Why We Relate to Sea Monkeys

by Network for Good Specialist on ‎04-02-2014 3:00 AM, EDT

By Allison McGuire | @CaliMcG


As many of you know, the key to cause marketing is appealing to your consumers’ emotions. Below is an adapted excerpt from our guide, The Brainiac’s Guide to Cause Marketing, by Katya Andresen. In this guide, Katya explains why people act when cause marketing campaigns are personal. Check it out!



The closer we feel to a cause—and the closer we believe a company is to a cause—the more likely we are to act.



When it comes to problems, the bigger the numbers, the smaller our concern. The more who die, the less we care. And one girl in need matters more than millions.


Humans’ inability to act in the face of massive numbers, according to researcher Paul Slovic, is a phenomenon called “physic numbing.” But the issue isn’t just an inability to handle a large scale. Once you get past one person—or animal, for that matter—empathy declines.


Sea MonkeysA researcher into this phenomenon was inspired to study this effect further when his daughter’s classroom had an aquarium filled with sea monkeys (which are actually just brine shrimp).


The researcher noted that the sea monkeys kept dying off until only one little sea monkey was left. No one seemed to care until there was only the one sea monkey left floating. The children, who had viewed the crowded tank as an undifferentiated mass, became hugely devoted to the last sea monkey. They described its personality and cared deeply about its survival, though its brethren’s deaths had barely raised an eyebrow.


Inspired, the researcher did a follow-up study with sea creatures. When participants saw many together in a tank, they were less likely to describe them as conscious, smart, or interesting. They were far more likely to bond with one creature alone—or with an odd-looking standout from the crowd.


We relate to the lone sea monkey, and we relate to its story.


What are the takeaways for cause marketers?



1. Focus on the personal connections of those who are part of your campaign. If your organization is supporting a cause because someone there has a personal connection to it, emphasize that. If you are allowing consumers to choose their own causes as part of your cause initiatives, give them a way to share their personal stories.


2. Choose a relatable person or animal to bring to life the “why” of your campaign. (Remember the single sea monkey lesson!) People are more likely to help if they can clearly imagine the plight of the living being and feel their own relationship to that person or animal.


3. When you are framing your cause, remember that small beats big. Don’t overwhelm people with numbers and statistics, which shift people into an analytical frame of mind and disconnect them from the emotion of an individual story.


Communicate with your audience on the scale they comprehend by taking the big issue your company addresses and communicate it through stories about one person, one whale, one tree. Small—NOT big!—evokes feeling, and feeling prompts action.


For more information on the brain science behind why people give, and ways to improve your cause marketing campaign, download The Brainiac’s Guide to Cause Marketing.



Want to learn how Network for Good can help your next cause marketing campaign? Watch our video on corporate giving solutions and contact us for more information.


Photo Credit: oeimah via Compfight cc


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Companies for Good shares insights on cause marketing and corporate social responsibility topics to inform your charitable engagement with consumers and employees. Network for Good empowers corporate partners to unleash generosity and advance good causes. The blog celebrates that work and provides expertise and resources to help you do well and do good. Learn more

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