The Ostrich Effect refers to the tendency of people to avoid confronting unpleasant information or unpleasant emotions, by burying their head in the sand, like an ostrich. But as a marketer, you can leverage this bias to your advantage. Here are some ideas for how to use the ostrich effect in marketing, sales, branding, design, and advertising.
1. Frame difficult choices in a positive way
When a customer is faced with a difficult decision, they may try to avoid the decision altogether. Brands can use positive framing to make the decision seem less daunting and more appealing.
Example: A car dealership might frame the choice between two cars as a “win-win” situation, so the customer feels good about either option. (e.g., “No matter which car you choose, you’ll be driving off the lot with a great vehicle!”)
2. Offer a distraction to avoid negative emotions
Using distraction to prevent the customer from thinking about unpleasant information. By creating an engaging experience for the customer, you can distract them from any unpleasant thoughts they might have about the product or service.
Example: A car dealership might offer customers a test drive that takes them through a scenic route. By distracting the customer with the beautiful scenery, they might not think as much about the price of the car or the potential maintenance costs.
3. Use humor to diffuse negative feedback
When customers provide negative feedback, brands can use humor to make the customer feel less uncomfortable and defuse the situation.
Example: A brand could respond to a negative review with a witty comment that acknowledges the customer’s issue while still making them laugh, which can help them avoid the unpleasantness of dealing with the problem head-on. (e.g., Wendy’s Twitter account frequently uses humor to respond to negative feedback.
4. Positive Association
Use positive images or themes that evoke positive emotions to distract customers from unpleasant information. Positive association can help to combat negative feelings associated with your product or brand.
Example: An ad for a gym membership might use images of fit and happy people working out, rather than images of overweight people who might be the target audience.
5. Highlighting Unique Features and Benefits
The Ostrich Effect can be leveraged by highlighting the unique features and benefits of your product or service, to make it stand out from the competition.
Example: A food delivery service may highlight their fast and efficient delivery times, to make their service stand out from competitors and appeal to busy customers.
6. Present a Simple Solution
The Ostrich Effect can make people more likely to ignore information that is too complex or overwhelming. Use this by presenting a simple solution to a problem, and highlighting how easy it is to achieve the desired result with your product or service.
Example: “Get a Perfect Smile in Just 5 Minutes a Day with Our Revolutionary Teeth Whitening Kit!”
7. The Comparison Trap
Using comparative advertising to make the customer feel like they are getting a better deal than the competition. By comparing the features and benefits of your product to those of the competition, you can make the customer feel like they are making a smart and positive decision by choosing your product and make them ignore the competitor’s product.
Example: A car company might run an ad campaign that compares the gas mileage of their car to the gas mileage of their competitor’s car. By showing that their car gets better gas mileage, they make customers feel like they are making a smart decision by choosing their car.
8. The Fearless Guarantee
Offering a strong guarantee that eases the customer’s fear of making a bad purchase decision. The guarantee can assure the customer that if they are not satisfied with the product, they can return it and get their money back. This can make the customer feel more secure about their purchase and more likely to buy.
Example: A shoe company might offer a guarantee that their shoes will not wear out for a year. If a customer is unhappy with the product, they can return it for a full refund. This might make customers feel more secure in their purchase and be more likely to buy from that company.
There are several cognitive biases that are similar to the ostrich effect in that they involve avoiding or ignoring unpleasant information or emotions.
- Selective attention: The tendency to selectively focus on certain aspects of a situation or environment while ignoring others, often driven by preexisting biases or expectations.
- Negativity bias: The tendency to give more weight to negative information or experiences than positive ones, often leading people to overestimate the likelihood or severity of negative outcomes.
- Normalcy bias: The tendency to underestimate the likelihood or impact of an extreme or catastrophic event, often based on the assumption that things will continue to function as they normally do.
- Avoidance coping: The tendency to avoid confronting or dealing with stressful or unpleasant situations or emotions, often through distraction or avoidance behaviors.
“How to Use the Ostrich Effect in Marketing” – This article from Marketing Examples explains how brands can leverage the Ostrich Effect to drive customer action: https://marketingexamples.com/marketing-strategy/ostrich-effect
“5 Ways to Overcome Selective Attention in Marketing” – This blog post from WordStream provides tips for capturing your audience’s attention and combatting Selective Attention in your marketing efforts: https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/06/14/selective-attention-in-marketing
“The Negativity Bias and Marketing” – This article from Marketing Week explores how marketers can leverage the Negativity Bias to capture and hold customers’ attention: https://www.marketingweek.com/the-negativity-bias-and-marketing/
“Normalcy Bias: What Is It and How Does It Affect Your Marketing?” – This blog post from HubSpot explains how brands can overcome the Normalcy Bias to drive action and engagement among their audience: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/normalcy-bias
“The Ostrich Effect: Selective Attention to Information about Investments” by Julie Agnew, Lisa R. Szykman, and Daniel R. Lynch (Journal of Behavioral Finance): https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15427560.2005.9983945
“How the Ostrich Effect Affects Our Everyday Lives” by Gwen Morgan (Psychology Today): https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single/201711/how-the-ostrich-effect-affects-our-everyday-lives
“Why We Miss Things: The Psychology of Inattention” by Richard Wiseman (Wired): https://www.wired.com/2014/08/why-we-miss-things/
“Selective Attention in Marketing: How to Make Your Brand Stand Out” by Alex Birkett (CXL): https://cxl.com/blog/selective-attention-in-marketing/
“The Psychology of Selective Attention and How to Use It in Your Marketing” by Miranda Marquit (MarketingSherpa): https://www.marketingsherpa.com/article/how-to/selective-attention-psychology
“Why Our Brains Are More Negative Than Positive” by Jon Hamilton (NPR): https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/03/18/704526560/why-our-brains-are-more-negative-than-positive
“The Negativity Bias: Why the Bad Stuff Sticks” by Kendra Cherry (Verywell Mind): https://www.verywellmind.com/negativity-bias-4589618
“The Power of Positivity in Advertising” by Jayson DeMers (Forbes): https://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2014/06/30/the-power-of-positivity-in-advertising/?sh=4e5962b11c23
“The Normalcy Bias: Why People Often Fail to React to Impending Disasters” by Amy S. Lasseter (Psychology Today): https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/somatic-psychology/201105/the-normalcy-bias-why-people-often-fail-react-impending-disasters
“How to Overcome the Normalcy Bias: Preparing for Disasters and Emergencies” by Lara Proctor (American Red Cross): https://www.redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/news/overcoming-normalcy-bias-during-emergencies.html
“Normalcy Bias: The Psychology of Why We Believe Everything Is Normal” by Carolyn Crist (NBC News): https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/normalcy-bias-psychology-why-we-believe-everything-normal-ncna1207946