Comments from Hilary Stamper, Acting Campaign Director, Care2.com
Care2 and Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund recently celebrated Earth Day with a bang – we gathered over 100,600 activists for a "Virtual March to Leave NO Species Behind." One of the hooks we used to encourage people to march, and especially to encourage people to invite their friends, was a special Activist Award – an iPod Nano with wildlife wrapper.
Award Does Not Increase Mailing CTR's: Is it Cognitive Dissonance?
We sent out test mailings to compare response rates with and without the iPod promotion, but to my surprise, the promotion seemed to result in lower CTR's overall (See Graph). After mulling over this information for weeks, a memory of my earlier days in Stanford's social psychology department sparked an idea.
I think that the effect of what that social psychologists call "cognitive dissonance" might have been at play. Cognitive Dissonance is often described as the perception of incompatibility between two thoughts or a thought and a behavior that compels people to acquire or invent new beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance between perceptions.
Therefore, the juxtaposition of the Earth Day March with a commercial reward - and a non-eco one at that - may have created this cognitive dissonance for Care2 members. In this case, I think a desire to avoid "dissonance" stopped people from taking action. We've seen time and time again that Care2 members are very passionate about their issues. They have such a strong opinion of themselves as people who care about the environment that perhaps the slight suggestion that they might possess "ulterior motives" for marching might have decreased their desire to join, or at least not increased it. For some members, the nature of the incentive - an iPod rather than some kind of "green" award - may have been the issue, instead of the incentive alone.
I was curious enough about this hypothesis that I did some digging, and it turns out there is some strong current research showing that starting to pay long-time blood donors to give blood, rather than just continue to ask for their donation, actually reduces the frequency with which they do so. Perhaps the same dissonance effect is at work here, too.
Now, the cool thing about relating behavior to testable theories is that we can make predictions about future behaviors.
Prediction: A prize that increases a participant's ability to live a lifestyle aligned with the March values promoted (Prius, ticket to new Al Gore movie, solar panels) would improve, or at least not decrease CTR's (less dissonance is created if the participant feels the prize is a valued cause on its own.)
Overall Increase in Invitations/Marcher
Although the prize was advertised in mailings and did not seem to boost CTR's, we did see that the overall number of invitations sent to friends increased by 8%, compared with the prior year in which no prize was awarded. There are two reasons this could have occurred and they are certainly not mutually exclusive:
1) We sent three messages to current marchers, rather than just two as we did the prior year, urging them to invite friends. Clearly, this does not directly relate to the question of award effectiveness, except as the award as a topic provides an additional subject to engage our marchers.
2) The award was also promoted on Invite Friend pages where marchers would no longer experience a threat of "dissonance;" once the member has joined the March and therefore perceives him/herself to be fully committed to the cause, dissonance about their reason for marching doesn't exist. At this point, they need only invite friends who share their support for the environment. The prize might serve as a "bonus" or an added incentive to add just a few more friends to their list, but there is less worry about motivation for inviting friends. Thus, the Marcher maintains his/her sense of "activist self," but maybe the prize encourages them to invite a little more expansively.
Prediction: Selective promotion of "bonus" awards that are confined to already committed Marchers will increase overall participation and therefore friends invited.
| GRAPH: Click/Open rate %'s for iPod vs No iPod EDVM Email Promotion
(Error bars = 3%)