How we used behavioural insights for digital campaigning

Jacco Vlastuin Influencing, Methodology, Research

Jacco Vlastuin, Digital Campaigner at Oxfam Novib, shares his presentation on behavioural insights for digital campaigning from the recent Evidence for Influencing conference. 


Last Tuesday I had the honour of  hosting one of the breakout sessions during the #OxfamEvidence conference. A session where I focused on behavioural insights, influencing and framing. The insights I presented were learnt from a joint trajectory we did with an agency we hired (SUE Amsterdam) to work with us on developing a new narrative around aid in the run up to the Dutch elections.

Below the main points from my keynote.

Humans are irrational beings

I spoke about Daniel Kahnemans’ book ‘Thinking fast & slow’ in which he argues that there are two systems the human brain uses: System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is the more automated system, that constantly uses mental shortcuts, intuition and instinct. It’s the system that’s been working on those days where you drive home in your car and you suddenly wake up stepping out of it in front of your house, wondering how you got there (and now you know the answer…).

System 2 is the more ‘on demand’ system. It’s the system that gets to work when you’re in a noisy place and you’re trying to listen to a specific sound or voice. What is so interesting about Kahnemans’ theory is not the idea of dividing the brain in 2 sections, but how much we use them. According to him, System 1 is used 95% of the time, while  System 2 is just 5%.

We don’t buy stuff, we hire stuff for our jobs-to-be-done

From the above video we can learn the following:

  • We don’t need products or services, we need what they help us to achieve
  • Competitors are often not in your market. Competition comes from whoever helps your target group achieving their goals
  • Your offer needs to be the best way for someone to achieve his/her job-to-be-done

Yes, that’s right. Politicians or policies in the eyes of our target groups are just a way to get a job done. Their job.


There are a lot of mental models around which explain human behavior. The model we choose is B.J. Fogg’s behavior model.

The model explains that any behavior is the sum of motivation, ability and triggers that appear at the same time. If something is easy to do, you have a medium motivation to do it and a trigger appears, then you’ll do it. For example making breakfast in the morning when all the ingredients are in the fridge. If something is difficult, but you’re highly motivated and there’s a trigger, you’ll also be more likely do it. For example myself practising my guitar more ever since moved it into the living room.

Politics is about facts framing

Which of these two grey squares is the darkest one? The one with the black frame, or the one with the light grey frame?

You’d say the one with the light grey, right?

Look again. They are the same grey.

What happens here is that the light grey frame makes the grey square look darker. And the black frame makes the grey square look lighter. That’s what framing does, it gives context to content. The task of anyone involved in influencing is crystal clear: offer information in a way that creates associations that are positive for your message.

A few strategies to keep in mind when you’re working with a frame:

  • Never step into your opponents frame, not even denying your opponents’ frame
  • Disqualify the frame of your opponent. A good short sentence to do this is ‘The real problem here is something completely different’
  • Reduce reality to 2 options and offer yourself as the only reasonable alternative (make stuff binary)
  • Stamina; stick to your frame, for 1 year, 2 years, 4 years. It only works when you keep repeating it

Nikki van der Gaag