The Ostrich Effect

🤔 Did you know…

When faced with potentially bad news, studies show that people are more likely to avoid it than face it head-on.

It’s called the ostrich effect and it’s the reason you might have a pile of unopened mail or a number of “urgent” unread emails sitting in your inbox

The good news is if you’re a marketer, you can use this behavioral quirk to your advantage.

This post is sponsored by Klaviyo and invideo AI ❤️

Imagine this…

It’s late.

You get home after a long drive. You sit in the driver’s seat, getting your things together before you head out into the cold.


Goodie, you’re expecting a text from your bestie to plan a get-together.

It’s a notification from your bank.


You know it’s been a heavy month. Every other meal was some sort of takeout. You’ve been letting your hair down recently. It’s been one of those months.

New clothes. Ubereats. Lunches.

Life is for living right?

But then you do the mental math…

$400 + $300 + $200 + $50 + …

Your stomach drops.

You hoover your thumb over the notification.

You think about it. It’s likely going to be bad news.

And let’s be honest, you don’t need that right now.

So what do you do? Do you read the message or ignore it?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy 🧠, we’ll explore the Ostrich Effect —why we avoid bad news rather than facing it.

Let’s get into it.

The Psychology of the Ostrich Effect 🧠

Coined in 2003, the Ostrich Effect was first observed by researchers Dan Galai and Orly Sade when studying the behaviors of investors in financial markets. It’s the avoidance of negative information due to the belief that doing so means it’ll go away on its own (we all know it doesn’t).

The name comes from the myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand (turns out ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand, instead they flop onto the sand and remain still to avoid being seen. LOL).

This phenomenon isn’t limited to financial situations though.

Researchers have seen the same effect in healthcare, weight loss and even climate change.

But this next study blew my mind…

In 2014, Banerjee & Zanella wanted to understand the impact of the Ostrich Effect on the likelihood of getting a mammogram. In the presence of a co-worker diagnosed with breast cancer, women were 8% less likely to get a mammogram. It seems when bad news is spatially closer, the Ostrich Effect increases.

It’s that classic ‘it’ll go away if I don’t pay it attention’ mindset. And we do it in all areas of life, much of the time unconsciously.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

A boatload of emotions surround sensitive topics like health, relationships, well-being, and finances.

Your prospective customers may know they should make a change, but fear keeps them stuck.

You may sell a product or service that buyers desperately need, but if you’re not strategic in how you deliver your message, you could unintentionally scare them off.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?

Use humor to reframe scary topics

When faced with a potentially embarrassing situation, what lightens the mood better than any other trick in the book?


Use it to lighten the mood, demystify the embarrassing topic, kill the ostrich effect and ultimately land more sales.


Use gamification to motivate users

People often prioritize pleasure today over our future prosperity. Behavior scientists call this Hyperbolic Discounting.

How can you help people to do more of the stuff they already know they should do?

1. Make it fun
2. Make not doing it painful or scary

Duolingo gets it. They know learning a new language can feel overwhelming so they’ve gamified the process to make it fun.

Embrace delegation

Check out this Duolingo case study for more details.

Retail & Hospitality

Sell the benefit while avoiding hot button words

Choosing the right words matters. Some words empower buyers while others may make them bury their head in the sand (aka. they don’t buy).

Halo Top does something very clever with its tub designs. They know people who are “dieting” probably don’t think they can have ice cream.

So instead of saying anything about weight-loss, which might evoke the Ostrich Effect, they simply and beautifully state the number of calories per tub.


Service Businesses

Help buyers visualize a better future

It’s easy to get stuck in the here and now. Instead of thinking about where your customer is right now, shift the focus to the future.

You can do this through the images and copy in your marketing materials. Or you can take it a step further, like this:

Embrace delegation

Imagine if banks or investment apps used images like this to remind customers to think long-term?

I couldn’t find an example of a business doing this yet, but according to a recent study, this could inspire a game-changing ad campaign.

The Short of It 💥

Some problems are so embarrassing or overwhelming that buyers would rather bury their heads in the sand than face them.
It’s your job as a marketer to step into the shoes of your buyer and understand the emotions relating to your product or service.

Look for opportunities to reframe stigmatized products, educate buyers, or help buyers visualize a better future.

Until next time, happy selling.

🐦 Your Brainy Tweetable

The easiest way to lose a buyer?

Evoke the ostrich effect.

When people expect bad news, they avoid any information that might confirm their worst suspicions.

Want to avoid it?

  • Use data to demystify
  • Reframe as a positive
  • Focus on the future

Tweet this now >



Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

When you’re ready, there are a few ways we can help:

Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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