Welcome to the first in a series of articles explaining the biases, nudges and heuristics influencing consumer behaviour and changing the way we think as marketers and this week's focus is the Authority bias

So, what is Behavioural Economics?

The field of behavioral economics blends elements of psychology and economics, and provides some valuable insights into why individuals are not behaving or making decisions in their own best interests.

Every week, we’ll be getting into the nitty gritty of a bias, nudge or heuristic, giving you a bit of insight into what it is and how it’s been applied. This week, it’s Authority bias.

What is Authority bias?

It’s an irrational trust in the judgement of experts

So, what does that mean?

We listen to the word of experts and value their opinion over others, even to the point of investing in products they recommend. So much so, that when we hear the term doctor, lawyer or expert we are more likely to accept their recommendations and to buy, so it is little wonder that brands have been harnessing experts to promote their brand benefits for years.

Classic examplesof Authority bias…

Hard though it is to believe now, cigarettes were once approved by “physicians” with doctors literally lighting up the adverts in publications as early as the 1920s.

During the 20s, Lucky Strike was the dominant cigarette brand. Owned by the American Tobacco Company, it was the first cigarette brand to use the image of a physician in its advertisements. “20,679 physicians say ‘Luckies are less irritating’”.

This continued into the 30s and 40s with one of the most famous campaigns of the era: Camel’s ‘More Doctors’ campaign claimed that according to a nationwide survey, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” They featured doctors in typical settings with the inference that if doctors know what the effects of smoking really are and they choose this brand… it must be a ok for you too.

Behavioural Economics, Cigarette advertising
1930 ad for American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike cigarettes.
Behavioural Economics, Cigarette advertising
Camel Cigarette Ad, 1950 is a photograph by Granger

Who’s using it now?

We’re all familiar with Oral B, the brand that “more dentists use”. Some of their adverts simply feature actors posing as dentists, without any accompanying copy to back it up. They may not be the cream of the crop of the dentistry world, but they’re wearing white lab coats, holding a clipboard and flashing incredibly white teeth. And as consumers, sometimes that’s all we need to see to put our trust in them and the brand.

Behavioural Economics, Oral B advertising


Behavioral Economics has been around since the 60s and their value and relevance in explaining why we make the “mistakes” or choices we make as consumers is compelling. As an agency, influencing behaviours is core to what we do and applying Behavioural Economics to marketing communications is a natural progression. If you are interested in understanding more about how we do this get in touch now.

Be sure to check out next week’s post when we’ll delve into another bias or heuristic. And read more about Behavioural Economics here.

By Melissa McPhillips


Cigarette Images Source: