Author: Ian MacCorquodale

Netflix analysed: 2 ways to apply Social Proof

Netflix analysed: 2 ways to apply Social Proof

Think you watch enough Netflix as it is? Netflix could increase your binge-watching behaviour by applying only a few simple neuromarketing tricks.

Feel left out?

Ever wondered where your friend at work got all her facts about mother nature? Have you always been impressed by her knowledge, but have been reluctant to ask how she got so smart? You occasionally hear her talk about documentaries, but you never remember the names. What if you could go through her favourite documentary list on Netflix and watch them too, so you don’t feel like a noob?

Alternatively, have you ever been at home browsing through your personal Netflix recommendations list, feeling that bit of doubt. Finding nothing but new chick flicks, all similar to Gossip Girl or Vampire Diaries? Hearing a tiny voice in your head whispering; “this new show is going to be a gigantic waste of your time”. What if you could see immediately that your best friend has already seen, and loved it? So why is there no feature allowing you to find out what your friends are watching on Netflix?

Why not?

In 2006 Netflix announced the Netflix Prize, a machine learning and data mining competition for movie rating prediction. They offered $1 million to whoever could improve the accuracy of their existing system, called Cinematch, by 10%. They conducted this competition to find new ways to improve the recommendation lists. These lists they provide to their members are a vital part of their business. They were willing to spend a lot of money to improve their movie rating prediction. But, why not do it an easy way and listen to dr Robert Cialdini's well-known principles of influence to do so?

Social proof

People are prone to imitate others. The actions of other people provide us intel into any given situation. Be it fashion, food, or movies, we learn from the majority of people in certain circumstances. We call this phenomenon Social Proof. Social Proof is a crucial principle of persuasion used to simplify our decision making. In his bestseller book Influence, Robert Cialdini describes social proof as “the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it.” The author claims Social Proof is more powerful when we’re uncertain what to do. Or in this case, what to watch.

The people we like

It is undeniable that people (subconsciously) seek approval of their friends and people we like in general. We value the opinion of people that are most like us. The recommendation of people that are just like us persuade you into watching the same movies on Netflix. Besides the approval from our friends, we'd also like the support of experts. Or, our favourite celebrities.

The people we want to be like

We find the opinion of experts important. Due to a cognitive bias called the halo effect, we think the experts exert authority. The same reasons apply to the influence of celebrities. We look up to them and want to be like them. And thus, we want to watch what they watch. Therefore, we are more easily persuaded by celebrities and experts.

There are six different types of Social Proof Netflix should look into to make your binge-watching experience more enjoyable. Searching for social proof can be defined as seeking approval from your social environment for your behaviour. If others approve your choice of movies and series, it must be okay to watch five episodes in a row.

Six types of Social Proof Netflix could apply
Six types of Social Proof Netflix could apply

Fear of missing out

Would it not be great to stop feeling left out and reluctant to ask your friends what is “hip and happening” in movieland at the moment? To be able to peek into their digital movie library instead? When you see all your friends and colleagues are watching Riverdale, but you are not sure if it is something for you as well, there is a big chance you will start watching it anyhow. You don’t want to be that guy who has no idea who Fred is. Let alone what happened to him.

Besides Social Proof, another is another essential social psychological phenomenon influencing our behaviours and feelings. It is called the fear of missing out, FOMO for short. It is social anxiety characterised by "a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing". Netflix could eliminate a big part of this negative emotion by showing you exactly what you need to be watching to not miss out on anything.

What Netflix should change

For some reason, Netflix has not incorporated two of the most crucial neuromarketing principles that could make our Netflix experience more enjoyable and useful. Our suggestion would be to incorporate at least one of the principles we have discussed in this article to improve everyone’s Netflix experience. Find shows your friends are watching so you don’t feel left out. Your best friend has a new favourite show? Big chance you are going to like it as well. These tips could potentially save everyone much time! And so, more time for watching!

Make a list, and check it twice

Make a list, and check it twice

Buying gifts is not as simple as walking out the door, picking up what your friends and family want (or need), and being back home within ten minutes. It’s a complicated and overwhelming happening. Often exploited by shops and their marketers. Why? Stressed out shoppers are easier to persuade into buying goods.

Here’s a list of how to stay calm, focused and prepared. More importantly, how not to fall for persuasions when you shop. Subconscious forces like emotions and memories are at work here. Shop owners know exactly how to activate the brain areas that put you in the best shopping state. These tips will help you through the Christmas shopping this year.

