Behavioural science: Interview with Richard Shotton

Led by Tasmin Sibbald, Client and Operations Director

This month Vypr’s Client & Operations Director Tasmin Sibbald interviews Richard Shotton.

Richard is Vypr’s Behavioural Science advisor, and author of bestseller ‘The Choice Factory‘, which explains how behavioural science can solve business challenges. In 2021 he was made an honorary fellow of the IPA and an associate of the Moller Institute, Churchill College, Cambridge University.

Tasmin sat down Richard Shotton to discuss behavioural science and working with Vypr. Read the interview below!

How would you describe yourself in a sentence?

The kind of person who spends hours thinking about how to describe themselves in a sentence, thinks of nothing witty and then gives up.

What drew you to the world of Behavioural Science?

I can remember quite clearly the moment when I first realised how useful behavioural science could be for marketers. It was while working as a media planner on the NHS Give Blood account in 2004 that I chanced across the story of Kitty Genovese.

The story is a famous one. Late one night in 1964 Genovese was murdered outside her apartment by Winston Moseley. The attack shocked the city as supposedly it was witnessed by 37 people – none of whom intervened. The press couldn’t understand how a defenceless person could be killed, despite the presence of so many witnesses?

However, two psychologists, Latane and Darley, wondered if the papers had jumped to the wrong interpretation. Perhaps no one intervened because there were so many witnesses?

They spent the next few years running experiments, which proved that the more people you ask for help, the less likely any individual is to come to your aid. They called this diffusion of responsibility, the bystander effect.

Reading about those experiments, I thought, “Bloody hell, this is exactly the problem we’re facing on the blood account. We’re asking everyone to donate and not enough people are doing so.” So, I suggested to the strategist at the creative agency – the wonderful Charlie Snow – that we tweak the ad copy from “Blood stocks in England are low, please donate” to “Blood stocks are low in Birmingham (or wherever you were) – please donate”.

Two weeks later, we got the campaign results back and the response rate had jumped by 10%. That was a revelation to me. I’d spent four years in the industry and no-one had ever mentioned this huge body of psychological evidence, complied by some of the greatest scientists in the world, that could help us solve client problems.

That was the moment that I became fascinated by the topic. I began to think that it was remiss not to apply psychological findings at work. In the same way you wouldn’t trust a doctor who didn’t have a working knowledge of physiology, why are we trusting people who know nothing about behavioural science to shape communications?

What made you decide to work with Vypr?

We’ve a shared interest in behavioural science and they’re determined to apply the topic to their offering. They’re the only product innovation research company that I know that’s trying to do that.

What else are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing a second book (working title The Illusion of Choice) which will look at how brands can apply behavioural science to their marketing.

How do you like to spend your free time?

Work and writing take up a lot of my free time. But outside of those I do a lot of sport – mainly football and running.

What one piece of advice would you give anyone conducting consumer research?

Don’t take answers at face value.


We hope you enjoyed reading this interview!

If you’d like to understand more about the importance of Behavioural Science to product development, check out Richard Shotton’s engaging talk from the Innovate 2.0 Conference.

If you’re a Vypr client and require any advice or support on which steers to use and when, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your Client Manager or our Helpdesk using the help icon to the bottom right.

Not a Vypr client? Find out more about how Vypr can help you by contacting our friendly team.