Today I received my Celtic season-ticket renewal form in the post. The most striking thing about the document is the sentence on the front cover which has been customised to contain the customer’s name. If your name is Jim, it reads ‘BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T, JIM, WHO WILL?’
At first glance this seems a good marketing strategy. Including your name is a personal touch which evokes a sense of your individual importance to the club, and vice-versa. The sentence as a whole drives this point home. It put me in mind of a letter I received when I turned 18 and therefore became eligible to vote. It was a mock-up of a newspaper front page , with a headline along the lines of ‘JIM’S VOTE DECIDES ELECTION RESULT’ (my name’s not really Jim, by the way), intended to encourage me to register as a voter. They wanted me to think that, though I may be one of many, my participation matters.
The feeling that because you are just one of many individuals you don’t need to participate in or take responsibility for something is known as ‘the bystander effect’, and attributed to two phenomena that Latane and Darley (1968) referred to as ‘diffusion of responsibility’, and ‘social influence’.
It can be explained as follows. If you discover somebody being attacked on an otherwise empty street, you would likely feel that the responsibility to intervene is yours entirely; if you don’t, nobody else will. If you saw the same incident on a Saturday afternoon on Buchanan Street, however, you’re more likely to decide that you don’t need to act. This is for two reasons; first, you are more likely to feel that the responsibility to help is not yours alone, that it is ‘diffused’ among the crowd and that, if there are 199 other people witnessing the same incident, you only bear 0.5% of the responsibility to help. ‘Social influence’ comes in when you look across the crowd and see that nobody else is going to the attack-victims aid, so decide that if nobody else is doing it, you probably shouldn’t either.
That may not sound particularly similar to Celtic’s request that you renew your season-ticket, but this has been tested in non-emergency situations too. Wiesenthal (1983) found that, when approached, people sitting by themselves in a pub were more likely to donate to charity, and gave larger sums, than those sitting in groups. If you feel that it’s up to you alone to hand over money and help the cause, you’re more likely to dig deep. It makes sense, then, for Celtic to include your name on the front of the booklet and create the feeling that they’re not appealing to you as part of a group, but as an individual. After all, a season-ticket is essentially a donation; the imperative to renew created by scarcity of tickets has been absent for years now.
So far, so well-marketed: the inclusion of customers’ names on the front-cover is wise. However, the sentence as a whole may be something of a tactical error.
If we take the sentence ‘BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T , JIM, WHO WILL?’, it certainly creates the sense that the onus is on us not to be a bystander, but it does so by implying that other people aren’t renewing. This is unnecessary and potentially counter-productive. Unnecessary because the inclusion of the name alone is enough to counter-act ‘the bystander effect’. Counter-productive because normative beliefs cause behaviour.
Schultz et al. (2007) conducted an experiment to determine the effect of messages informing people of how their household energy consumption compared to the neighbourhood average. He found that people who used more energy than average tended to cut-down upon learning of this, but that people who used less than average became likely to increase their use. As the study puts it; ‘for those individuals who already engage in the constructive behavior, a descriptive normative message can be a spur to engaging in more destructive behavior.’
This is relevant to the season-ticket renewal booklet because the sentence ‘BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T, JIM, WHO WILL’ contains the implied message that the norm is for people not to buy tickets- that any desire you may have to sit in your seat at Celtic Park is peculiar to you alone. Remember; these booklets are posted to people who have season-tickets at the moment, these are individuals who already engage in the constructive behaviour. The last thing the club should do is make them feel that their current behaviour is unusual. Celtic, with this slogan, may be inadvertently making customers feel that in renewing they would be deviating from the norm. This risks putting people off.
It’s no secret that season-ticket sales have been falling, and with season-ticket holders buying tickets but not turning up for games, it’s to be expected that sales will fall further. It may seem intuitive that the club use this to tug on the heart strings of fans and implore them to renew when their support is badly needed. However, people don’t always behave as one intuitively expects. Celtic would have been better advised to boast about the fact that we have the 3rd highest number of season-ticket holders in Britain, and tell people that the vast majority will renew once more. Both of these claims would be true, and they’d serve to establish a perceived social norm that would help sell tickets.