Christmas shopping is not easy.

The scent of cinnamon and pine tree gets shoppers in a jolly holiday mood and ready to spend money. The colour red, associated with Christmas, causes natural psychological arousal. Christmas music triggers our hippocampus and brings up warm memories of Christmas.

Christmas time embodies the climax of sensory overload especially when you're out shopping. We know the brain has a busy time processing everything that goes on around us even in normal situations. That's why it has developed shortcuts to cope with sensory input. Especially during the season to be jolly.

There is Christmas music everywhere, the smell of baked food, hundreds of people, thousands of lights and millions of gifts to sift through. It can all be a little much. Moreover, this can cause your brain to overload. As a result you will do what you don't want to do; buy everything!

Get ready this year!

  • Stay calm at all times. When you feel stressed, you make bad decisions.
  • Make a list. You won’t need anything else than what’s on there!
  • Watch out for confusing deals. We are not rational, so do bring a calculator.
  • Don’t buy something only because someone bought something for you.
  • Don’t believe slogans that rhyme.
  • Ignore anything that is next to the register. These are there for a reason.
  • Wear your headphone and listen to your favourite playlist.
  • Hold your breath as long as you can.
  • Look left, instead of right.

Christmas dinner

Our biggest problem this time of year is that we are all too easily persuaded into buying things we don’t need. We turn from calm beings into hysterical shoppers. Take the next facts into consideration when you go grocery shopping for this years Christmas dinner.

A positive state of mind

Ever noticed how fruit and vegetables are always at the beginning of the store. When you think about that, it doesn’t make sense. These products get damaged easily in your cart. It makes more sense to place them at the end of your shopping route so you can safely put them on top. They do this to make you automatically feel healthier and put you in an uplifting and positive state of mind when shopping.

Spot new products

The things you need every day like bread and milk are usually at the back of the store. Also, for a reason. This way you have to go through the entire shop. You'll most likely come across other products you don't know you want or need so you can add them to your cart. They make you spend as much time in the store as possible to increase the chance of spontaneous purchases. Sometimes you can even find a table with a coffee stand in the middle of the store with free cookies.

Christmas cookies – Photo by rawpixel

Enjoy the cookie

Your brain needs sugar to function. We get cranky when we’re tired and hungry. Our mind is not able to suppress negative emotions that come from small annoyances especially in a busy environment like a grocery store. When you eat sugar, your brain can function properly again. Take a coffee and a cookie and give yourself a fifteen-minute break to allow the glucose to kick in. You are now ready to control impulses and suppress your subconscious desires again.

Smell the bread

You are probably aware that the smell of freshly baked bread, which you notice well before you can see the products, is also there for a reason. We've seen in research how powerful the use of smell can be in retail environments. Scents are hardwired into the brain’s limbic system; this structure is associated with emotion. Scents can automatically stimulate very vivid memories. They can evoke an emotional response and, when used correctly, they can enhance mood and happy feelings. Studies have shown a 40% improvement in mood when exposed to a pleasant scent. Subconsciously we associate these scents and happy memories with the rest of the shopping experience.

So now that that’s over. You have all your ingredients. It would help if you had gifts.

Christmas gifts – Photo by Kira auf der Heide

Christmas gifts

Getting gifts means you are going to have to enter that busy shopping street or mall. Ever walked out of a store with a sombrero you didn’t immediately need? Let me guess they played Mexican music.

Another sensory cue that is hardwired in the brain is sound. The type of music that is playing in a restaurant or shop is critical. Restaurants will sell more French wine when French music is playing and more German wine when German music is playing. So be aware of the songs you hear to find out what they want you to buy. Alternatively, put on your headphones before you enter.

We like shops more when there is Christmas music playing combined with a Christmas scent. As a result, we are tempted to buy more. Only removing the Christmas scents will result in us liking the shop less. So to keep the experience enjoyable and you only buy what you need, plug both ears and nose.

You can rely on your eyes, right?

Most people are right-handed, and because of this, most people's eyes drift to their right. Thus, most popular products are on the right-hand side, on eye-level. Branded products from famous companies are arranged at eye-level while cheaper ones are lower down. This goes for all types of stores. These products are also often halfway down the aisle, ensuring you go through the least favourite items first, from whichever side you enter.

So, when possible, make an immediate left instead of your regular right as you enter a store.

