How to Make a Point

Death and taxes

In the U.K. we pay car tax — we pay lots of other taxes as well.

Every private car owner pays the DVLA (driver vehicle licensing authority) about £200 per year — the exact price depends on the car.  (This complicated approach to taxation confuses the public and allows the government to employ more tax inspectors .)

In 2012 The DVLA estimated that there were roughly 1/4 million untaxed cars driving on the roads of the UK. That is roughly £50 million of unpaid tax.  The DVLA collect this tax using road side cameras.  They wait for an untaxed car to trigger the camera, then send the owner a letter asking for payment.

A little test

To improve their collection rates the DVLA employed the services of the UK Government’s Behavioural Insight team.  They tested three different strategies:

  1. The standard approach, a brown envelope and letter entitled “Untaxed Vehicle Warning”.
  2. A simpler, blunter, personalised letter entitled “Pay Your Tax or Lose Your [Make of Car]”.
  3. The blunt letter plus, a picture of the car taken by the traffic camera.

The results

Both tests were better than the original approach.  The simple, more forceful letter improved collection rates by 2% (roughly a million pounds, with the odd assumption thrown in). However; when they tried the alternative letter, with a picture of the tax dodgers car on the front, the improvement quadrupled.

Relicencing Rate

A picture tells a thousand words

The image didn’t just grab people’s attention. It also made the experience more uncomfortable and personal. Debts were collected and taxes were paid.

Why does it work?

Half of the brain’s capacity is involved in visual processing. When your audience looks at an image, more of their brain engages. This is a good thing, especially if you want them to pay attention.

Why tell the story?

Two observations:

  1. If you don’t know what is going to work try something, test your way to success.
  2. The next time you make a presentation use images not text.

You may not think an image looks as “professional” as boxes full of close typed text, however; the way to get your message over is to use your audience’s visual processing power, not bore them to death with font size 8 text.

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Speed Camera

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Image by Joe Loong

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