But Mom, EVERYONE is doing it!
The theory of the bungee and the bridge
Remember when we were kids and we did something that our mother didn’t like us doing; we were getting in trouble, felt backed into a corner, and came up with the only excuse we could muster “Well, the other guys were doing it.” And what was her response? “If the other guys all jumped off the bridge, would you jump off the bridge too?” We were stuck. Mom dropped her logic bomb. We couldn’t escape it and we were grounded. Later that day, Mom went to the store and bought a fashionable dress. Why that dress? Because the pretty women in the magazine were wearing it. If all the pretty women in the magazine were jumped off the bridge wearing that dress, would Mom jump too?
Now as kids, we didn’t have the courage to point out the inconsistency in what our mothers would say and how they would behave. But it really wasn’t her fault because mom was only responding to a very ingrained human behavior. The same behavior that got us to do the thing that we’re not grounded for. And that is, if everyone else is doing it, it seems normal and therefore, we should do it too.
This is often referred to as ‘groupthink’, ‘social pressure’ or the ‘normity of the masses.’ Social scientists refer to this as social proof.
Again, the fact that everyone else is doing something gives us a cue that it’s okay for us to do. In recent years, there’s been a mountain of evidence to show that fast food is not only fattening but could be as detrimental to our health. Yet drive-by a McDonald’s around lunchtime and the drive-thru lanes are full. Why? Because there’s a McDonalds on every other block. And each of those McDonald’s is bursting at the seams with customers. The food can’t be that bad for you if so many people are there. Conversely, what happens when you walk into a restaurant at lunchtime and there’s only you and one or two other patrons. It could be the best restaurant in the city and yet the laws of social proof tell us we should’ve eaten at McDonalds. Social proof is the brain’s way of making a shortcut rather than having to spend the processing energy coming to its own determination. It uses the cues of other people’s behavior. It says, “If everyone else is doing it, or not doing it, that must be the correct choice.”
This is why marketers often slip into their pitches, phrases like “thousands of happy customers are already using our product” or “read our online reviews” or “join the hundreds of people that already have this product in their home.” They offer no proof, no evidence that their claims are accurate. They simply say that other people are doing something that they should be doing. This wholly effective technique operates or stimulates the shortcut our brains want to take and guides us to make those choices.
So, if everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too? Well, go on to YouTube and do a search for bungee jumping. You’ll see bridges with a line of people waiting to jump off of them. If they’re doing it, it must be a good idea.