Pic c/o www.exactitudes.com
Faris has again nailed a really good example of how the Herd effect works in Marketingland:
"The ultimate aim of all commercial communication is to spread ideas that elicit a behavioural response. Specifically, we want to influence mass purchase behaviour. But if a brand can propogate some intermediate behaviours, like getting people to shout "Got your number" or "Wassup!" at each other, then you get a whole host of additional benefits.
Before consumer generated content was a thing, people made hundreds of "Wassup" spoofs, spreading the message further. In a person's head, the behaviour recalls and reinforces the brand, and vice versa, keeping the brand salient. And, of course, behaviour is viral. Humans are hardwired to learn by imitating [see Herd]. The drive to copy is so powerful, when children are shown behaviours they know are pointless to achieve the required goals, they imitate them anyway.
Monkey see, monkey do.
This behavioural engineering seems to be at the heart of BBH's very successful, ongoing campaign for Lynx / Axe. Young males are perhaps the single target audience most prone to adopting learned behaviours - observe the instances of fist bump in any playground, or indeed pub or office for that matter. Many Lynx executions have imitative behaviours at their core. Pulse - the dance. Click. Bom Chicka Wah Wah.
If you want to influence people's behaviour, give them something to copy"
But why is copying such a good mechanism? Surely nobody likes to copy (apart from slightly psychotic friends...SWFs); all of us seek originality.
Whatever our culture (and of course our own minds) tell us, human beings are copying machines. We do it all the time from the moment we are born to the day we die. Copying is a much more important form of learning for humans than it is for other primates.
One of the plausible explanations for this is that human beings are born c.12months premature into much more sophisticated social lives than any other primate; this requires a lot of learning and it seems easiest to get the thing roughly down first of all and correct things (if necessary) later on. Copying is an ideal strategy for this kind of "stupid" infant; it's just something that stays switched on through our adult lives, also.
The high prevalence of copying would also explain the importance of the highly developed mirror neurones in human brains(found in other primates but not to such degree): these are brain cells that do double-bubble. They work within both the motor AND cognitive systems and fire both when we do something and when we perceive someone/thing else doing the same thing (apart from anything else they enable you to negotiate your way up and down Oxford Street without collision and feel scared in horror movies...).
Copying the behaviour of those around us also gives us a plausible mechanism by which behaviour spreads from one individual to another. So advertising which gives folk something to do which others can copy - rather than advertising that teaches individuals to believe something - is likely to generate real behavioural change in the crowd.
Like the old Royal Mail "I Saw This And Thought Of You" campaign. Oh, yesireebob, the digital age is not so fresh and new, after all...
And note: the behaviour comes first, the thinking after.