Digital & Social Media

Less Stick, More Carrot

Less Stick, More Carrot
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Campaign: Student hangovers used to be the enemy of academic productivity. Now, it’s smartphones. Our always-on culture makes it harder than ever for students to concentrate in class. Mobile app Pocket Points aims to solve this problem by incentivizing college students to ignore their phones in exchange for coupons.

Developed by two students at California State University–Chico, the app uses geofencing to tell when a student is in a classroom on campus. To start accruing points, students need to open the app at the beginning of their class and then lock their phone. The longer the phone stays locked during class, the more points users can earn.

Once they have accumulated enough points, students can exchange them for vouchers at local retailers. Currently the app works with 100 different merchants across North America and universities including California State University, University of Arizona, Penn State University and the University of Michigan.

Contagious, FleishmanHillard’s Armato Weigh In

Contagious: Driving students in-store for a freebie is a great way of getting them to sample products and potentially build shopping/dining habits that will last throughout their time at a university. By using rewards to push footfall, the retailers are probably hoping that the students (who are known to travel in packs) bring some of their friends along and maybe spend some of their own money, perhaps on a drink to go with those free cookies.

For students, Pocket Points not only offers discounts, but could help improve academic performance. The fact that the app awards points faster if more people are using it is a stroke of genius. It harnesses peer pressure from other classmates, which friend-hungry students are particularly susceptible to.

John Armato: Innovation always brings the same choice before the establishment: Fight ’em or join ’em?

That’s where I think the analysis by the Contagious team actually misses the most compelling feature of Pocket Points. It’s not just that a desired behavior gets incentivized and that rewards drive retail traffic in a classic win-win, or that peer pressure (that most plentiful of college student commodities) accelerates the benefits.

No. It’s that it enlists the source of the problem as the solution itself. How many teachers have tried brute force: Turn your phones in at the start of class; get them back at the end? How many have cajoled and appealed to their students’ better nature: You’re adults now, after all; I trust you to do the right thing and put your phone away? How many, in the face of the ubiquitous, intrusive, seductive, addictive, distracting siren’s song of cell phones in the classroom have ranted, threatened, penalized or just rolled their eyes in resignation?

Untold numbers, no doubt, because the first instinct is to fight ’em.

But by enlisting the very technology that has been at odds with educators and turning it into their ally, Pocket Points makes “join ’em” a possibility. With less stick and more carrot, the app puts both the professor and the student on the same side: They both want that phone turned off now.

That’s no small thing and a great big reminder about a fundamental truth of persuasion (and therefore our profession): Internal motivation beats external coercion every time.

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About the author

This article was syndicated from Contagious Feed, an indispensable resource to the marketing communications industry focusing on competitive intelligence, best practices, new technology and consumer behavior. In addition to the flagship quarterly publication, app and Feed, Contagious has developed a consultancy and a series of world-class conferences, including its annual Most Contagious event.

John Armato sits in FleishmanHillard's Sacramento office, providing clients from a wide range of industries, from consumer goods to food, tourism to healthcare. With 20 years in communications, and a lifetime of creative pursuits as a musician, graphic designer, and freelance writer, he brings an eclectic perspective to his work. He also is author of the blog "Think Inside the Box."