How do you make someone care enough to donate?

You can make someone care by making them give. How? With the reciprocity principle: when we receive something, we want to give something back. Likewise, if we take something, we want to give something in return. Find out how the reciprocity principle significantly increased the number of donors for the Kidney Foundation in the Netherlands.

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Create reciprocity

Learning 12 - Nierstichting - hoe zorg je dat iemand ergens om geeft? - neuromarketingAdvertising's goals are to create memory structures, activate emotions and motivate people to act. However, most advertisements don't achieve these goals, they are typically ignored or even actively avoided.

Nonetheless, there is a way to make sure you strike the right chord to motivate your audience. 

Reciprocity principle

Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing, has defined 6 (+1) influencing strategies. These strategies originate from one of the basic human motives: we do everything to be socially accepted and to avoid social rejection.

One of these strategies is the reciprocity principle. We've applied this in a campaign from the Kidney Foundation in the Netherlands. Watch the video below, can you spot the reciprocity principle?

Reciprocity works as follows: if we give something to someone, it creates a feeling of obligation in the recipient to do something in return. It also works the other way around: if we receive something from someone, we feel a social obligation to give something back.

This principle can be seen in the ad of the Kidney Foundation. You can see the effect of the principle in the man's reaction when he admitted that he would be willing to accept an organ from a donor, but also admitted that he is not signed up as a donor.

The campaign resulted in 4x more donor registrations

Learning 12: Nierstichting reclame - beinvloedingsmechanismen Cialdini - neuromarketing

In addition to creating awareness to the donation imbalance (i.e. insufficient donors), the Kidney Foundations' objective was to motivate people to register as organ donors. The table above shows that this objective was achieved.

Among the campaign's audience, 6.5% registered as organ donors. With the group who were unaware about the campaign, only 1.5% of the group registered. Over four times as many people were motivated to register after seeing this campaign.

The reciprocity principle can also be applied to commercial objectives. Using this principle, the chewing gum brand Extra even won an Effie award (for proven effective advertising). Take a look at the ad. Do you notice the reciprocity principle at work?


We have also tested this ad with fMRI by having test participants view the ad in the MRI scanner. The results are very positive. 

The ad strongly activated Lust, Expectation and Value, and few negative emotions - a higher balance of positive emotions than negative ones is important for an ad to be effective. Additionally, this ad has a strong positive correlation with our established benchmark of effective ads: r = 0.52 (see learning 1).

Do you want someone to activate certain behaviours? Make sure your ad activates a feeling of reciprocity. 

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