We are all horny

Honking is so embedded in Indian driving etiquette that Audi India has confirmed, in media, having designed extra loud, ultradurable horns for vehicles sold in India. Meanwhile people face a rapidly growing problem with many side effects of noise pollution. Some of them being increased hyper-tension, blood pressure, hearing loss, increased risk of heart attacks and disturbed sleep patterns. Reports in Indian cities show that noise levels are way beyond the permissible limits. Truly we are all horny.

Honking like other behaviour, over time, becomes a habit. And habits are essentially automatic behaviour where one does not consciously think about the action, but rather, the decision-making happens automatically. So we thought that it was important to shift the driver from an automatic mode of honking as a habit, to make him deliberate on whether the situation really demanded that he honk. We needed to make the driver conscious of the habit of honking by giving him immediate feedback while the driver was still driving the car, so that the next time the driver honked only when he thought it was necessary, rather than honk indiscriminately.

This approach led us to create a ‘Horn Reduction System’ we’ve called Bleep that has proved to reduce honking amongst each and every one of participants by an average of 61%.

Bleep – A horn reduction system

Bleep is a device with a simple red button fitted in an easily accessible place on the dashboard of a car. The red button has a frown sketched on it and when the driver presses the horn, the red button begins to beep and flash. In order to switch the device off, the driver needs to press the red button.

The 6-month long experiment

Bleep has been tested on manual and automatic geared cars amongst 30 people including men, women and chauffeurs of private vehicles, over 6 months and over 3800 kms. The participants were given either of two cars – manually geared Swift or automatic Honda City, with Bleep fitted, to be driven for 4 days during the working weekdays. Two days with Bleep off and the next two days with Bleep on, so that we could compare the number of honks per kilometer in the control situation (pre-Bleep) with the experimental situation (post-Bleep). Bleep has been tested as triggering off every time the horn is pressed, which is a stricter version in the manually geared Swift car, as well as triggering off every third time the horn is pressed, which is more lenient, in the automatic Honda City. In the first phase of the experiment the drivers were not given any information about the experiment. In the second phase they were simply shown how the system works.

The results

We have found a reduction in honking in each and every one of the participants wherein honks per km reduced between 19% to 96% (on an average by 62.5%) when Bleep was triggered every time the horn was pressed (stricter version). A reduction in honks per km was found between 16% to 91% (on an average by 60.3%) when Bleep was triggered every third time the horn was pressed (lenient version). These numbers prove that the reduction in honking relates to indiscriminate honking that drivers can do without.

The science of Bleep

The science behind the effectiveness of Bleep is that it assists the driver in reducing honking by using a visual-cum-sound reminder. The driver gets instant feedback when the red light with the frown beeps and flashes when he honks, making the driver conscious about his inappropriate behaviour of honking and making him deliberate about when he really required to honk. The driver having to physically switch off the reminder further helps in persuading him to honk lesser. The frown on the device is designed to indicate that honking is socially inappropriate behaviour. A study called ‘Overcoming Intuition’ done by Alter, Oppenheimer, Epley and Eyre has shown that frowning helps the brain reduce the reliance on intuition and activates analytical reasoning. Another research at the Stanford University School of Medicine has shown that peak brain activity (arresting attention) occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements, which is evidence that sounds that have a pause in between make you more alert. That’s why a seatbelt reminder like sound was used in the beep.

Bleep comes with many other unique features like recording, displaying and transmission of vehicle data like number of honks, speed at time of honk, location, time, etc., inside the vehicle or at a remote location and many other customised features. Patent pending.

Bleep has got featured in the Times of India (click here), Radio One 94.3 (click here), Top Gear India’s June issue and HT Mint (click here).

Does porn increase or decrease rape?

Pornography is illegal in India and is seen by most as something that is detrimental to society. Many people outside our country, like in the US (where pornography is legal) too believe it is detrimental to social order, contributing to the degradation of women and leading to rape and sexual assault or other sex related crimes. But there are others who argue the other way, saying that pornography is an expression of fantasy that provides pleasure and can act as a positive displacement activity for sexual aggression.

This debate as well as the increasing coverage of rapes in Indian media got us to research whether or not pornography led to sex related crimes and rapes. Here’s what we found:

Tons of research has been done on this. Quoting few of them here. Findings of Goldstein and Kant, 1973 found that rapists were more likely than non-rapists US prisoners, to have been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster. These two also found that strict, religious upbringing to be highly correlated with sexual offences. A 1984 Canadian study by McKay & Dolff for the Department of Justice of Canada reported, “There is no systematic evidence that suggests that increases in specific forms of deviant behaviour, reflected in crime tend statistics, eg. rape, are causally related to pornography.” Diamond and Uchiyama, 1999, studied the situation in Japan  – as explicit materials were readily available, the incidence of rape had dramatically decreased over the past few decades. Studies from Croatia by Landripet, Stulhofer & Diamond done in 2006 and of US and China done by Diamond also showed significant decreases in rape as pornography became increasingly available.

