Hoh Kim has been a guest blogger for Influence PEOPLE since I began the Influencers from Around the World series more than five years ago. I met Hoh when we went through the Cialdini certification training together. At the time Hoh had his MA but it’s with great pleasure I can now say Hoh now has his doctorate, as well! Hoh received his Ph.D. in
Culture Technology from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; his dissertation title was “Psychological and neural influences of public apology on audience responses in corporate crisis situations.” I know you’ll enjoy his post on the paradox of “the bridge of life.”
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
Paradox of “The Bridge of Life”
On September 1, 2015, Seoul city metropolitan government announced that they would discontinue “The Bridge of Life” which was established in August 2012 by cooperation between Seoul city metropolitan government and Samsung Life Insurance. Cheil Communication, the largest advertising agency in Korea, a subsidiary firm of Samsung Group, developed the idea. The idea and project received positive spotlights from both local and international media. “The bridge of life” received more than 30 international awards including Titanium Lion winner at Cannes Lions and Clio Awards in 2013.
What is the bridge of life? It is an interactive storytelling bridge and as you walk across the bridge, the bridge talks to you. Click here to watch a short video.
For your information, Korea has unfortunately been the number one country among OECD (The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) in terms of the number of suicides for more than a decade.
Mapo Bridge is one of the 31 bridges crossing Han River in Seoul, and it has a notorious nickname — “the bridge for suicide” — as more people tried suicide on this bridge than any other in Seoul. That’s why city government made the bridge of life. What were the results? In 2012, 15 people “tried” suicide on the Mapo Bridge. Then, “the bridge of life” was established. Surprisingly 93 people “tried” suicide on the bridge. There is an argument. In 2012, 60% of the people who “tried” suicide on the Mapo Bridge were saved, but in 2013, 94.6% (85 out of 93) was saved from the suicide attempts. In 2014, 184 people “tried” suicide on the bridge (I don’t have the number of people who survived in that year). Regardless, the survival rate, it was clear that many more people tried suicide in “the bridge of life.”
What was the problem? A possible explanation can come from “side effects” of social proof principle. When Dr. Cialdini explained the principle of social proof – i.e., people follow the lead of many/similar others – he warned to be careful not to use it with negative information. Even though I have lived in Seoul for more than 40 years, I came to know the fact that more people tried suicide on the Mapo Bridge than any other bridge in Seoul through the “Bridge of Life” campaign. I think the side effect of social proof influenced the surge of suicide trials on the bridge. However, to be honest, when I first heard about the campaign around 2013 from TV News, I thought the idea of the bridge was fascinating, and could not predict the side effect of the social proof principle.
What are the lessons out of it? Two things. First, when we design a campaign, we have to look at closely at whether there are any side effects of the campaign. How can we do that? The “red team” from the American soap opera “Newsroom” might help. Red team is a sort of Devil’s advocate. Red team intentionally attacks an idea so that we can cross check whether there is any downside of a project.
Second, the Bridge of Life project was a persuasion project where the campaign tried to influence to reduce actual suicide and suicide attempts. When there is any persuasion project, the best reference would be six principles of influence by Dr. Cialdini as he reviewed influence psychology of more than 60 years and found six universal principles.
By applying and checking against the principles, you can create a better persuasion campaign and avoid any pitfall of the campaign. When I first heard about the Bridge of Life, I should have carefully thought about the campaign against the principles, both their applications and side effects.