LONDON: Employing behavioural economics (BE) principles such as scarcity, loss aversion and social proof can dramatically improve the effectiveness of outdoor ads, research from Kinetic Worldwide based on a live-action "bug-eating" experiment has suggested.

The WPP-owned outdoor specialists teamed up with #ogilvychange, Ogilvy & Mather's behavioural economics unit, media provider JCDecaux and Grub, the UK's largest maker of edible insect products, for the research, which took place in a Leeds shopping mall earlier this year.

Shoppers were shown three different poster treatments, each using different combinations of rational and emotional appeals, and behavioural economics concepts, over a two-hour period on consecutive days. (For more, and a full account of the experiment, read Warc's exclusive report: The new sushi? Using behavioural economics to identify the next big food trend.)

Kinetic found that the top-performing poster used the behavioural principles of scarcity (fear of missing out) and loss aversion (pointing out that the bugs were only available for a limited time). The highly visual nature of the poster, with less copy and bigger pictures, also plays to the idea that we process images far more quickly and unconsciously than we do text.

This poster generated 154 trials over the two-hour period, compared to 67 for a more traditional poster that made rational appeals and simply listed out the product benefits, and just 34 who visited during a period of no advertising at all.

"The results were a dramatic vindication of applying behavioural economics to advertising," said Jennie Sallows, Kinetic's head of insight.

"If we can move people to do something fairly unpleasant-sounding just by tapping into a sense of exclusivity and normalising the idea, then just imagine what could be possible in an ad for a more appealing product."

Sallows was also hopeful that edible bugs could be a major food trend over the years to come. Around 2bn people, mainly in Africa and Asia, already use bugs as a food supplement, and a recent report from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation suggested that the practice has a variety of health and sustainability benefits.

"Bug eating is what sushi was ten years ago," Sallows said. "People see it as just a bit weird."

Data sourced from Warc