One of Persuasion’s “Bear” Essentials

This week we’re going to look at one of the bear essentials of persuasion, the principle of consensus. This principle is sometimes called “social proof” but even if you’re not familiar with the terms consensus or social proof I know you’ve heard of this one – peer pressure.Consensus is the term used to describe the psychological reality that people are heavily influenced by the power of the crowd. Numerous studies in social psychology prove that the vast majority of people feel compelled to go along with the crowd. Sometimes the crowd is a large group of people but that’s not always the case. Sometimes we’re swayed by just a few other people, especially people who are like us.

It’s true that some people resist the crowd but quite often that’s when they’re extremely confident in what they believe they should do. However, when people are not 100% sure of the right action to take, the power of consensus is magnified.

The reason I decided to write about this topic was because of a Smokey the Bear commercial I recently saw. I found it on YouTube so you should be able to view it there or by clicking on the picture below. Take a moment to watch this 30-second commercial then continue on with the blog.


Trouble viewing the video? Click here to go to YouTube.

When I teach the Principles of Persuasion workshop we take a look at some public service announcements Dr. Robert Cialdini and his colleagues designed in an effort to increase recycling in Arizona. The typical public service announcement generates a behavior change on the 2-3% range so recycling officials were elated when they saw a 25% increase in recycling tonnage after the Cialdini-led public service announcements were aired!

How did they do it? By persuading people with the power of the crowd. The three separate commercials were by no means high end, didn’t employ famous spokespeople and would probably rate as cheesy by most of you. Cialdini and his associates just created the impression that everyone was recycling and that pulled more Arizona residents along.
You might be wondering what this has to do with Smokey the Bear. As I watched the commercial my mind flashed back to the Arizona recycling commercials and my first thought was Smokey needs some friends! It could have been as simple as neighbors at every house raking their leaves. When the “bad neighbor” opens the door and sees Smokey, imagine the camera showing a Smokey in every yard with a rake in hand. As Smokey at the door turns back to a man so do all the neighbors.
By doing what I’m suggesting the viewer (we’re not truly concerned with the actor playing the bad neighbor) gets the impression that all the neighbors are doing the right thing in how they handle their leaves.
What I’m proposing may seem like a small thing but sometimes small things lead to big changes. If you’d have seen the recycling commercials before they aired throughout Arizona I doubt any of you would have guessed what a huge impact they would have on the recycling behavior of Arizona residents. But they did! If I were in the Smokey the Bear camp I’d rethink this approach and make sure to include consensus, a “bear” essential of persuasion, the next time they want to influence people’s behavior.


Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.