The real value of a deal

Finally found something to buy? Now is the time to pay extra attention to the price. People are terrible at making judgments about the value of a deal. There are many ways stores make use of our inability and make prices appear less than they are.

The psychology of pricing is science on itself. A well-known tactic is to lower round prices with one cent, turning €10 into €9.99. It is called charm pricing. A one-cent difference between €10.80 and €10.79 won’t matter that much. However, a one-cent difference between €10.00 and €9.99 makes a huge difference, subjectively. Even though it’s only a cent’s difference, the perceived value is much less than that because the brain automatically scans the '9' so fast it forgets the €0.99 cents.

More advanced tactics make use of findings from psychological research. Displaying prices in a small font will make them seem cheaper because your brain has a universal conceptualisation of size and there is an overlap. Arm yourself against these tactics and read more about price-pain here.

Don’t let them get in your head

Think about why you are buying that gift. Because after all, Christmas is all about giving and receiving.

It's the most wonderful time of the year

With the kids' jingle belling

And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Rhymes are true

Watch out for these catchy slogans and lines. They are dangerous. People believe statements that are in rhyme form more than if they aren’t. So be careful; they are not necessarily true! Research shows that the statement "What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals" was judged to be more accurate than "What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks".

Back to buying gifts. A powerful persuasion principle is that of reciprocity. Robert Cialdini explains this in his book Influence: humans are wired to want to return favours and pay back debts. We want to treat others the way they’ve treated us. /*Make sure you want to get your uncle Robert that present. Because you think he will like it and it will make him happy. Not because he got you that awful sweater a year before and you feel obliged to get him, well, just anything.

Don't get distracted

There are enough distractions around you as it is. It isn’t easy to stay focused even when you are doing nothing at all. The busy Christmas season is the absolute peak. Your brain is running overtime to cope with all the input resulting in stress and potentially terrible gift decisions. Just write these tips at the top of your shopping list when you go out for your Christmas shopping to be as effective as you can be!

Don’t know where to begin? Too afraid to venture outside? Simply stay in! Here’s our list of the Top 20 Neuromarketing books you can order online!

You are paying attention, aren't you?

You’re paying attention, aren’t you?

At this moment, you are not as fully focused as you might think you are. It doesn’t even matter what it is you are doing, your attention is always somewhere else. Whether you are reading modern poetry or making an omelette, you are not, not ever, doing so 100% focused.


Attention is limited, and focusing can cause us to be unaware of other stimuli around us. Let’s say you are concentrating on learning a new riff on your guitar; you are not noticing the feeling of your shoes on your feet. Neither are you hearing the buzzing noises coming from the streets outside. As we’ve previously learned you basics about the brain, lets put the focus on attention with this one. At this moment, you are not as fully focused as you might think you are. Click To Tweet New research published in Current Biology has revealed that our attention performs something of an automatic, constant background scan to free up neurons in case they might be needed, enabling us to pay attention when needed. That is why we can react to sudden changes in our environments, so when somebody yells “BALL!” in your direction, you can adapt to this new incoming, potential, action and attempt to catch it. It is probably the reason all of us respond when someone you were previously not paying attention to says your name, and immediately you are shifting your attention towards the conversation. Something known as the cocktail party effect.

Feel the rhythm

Classic studies of attention all assumed that its neural effects were continuous over time. However, according to researchers from Princeton University, UC Berkeley, University of Oslo and Stanford University, our attention pulses in and out of focus roughly every 250 milliseconds. Their findings support the notion that the functional architecture of top-down attention is rhythmic. According to researchers our attention pulses in and out of focus roughly every 250 milliseconds. Click To Tweet Rhythms are essential in brain functioning. Not only during sleep but also during a search task. When you are looking for somebody in a crowd your eyes scan a scene and your brainwaves take on a specific rhythm. We know for some time that our brains fill in the blanks to create our version of the world. Our senses are overwhelmed by all the information around us. Because our brains could never process everything, it came up with some handy shortcuts and tricks to keep us focused on what the brain thinks is most important. For example, the area in our eyes where the nerve leave the eyeball is unable to process visual input. We call this area the blind spot because of it. Instead of continually seeing a black hole, our brain fills in the blanks.

