Confirmation Bias

People are always looking for information that confirms they're making the right choice.

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This happened in America, 1986, in the middle of the Cold War.

A sidewalk survey was made.

Pedestrians were asked a simple question: "Do you support a nuclear arms reduction plan?"

90% said yes, if they were told that it was a proposal made by President Ronald Reagan.

But the number surprisingly dropped to 44% when they were told that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made the proposal.

In 2015, during the UK general election, Jenny Riddell and Richard Shotton did a similar experiment.

They asked British voters if they would support raising Value Added Tax by a penny to fund 10,000 extra nurses.  

Riddell & Shotton told 50% of the participants this was a proposal made by the Conservative Party. Then they told the other half that it was a Plan proposed by the Labour Party.

Labour supporters strongly supported the Plan. In fact, 14% completely agreed. But when they were told it was a Plan proposed by the Conservative Party only 3% supported it.

Results were similar among Conservative Party supporters. In fact, the Plan was four times more popular when it was presented as “a Plan proposed by the Conservative Party.”

Confirmation bias explains this. In psychology, confirmation bias is a form of self-deception. It's a tendency people have to cherry-pick and favor information that confirms their values or beliefs.

Our use of this cognitive shortcut is completely normal. It's human nature.

Because evaluating information requires a great deal of mental energy. And that's why our biases, beliefs and impulses drive most of our daily choices.

Because these cognitive shortcuts and biases save us all a lot of time when we have to make decisions.

That's why if you're a Michael Jordan fan, nobody is going to persuade you LeBron James is the GOAT (greatest of all time).

That's why if you're American and you vote Democrat, you’ll find it hard to agree or support policies or arguments from Republicans. Or if you vote Republican, you’ll find it hard to agree or support policies or arguments from Democrats.

That's also why if you believe marijuana legalization is a bad idea, you'll ignore anyone who presents facts that show you it's a good idea.

Confirmation bias is incredibly hard to overcome, in life and in business. Because no one likes to admit they're wrong.

The good news? You can use this bias to your advantage. Not by manipulating people, but by showing them evidence that confirms their beliefs. And why your product is the obvious choice for them.

Takeaways for your business:

1. Write copy that clarifies who you’re talking to (and makes the reader nodding his or her head in agreement).



2. Avoid rejecters of your brand. Or as Derek Sivers says, "You can't please everyone, so proudly exclude people."

For example, London-based technology company Charge Cars is redefining iconic classic cars. And they’re starting with a limited edition reinvented version of the classic 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback. 

The new Mustang hits 60 MPH in 3.9 seconds.

It also comes with a range of 200 miles (321 kilometres approx) and quick charging abilities that allow its “62 kWh battery pack to charge from 20 to 80 percent in an hour.”

Now let's imagine I'm a potential target prospect and I’m into electric cars but I’m not really an Elon Musk or Tesla fanboy. In fact, I believe Tesla designs boring looking cars.

How can Charge Cars write copy that reinforces my confirmation bias and persuades me to buy their new electric Mustang?

Charge Cars can build a narrative around why Tesla is the villain.

What this means is Charge Cars isn’t really selling another electric car. Charge Cars is selling the narrative that Tesla is the number ONE reason why 90% of electric cars are ugly as hell, and the other 10% are unaffordable. 

And if money ain’t a problem, Charge Cars just built a Mustang that’s electric, sexy and makes me feel like I’m in a James Bond movie. 

This way Charge Cars‘ marketing dollars will make a bigger impact if they target prospects like me. It's an easy sell.

In other words, they’ll persuade more people by targeting fewer. AND by reinforcing their confirmation bias.

3. People are looking for lil hints and bits of information that confirms they're making the right choice. 

Audi 1982 “Vorsprung Durch Technik” Legendary Print ad created by John Hegarty of BBH.

So use their biases to confirm they’re making the obvious choice. For example, we all know German engineering is reliable. So when a German car brand like Audi promotes their cars as reliable cars, we believe them.

That’s exactly why Audi started using the slogan “Vorsprung Durch Technik” in the 1980s.

Because Audi wanted to cement in people’s minds the idea that Audi is a German brand...during an era where Audi was perceived as just another European car brand.

4. Show people you're THE safe choice.

When consumers buy things, they want to know their money is well spent. So they look for bits of information that confirms they can trust your brand.

That's why social proof is so important. So show them things like real testimonials, customer reviews, press coverage, social media support or money-back guarantees. 

Use social proof throughout your website to back up your claims and you’ll instantly boost credibility and trust.

Copywriting exercise: Rewrite this classic Pioneer print ad from 1974

Write a different headline. Talk about the product differently. Change the body copy. This ad is from 1974, but adapt it to 2022.


1. Imagine the target reader is a vinyl collector who has a bias against Spotify and music streaming services in general.

2. Imagine the target reader is an audiophile who loves all the warmth, depth and detail of music coming out of a great home hi-fi system.

3. The goal here is to try to improve the ad. Try honestly to see things from the reader's point of view. And try to take advantage of the reader's bias against music streaming services. But don’t write like you’re trying to blackmail or manipulate him/her. Pretend you’re writing to a friend who happens to love vinyl records and hi-fi systems.

4. Rewrite the ad, have fun and don't take it too seriously.