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Using Social Norms to Motivate

With the adoption of environmental programs by hotels, more and more travelers are finding themselves urged to reuse their towels to help conserve environmental resources by saving energy and reducing the amount of detergent-related pollutants released into the environment.

In most cases, the appeal comes in the form of a strategically placed card in the hotels’ washrooms.

…With a nearly limitless array of angles to play and motivational strings to pull, how have marketing practitioners chosen to encourage hotel guests to participate in these environmentally and economically beneficial programs?

So, which sign, placed on a hotel rooms’ bathroom, is more effective?

HELP SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. You can show your respect for nature and help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.


JOIN YOUR FELLOW GUESTS IN HELPING TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT. Almost 75% of guests who are asked to participate in our new resource savings program do help by using their towels more than once. You can join your fellow guests in this program to help save the environment by reusing your towels during your stay.

The second, small change (employing a descriptive norm) boosted compliance from 35% to 44%.

“Another study replicated this basic finding, and found that a very small tweak in specificity, saying that “75% of the guests in room 325” (or whatever your particular room was) boosted the re-use rates even higher, to almost 50 percent.”

“Of course,” argues Douglas Kenrick, “the research addresses a much larger issue, and isn’t just about how to use fewer towels during our next stay at the Las Vegas Hilton.”

“our research indicates that if Henny Youngman had been informed that no one who had previously stayed in his particular room had ever stolen a single towel from its washroom, he probably would have had a much easier time closing his suitcase as he prepared to check out.”

If you have a few minutes, you should read the paper.