It’s all an illusion

A subjective experience of the world around us is, therefore, an illusion. Our perception is not a continuous influx of information; instead, we constantly filter information. Much information. There are numerous clips you can find online that will trick you every time. Just look for change-blindness experiments and prepare to be amazed. Moreover, to feel a bit stupid. Attention to a visual illusion and the fMRI results However, don’t feel bad for too long! Our brains work this way for a good reason. We do not see only with our eyes, but with our mind too. We also tend to “see” things that are not there. Similar to visual illusions. Using a fMRI scanner, researchers at Radboud University discovered that the triangle you see in the left picture – although non-existent – activates the primary visual cortex. The area in the brain that processes input from the eyes first. Which shows that we “see” what is not there.

Don’t feel bad

Dr Schmid from Newcastle University says: “We believe the rhythmic architecture shows that we have limited cognitive resources so we can’t be paying attention with all our available resources, all the time. This regular background scan ensures that our brains are not overloaded.” We focus in bursts, and between those bursts we have these periods of distractibility, that’s when the brain seems to check the rest of the environment to see if there’s something important going on. We don’t, of course, notice these jumps in perception. To us, it appears as if we’re giving our undivided attention to whatever it is we’re doing. Just like with our blind spot, our brains fill in the information gaps, turning all the separate pieces of information into one coherent piece.

We need distractions

Evolution can explain this one by stressing the need of these pulses and to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Even when you are focusing on catching a salmon with your bare hands you need to be able to react to the grizzly bear behind you. The teams behind both studies found nearly identical attention patterns in humans and macaques, suggesting that the trait has been preserved because it provides such an important evolutionary advantage. Attention appears to be a distributed rhythmic process, and not continuous over time. That is a brand new way to think about attention and offers new insights. Not overloading our brains is an important function of human cognition. Our brain has evolved over time into a highly effective energy conserving machine. We have developed automatic shortcuts that enable us to make decisions faster and with as little energy as needed. But this comes at a price. Sometimes these shortcuts result in flaws called cognitive biases. Want to know more about them or neuromarketing in general?


Ian C. Fiebelkorn, Mark A. Pinsk, Sabine Kastner. A Dynamic Interplay within the Frontoparietal Network Underlies Rhythmic Spatial Attention. Neuron, 2018; 99 (4): 842 doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.07.038 Randolph F. Helfrich, Ian C. Fiebelkorn, Sara M. Szczepanski, Jack J. Lin, Josef Parvizi, Robert T. Knight, Sabine Kastner. Neural Mechanisms of Sustained Attention Are Rhythmic. Neuron, 2018; 99 (4): 854 doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.07.032 Kok et al.: “Shape perception simultaneously up- and down-regulates neural activity in the primary visual cortex”, Current Biology, July issue 2014
Price pain: 5 lessons learned from a sushi bar

Price pain: 5 lessons learned from a sushi bar

Every time we make a purchase, we experience a sense of pain. Two scientists by the names of Prelec & Loewenstein (1998) referred to this price pain as the “pain of paying”. Businesses should do what they can to keep this pain of paying at bay as much as possible. By selling products in such a way the consumer can see the price increase with every purchase is the worst possible thing you can do because it causes the most pain of paying. Don’t think of it as physical pain, but as the activation of brain areas associated with physical pain resulting in a negative experience. Every time we make a purchase, we experience a sense of pain. Click To Tweet


Have you ever found yourself deliberately ignoring the ever-running meter in a taxi? In regular taxis, the negative experience of payment is very high. You can see the price on the meter go up with every turn you take. So you know how much every minute is costing you, and every added euro brings an increasingly painful sensation. Please look away. Uber revolutionised the payment system for taxis by eliminating the awful visual meter. No physical payments needed because you pay with your credit card and you know the price beforehand. Everything happens automatically. Which results in a decreased pain of paying. Choosing to utilise credit card processing is one of the tactics that help reduce the pain of paying. Paying with a card makes you feel like you’re not spending money when you purchase something. The message to those concerned is obvious: try to avoid multiple individual “pain-moments” in the buying process. So why would anybody choose to use one price for one single item on sale? Supermarkets have no choice of course. We don’t blame them. However, restaurants do have that choice. They can set prices for menus and combine dishes and courses into one single price and thus reduce price pain. So why do so many sushi restaurants sell their sushi pieced together in small portions? A visit to a fantastic local sushi shop was the inspiration for this article. It will focus on how you can take the price pain out of sushi.

