How A Colonoscopy Study Changed The Way Experiences Are Designed Today

How A Colonoscopy Study Changed The Way Experiences Are Designed Today


Hey marketers, say your goodbyes to materialism and hello to experiences. Your millennial consumers have left all that conspicuous consumption jazz to Gatsby and so should you. Today’s generation crave more experiences and connection with people, communities, and the world. Whether that connection is genuine or not is up for another debate.

Together with social media, the driving force of the experience economy, the fear of missing out (FOMO), is what fuels 7 in 10 millennials to show up, share, and engage. As for marketers who (must!) see this as a growing opportunity to capture more value and win the hearts of their consumers, here’s the one thing you should keep in mind.

The peak-end rule.

What this theory, founded by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, the Father of Behavioral Economics and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, implies is that people often remember and judge experiences largely by the way they felt at “the peak” (the most intense, memorable point) and the “the end” (the lasting feeling) regardless of whether or not either of the moments were unpleasant or painful in absolute terms.

“Maybe that’s why it’s customary”
says Christoph Schnedlitz CEO of hiMoment, a digital happiness guru, “…like here in Austria, that people gather for food and drinks after a funeral…and even laugh together.”

The peak end rule started with a colonoscopy study in the 1990s. Why colonoscopy? Because it’s not exactly a sure shot way of making anyone happier, but it is an experience in which people can roughly gauge the quality of their experience, despite circumstances. So how did Kahneman discover the peak end rule? Let’s compare two procedures from two different patients.

The first patient’s colonoscopy was short and intense, giving him excruciating pain all throughout the 10 minutes of his procedure. After the pain was at its peak, the procedure was over. The second patient, on the other hand, experienced the same intensity of pain the first 10 minutes, but had to endure mild, unpleasant pain for an additional 15 minutes. Can you take an educated guess on who reported a less painful procedure? The second patient.

Kahneman found that the procedure was neither influenced by pain throughout the full duration nor the average of pain induced, but rather how painful the procedure was at its “peak” and “end,” which was exactly the experience the second patient underwent. Thus, the peak-end rule.

The mental shortcut to making memories more emotionally salient and unforgettable is subtle yet widely used to strategically stand out. It’s been applied to an array of experiences from designing user experience such as writing confirmation emails to rewarding users with unicorn flying across the screen as a subtle gesture of delight, creating refund or in-store retail experiences to handing over vehicles. It’s also been used to explain why running a marathon still feels worth it after the sweat, blood, and tears, why people are positively triggered by holiday traditions and celebrations, and even how the memory affects workouts.

Take a look at how KFC in the United Kingdom cleverly turned its apocalyptic crisis around. Last February 2018, KFC closed 900 restaurants – more than half of its chains in the country – due to a shortage in… chicken. Most customers, you’d assume, would be mad. But some took the matter to the police. How does KFC recover? With the brilliant display of wit, of course.  

 Source:  Campaign UK

Source: Campaign UK

The ad above was created by Mother London, a UK creative, and ran in The Sun and Metro days after the horrific tragedy. KFC’s response by rearranging letters not only shows quick-wittedness, but a great spectacle of the peak-end rule at play. With the “peak” being the shortage of chicken, and the “end” as the ad, KFC has already garnered social media impressions.

The experience—the likelihood of repeating an action—is therefore dependent on the memory for that initial experience. In essence, if you can control the memory, you can—in some way—control future behaviors, lasting impressions and emotions.

Well, I’m sure all is forgiven with KFC.

Feed Your Brain

15Center founders Matt Johnson, PhD and Prince Ghuman are co-authors of Allure: The Neuroscience of Consumerism. To get early access, sign up here.

Together, they teach individuals and businesses how to ethically apply neuroscience to marketing via neuromarketing bootcamps to uncover consumer blind spots and help brands better engage with their customers. Get your ticket here.