Welcome to the fifth 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 Norms theory.

So, what is Behavioural Economics?

The field of behavioural 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 Social Norms theory.

What is Norms theory?

People’s behaviour and decisions are often heavily influenced by how those around them are behaving.

So, what does that mean?

As individuals, we’re genetically programmed to “follow the herd”, which in more primitive times meant our survival. The pressure to conform socially and fit in with those around us may be more subtle now but still has an impact. So, when we think that a lot of people are doing, buying or following something, we’re more likely to do, buy or follow it ourselves.

Classic example of Norms...

Online retailers use norms across their websites to reassure customers they’re making a good choice that’s shared by others, which encourages them to buy. They’ll use stats and numbers to showcase what ‘normal’ behaviour is, particularly on product pages.


For every product you browse on Amazon, they’ll offer a myriad of other options under “Customers who bought this item also bought”. They’ll feature similar products to the one you’ve selected as well as items that will work perfectly alongside it. They use norms to reinforce that if you bought the same item as someone, then you’ll like whatever else they bought too.


Fast fashion leaders, Missguided, flood their visitors with statements like “good choice…several purchases in the last 48 hours” on product pages. With the reassurance that several people have made the same decision, it must be a stylish, accepted choice then, surely?

Using Norms to make a positive change...

In 2017, Airbnb used norms in a positive, inspiring way. During a time when foreigners were being portrayed in a negative light and seen as a potential threat by American citizens, xenophobia was growing and becoming the norm. So, Airbnb grabbed the bull by the horns and created the #weaccept campaign.

#weaccept the new norm

The ad featured a variety of people with different ages, genders and races, stating: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept. #weaccept”.

Simple, sophisticated and downright brave, the ad was aired at America’s 2017 Superbowl and watched by more than 111 million people. And we’re sure that it struck a chord with the majority of those viewers and challenged them to follow a new norm.


Behavioural 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 last week’s chunking blog post here.

By Melissa McPhillips