaky Frostys takeover the streets and bars of cities around the globe. Every year here in New York, there are articles about bars and businesses bracing for the impact of SantaCon, while neighborhoods fight over who has to host the thing, like relatives arguing over who has to take home an unwanted fruitcake. It’s annoying. It’s inconvenient. And most of all…is that cool for kids to see Santa and his friends acting that way?
At DiGo…we don’t think so.
We noticed that these drunken Santas mostly seem to be of a certain age that is both a.) far from their belief in Santa Claus and b.) far from the stage in life where they would have a child of their own who believes in Santa. And because of this, they don’t realize that their “unique” portrayal of old St. Nick does not go unnoticed by young eyes.
That’s why we partnered with our friends and creative collaborators at Crew Cuts and made this ad to encourage people to #SitOutSantaCon.
We wanted to hear from the children themselves some of the horrors they have witnessed during SantaCon, in order to maybe encourage people who were planning on going to SantaCon to if not sit it out completely, at least please, think of the children.
In just under a week, the video amassed over 20,000 views (and counting). The social campaign received over 50,000 impressions and was picked up by ten different publications, including a write-up in Adweek and a televised feature on Pix11.
Our Facebook event received over one hundred RSVPs – that’s 144 small inspiring actions that together can make a big difference.
Thank you to all who supported the campaign and helped spread the word. We’re looking forward to continuing this mission next year, and with your help, we can end SantaCon in our lifetime.
After he sold his second company to Google, Luis von Ahn received a phone call.
It was Bill Gates.
The richest man in the world, and co-founder of Microsoft, was personally recruiting the young computer scientist to join his team.
But for von Ahn, joining a world-changing company wasn’t enough. Like Gates, he needed to create his own.
So, the Guatemalan-born web wizard —who has become famous for combining humans and computers to solve large-scale problems that neither can solve alone — founded Duolingo, a free, science-based language education platform that is now the most popular way to learn languages online. And while von Ahn’s portfolio consists of several successful ventures, Duolingo is likely to be his masterpiece.
Von Ahn’s passion has always been rooted in the world of academia. A graduate of Duke University, who later received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon, where he now serves as a professor, he knows the education system all too well.
Both sides of it.
He’s seen the prestige of the world’s most elite universities, and the wealth that feeds them. He’s also experienced the resources, or the lack thereof, of the schools in a developing country. This side, sadly, is much more prevalent globally, and it’s the problem von Ahn has made his life work to solve.
In countries like Guatemala, education does not bring equality to social classes, as some may think. It does the opposite. Those with money can buy themselves an education, while those without it can barely read and write. This system sets up career barriers that are almost always insurmountable, and only widens the divide between the upper and lower classes.
By launching Duolingo, von Ahn was taking a seat at the intersection of technology and human behavior, inspired to create a product that could change outcomes in more permanent and integral ways to tackle the global-scale problem of language learning.
The mission was simple: make language education free and accessible to everyone all over the world.
Of the 1.2 billion people in the world learning foreign languages, 800 million of them satisfy three properties:
They are learning English
The reason they are learning English is to get a job
They are from low socioeconomic classes
For these individuals, learning a language can be the gateway out of poverty, but doing so can cost up to $1,000 dollars. Without the money, and no other alternative, the odds are unfairly stacked against them. To change those odds, von Ahn would first have to change behaviors.
Behavior Change Marketing
Learning a language is difficult. Everyone wants to do it, but most give up. The key is making it a habit. Duolingo could never work unless a user visited it regularly, so the success of the company hinged on it becoming a regular behavior, which also meant dislodging other long-held behaviors.
For von Ahn, the environment was technology. How could behavioral design be used to prevent the poor retention rates of other language-learning softwares? How could he reinvent the teaching process to make it a memorable experience worth the consumers’ time?
As the work of behavioral economists has shown us, consumer decision-making is not just about the availability of information. Instead, it’s about how that information is framed and delivered. By framing language-learning as a game, von Ahn was applying behavioral design to keep consumers coming back for more.
He and his team incorporated gameplaying elements to increase engagement. Like other mobile-game apps, Duolingo is friendly and fun. It uses images, video clips, and the microphone on the mobile device to not only help you learn words, but to recite and write them as well.
Behavioral science has proven that marketing efforts that activate goals have a much greater impact on consumers. Duolingo rewards right answers with “points.” Consecutive daily lessons can help the consumer build “streaks.”
“It’s like a video game, where you have to do something every day or you lose your rank,” says Gina Gotthilf, VP of Marketing and Growth for Duolingo.
The streaks give you virtual currency that can unlock bonus skills or purchase outfits for the game’s mascot, a green owl named Duo. Von Ahn picked an Owl because owls are associated with wisdom, and chose to make it green as a joke on the company’s co-founder, Severin Hacker, who’s least favorite color is green (seriously).
An educational resource that’s actually enjoyable to use, Duolingo combines fun with function in a way that no language-learning platform has before.
A major point of differentiation amongst competitors like Rosetta Stone, other than the price, is DuoLingo’s use of Artificial Intelligence. In his research, von Ahn discovered that the hardest part of learning a new language is overcoming the fear of sounding it out in front of others. With AI chatbots, DuoLingo users can practice without pressure, preparing them for real-life conversations without the awkwardness and anxiety that come with the learning process.
The performance data also allows Duolingo to measure how effective different teaching methods are. If a person makes a mistake, or even hesitates to answer a certain question, the app registers that behavior, and will serve a new series of questions to help that person overcome that difficulty.
The Duolingo team has conducted thousands of A/B tests exploring the biases and cognitive shortcuts that affect how people absorb and process information. In doing so, they continue to build on their mastery of behavioral techniques, analyzing how millions of people learn at once, to create the most effective educational system possible, and then tailor it to each student.
For example, if Duolingo wanted to know if people learned faster when being taught plurals before adjectives, or vice versa, they would simply split the next 400,000 users into two groups and test each. Once they have their answer, they can implement it across the entire platform. This allows Duolingo to get smarter and more efficient as the company grows; and it’s working. A recent study by the City University of New York shows that 34 hours of learning a language on Duolingo is the equivalent of an entire university semester learning that same language.
Today, with over 200 million users, it is the most downloaded educational app in the world. In the United States, there are more people learning languages on Duolingo than there are in the nation’s school system.
Outside the U.S., entire countries like Costa Rica and Columbia have adopted Duolingo into every public school that has access to the internet, and the company is currently working on creating offline platforms for countries that do not have stable or reliable internet connectivity.
Von Ahn wanted to show the world that true equality exists only when money cannot buy better educations; and, while he’s just getting started, he realized his impact when he received news about a familiar friend.
Bill Gates used Duolingo to learn French.
The richest man in the world and kids in developing countries – both using the same educational tool to learn.
When Steve Jobs was trying to hire John Sculley, then the CEO of Pepsi, to come and work with him at Apple, Jobs said,
“Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
Sculley did leave Pepsi and join Jobs at Apple, becoming CEO. At first, it was a lovefest, but over time they clashed, leading to Jobs’ ouster from the company he had founded.
It turned out they didn’t share the same values.
For Jobs, changing the world was a moral imperative. For Sculley, the technology business was a cool consumer products business that was first and foremost a business.
This cautionary tale is a good way to introduce the topic of moral reframing. It contains all the tensions a behavior change marketer must resolve in order to successfully use this technique.
The news is that Robb Willer, a Stanford sociologist, has found that an effective way to persuade people in politics is to reframe arguments to appeal to the moral values of those holding opposing positions (https://news.stanford.edu/2015/10/12/framing-persuasive-messages-101215/).
We know from testing and experience that similar reframing works outside of the political realm as well.
For example, let’s say my company has invented a new way to get you to exercise more.
I believe that if you were to try my product, you would exercise more, be healthier, live longer and feel more energy and vitality.
In other words, in my moral universe, exercise is about health.
But, maybe my audience cares about cool experiences and being part of an “in” crowd. If I reframe my presentation of my innovation in that frame, I’ll make many more sales. My persuasive communication will be much more successful, creating much more behavior change.
If we design our experience around this frame, we’ll create much more sustainable behavior change.
So, why doesn’t this happen more often?
“Moral reframing is not intuitive to people,” Willer said. “When asked to make moral political arguments, people tend to make the ones they believe in and not that of an opposing audience – but the research finds this type of argument unpersuasive.”
Most people tend to pitch from their own frames of reference, and moral frames are the least flexible.
But, understanding the audience and employing the audience’s frame of reference is the core of successful communication.
So, let’s get back to that Steve Job’s story.
Did he know something about Sculley? Did he know that Sculley had achieved wealth, respect and power and was now looking for a legacy?
Very likely. Jobs was an excellent salesman.
Or, did Jobs just speak from his own moral frame and it happened to work in this case?
Jobs was a true believer, so this is likely.
I tend to think it was both. Jobs thought he’d found someone who was ripe to be influenced by a moral frame they could share.
This is the tension between leadership and sales, between brand and response, that must be managed.
Excessive personalization tends to obliterate integrity in the brand. By attracting people who don’t share your values, you end up with a customer, an employee – or in Job’s case, a boss – who doesn’t really share your values.
And, bad things happen.
One approach that works particularly well in politics is to look for a larger frame. This is a way to get beyond my frame or your frame.
For example, Lincoln believed “if anything is evil, slavery is evil.” Others believed “slavery is our God-given institution,” while still others believed “slavery is an evil, but it’s not worth risking war over.”
Lincoln looked for a new moral frame that could be shared by more of his audience. He found several. The first was: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This, from the Bible, spoke to a broad swath of Lincoln’s audience. He employed the frame he later used in the Gettysburg Address, when he argued that the Founding Fathers had already dealt with the issue of slavery, that they had worked to set it “on a course of ultimate extinction.”
At the time, respect for the Founding Fathers was very great – it was a moral frame shared by a large percentage of the audience.
So, in sum:
Speaking from your own moral frame is integrity, but it is often ineffective integrity.
Speaking from your audience’s moral frame is more effective, but it can be manipulative and hurt the brand.
Finding a frame that can include both the brand’s values and the audience’s too ultimately creates the most sustainable behavior change while it builds the brand.
For our client, Weight Watchers, which believed in healthy weight, healthy lifestyle and healthy community and then found that their audience had shifted focus to healthy lifestyle, we found that their frame was already broad enough to adapt, and all that was needed was to refocus the members themselves.
For Sallie Mae, we saw that “Let’s Make College Happen” could unite all the constituencies – parents, students, guidance professionals and Sallie Mae employees – all of whom are focused on making college happen.
TradeStation was obsessively focused on the most powerful trading technology while living the Miami lifestyle. When it became clear that the audience cared about both, rather than just the awesome technology, TradeStation widened the marketing frame, and the result has been like a beautiful big blue wave.
Frame like a master, and you’ll love the results.
This has been your Behavior Change Science Update: Moral Reframing.