Reason sighted for this ‘Porn up, Rape down’ phenomenon is that, erotic inclinations to rape, flash, other sexually offensive behaviour, etc might have been used in real life encounters as a means of resolving a lustful inclination. The ready availability of pornography in contrast, may have facilitated a more convenient and more socially tolerable solution of masturbation.

Whether you agree to the above or not, here’s something to think about – when we express our opinion on pornography we think about its effect on others, not on ourselves. While we may not think that pornography is harmful or capable of inciting sexual offenses, we think it might have such an effect on others.

Source: Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review by Milton Diamond in International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

Illustration hidden by Mayur Tekchandaney

The way you make me move


This is a story from my days at Lowe Lintas. We were invited to make a communication pitch for Reliance Fresh. So I flew the next day to Hyderabad to Reliance Fresh’s first retail outlet at Banjara Hills. The newly opened swanky 3,500 sq. ft. store was a wide store with two openings – one for entry and the other for exit. But the entry to the store was on the right hand side and the exit on the left hand side. Which meant that people had to move inside the store in an anti-clockwise direction. What I saw inside the store was chaos. Not the kind we see everyday in the vegetable markets in Mumbai. It was different. There were mostly women in the store at that point in time. And they were walking around like zombies. Something had gone terribly wrong, but none had figured what was going on. Women kept going back and forth as if they had forgotten that the only way was to move forward. But I don’t blame the women, well at least not this time.

If you stay in India, I’m sure you’ve visualized what had gone wrong. Because we in India drive on the left hand side of the road, we write from left to right, we have gotten used to the habit of moving from the left to the right. As far as the store was concerned, the same principle applied too – enter, move in a clockwise direction from left to right. But it wasn’t the case for the American consultant who designed the store for Reliance Fresh!

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Trust advertising to mislead


Chances are you apply paste on your toothbrush the same way it is shown in the ads (as shown in the illustration above). Then you place it under the tap to add a bit of water to make it moist. I hear you saying ‘How else?’ right?

Well, here’s what the dentists recommend. Dentists say we should squeeze the paste at a 90 degrees angle into the brush from the top, so that the space in between the bristles gets filled with the paste + that we don’t add any water.

This works in two ways. First, the paste keeps getting released from the toothbrush at a consistent pace, ensuring that the paste comes into use, even after the initial burst of foam in the mouth. Second, dentists recommend we don’t add water because it leads to breaking and slipping of the paste out of the mouth. (You might have noticed those chunks of paste falling into the basin or on your clothes, if you are clumsy like me.) Dentists say that in anticipation of brushing our teeth, our mouths generate enough saliva, to ensure that the experience of brushing is not too dry for our liking. Together, this ensures that the quantity of paste used is just right and there is minimum wastage.

Don’t trust me? I have started doing it since few weeks. The paste lasts longer and is therefore more effective. Nothing gets wasted, I don’t act clumsy (atleast not in this circumstance) and the mouth doesn’t feel dry at all without the water. However small this may sound, I’m glad I learned the right way to brush, never mind that it’s happened at the age of 34.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Trust building marketing initiativeBack when I used to work at Lowe Lintas, I used to strategize for a brand called Pureit, the water purifier from Hindustan Unilever. The product was test marketed in Chennai and at that point in time, 83% of households used to boil water for drinking purposes, as the water condition in Chennai was (and is) extremely bad. Moreover doctors had always been recommending to boil water. So boiled water was considered the gold standard in drinking water.

The challenge for us was to create the market for water purification systems and more precisely, to change the behaviour of the conservative Tamilians, who had been boiling water for generations, to let go of their old ‘boiling’ habit and switch to Hindustan Lever Pureit. We had created an ad campaign for Pureit, which ultimately went on to win an EFFIE – the advertising effectiveness award, but the ad campaign started only months after the actual launch.

Here’s the interesting part and probably the most effective piece of behavioural design we had implemented – we placed Pureit water purifier at doctor’s clinics. We requested doctors in Chennai to keep Pureit in their clinics as a service to their patients. Doctors agreed and Pureit was placed in thousands of clinics, with a sticker of it being ‘As safe as boiled water’ and another sticker of the toll-free number, which people could call to find out more. This simple intervention served as a sampler, product demonstrator, trial generator, doctor endorser, people-convincer and lead generator all in one.

People believed that the doctor wouldn’t keep the purifier in his clinic, if it weren’t safe enough for his patients to drink. So they drank without worrying, and many Tamilians changed their habit of boiling water, by switching to Pureit.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

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