Taking the pain out of sushi

The problem with sushi, assuming you like sushi in the first place, is that it hurts your brain to buy it. Our brains don’t like pain. It tries to avoid it at all costs. Our minds are lazy. They love fluency and ease. Simple, and fast. It loathes losses. According to our brain, it is better not to lose €10, than it is to find €10. We call this phenomenon “loss aversion”. Another aspect at play is processing fluency. Processing fluency means the faster and more easily our brain can process information, the more positively we evaluate this information. With the help of these and other psychological principles, the following set of tips will reduce the pain of pricing.

Reducing price pain

Brains are even willing to pay more, to avoid price pain. The pain of paying is very easily triggered. Just seeing the euro sign can remind the brain of the pain, and cause people to spend less. So first of all, think about ways to get rid of your pricing symbols! A price of 99 is perceived as cheaper than €79. Brains are willing to pay more, to avoid price pain. Click To Tweet Then, think about getting rid of your pricing and numbers altogether. Some restaurant use colours in their menus corresponding to prices. This way your brain won’t be triggered to experience the pain of pricing. Other restaurants use coloured plates to apply the same principle and stop customers from continually being confronted with the prices. All you need to do here is collect the small plates you picked and pay everything afterwards. Tapas bars in Spain use different coloured toothpicks to do the same. You can get creative with these colouring methods! Another way to try to eliminate price pain is by implementing an all-you-can-eat system. No more individual price points issues, and this also shows customers that the pain of paying is over. However, if you are still thinking about using prices, setting the right amount can be done by taking considering the following methods.

One Cent

By reducing the left digit by one (called Charm pricing) prices that end in 9 or 9,9 increase sales. It is more effective to change the price from €5 to €4.99 than to adjust the amount from €5.20 to €5.19. How come? Our brain encodes numbers so fast that the decision process starts as soon as our eyes encounter the first digit of the price. Since “4” is less than “5”, this method makes the entire cost seem less expensive, while the difference is only 1 cent.

Positioning the price

Placing the price on the left side of the page will make it seem smaller in magnitude. Does this sound too simple? Think about it. We are used to seeing low numbers on the left side. Imagine a ruler on your screen, low numbers are on the left, right? By placing the numbers on the left, you will automatically trigger a mental conceptualisation of smaller prices in the brain.

Set an anchor

List your most expensive item at the top of the menu. That way all the prices below the first one will seem cheaper. Because people hold the tendency to rely too heavily – or “anchor” – on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. The following lower priced items will appear to be of better value. You could even try to put bluefish tuna on top (still holds the record for the most expensive seafood of all time) to set an extreme anchor and see what happens 🙂
Price anchoring: start with the highest price instead of the lowest price to reduce price pain.
Price anchoring: start with the highest price instead of the lowest price to reduce price pain.
Set an anchor by showing your most expensive items first Click To Tweet

Back to school

Another unusual tactic has to do with everyone’s favourite: arithmetics. Remember when you had to practice the multiplication tables over and over when you were a kid? Most of us have potent recollections of memorising these sequences and know them by heart. After reading 6 × 3, you can probably hear the answer automatically, and effortlessly in your head. It’s that well encoded into your long-term memory. Because of these strong connections, exposure to two numbers (6 and 3) increases processing fluency for the product (18). When a menu or a poster in a sushi restaurant offers 6 × 3 sushi, our brain will process the price of €18 more easily. Moreover, remember the easier our brain processes information, the more positively we evaluate the cost!

To recap

There are many scientifically proven methods for you to apply to help relieve your customer’s brains of the pain of paying. Many more other than the ones discussed here (like emotional marketing). The methods listed in this article will prove highly successful for the sushi market due to its typical way of selling items piece by piece. Help your customer’s brains avoid pain by redirecting the focus from paying, to solely the experience of enjoying sushi. If you are looking for more tips, or want to know more about neuromarketing techniques like scarcity and urgency, or applied neuroscience in general, have a chat with our bot or get in touch!


  • The sources and Consequences of the Fluent Processing of numbers – Dan King & Chris Janiszewski (2011).
  • The Red and the Black: Mental Accounting of Savings and Debt – Drazen Prelec & George Loewenstein (1998).
  • Penny Wise and Pound Foolish: The Left-Digit Effect in Price Cognition – Thomas & Morwiz (2005).
  • $ or Dollars: Effects of Menu-price Formats on Restaurant Checks – Yang, Kimes, & Sessarego (2009).