Here I delve into the dark habit world of sticker albums like the Panini World Cup album and the upcoming Topps Premier League Album
I went to a Nir workshop on creating Habit forming products, I asked about if certain products, especially ones with large interludes, could prevail.
It got me thinking about where else you could form these kinds of habits and ones that really hit all the touch points that made them so compelling. Then I opened my eyes and recalled my youth. I was trying to convince my nephew to like football, 2 years trying and he won’t budge, when I came across a Panini World Cup Sticker Album. I thought that would be cool, he likes, no loves stickers he’ll maybe get into football this way. What actually happened was I ended up spending a small fortune on some unfinished business.
You see I never finished an Album in its entirety as a kid, there was always a feeling of failure a feeling of what could have been had I bought 1 more packet. So our first lesson…
Nir’s Hooked loop revolves around variable reward, here is how it plays out in a sticker book.
Each packet has a set of random stickers in it. 50p for 5 stickers. There are around 500 stickers to collect. So if by some miracle you get a new sticker in every packet you’re looking at a hefty 50 quid. But of course, the odds of getting new ones each time is next to 0. So, of course, you get ones you don’t need. As you get further into the album you’ve invested tonnes of money you find the likely hood of reward decreases. But you’re in a heightened flow, it’s increased massively since the beginning, and there are other ways to progress — More on that later.
But before you even get towards the latter stages of your collection there is a variable reward from the very first packet. The promise of a foil sticker or ‘shiny’ is there with every rip of a packet. It’s this variable reward, the gamble of the next packet to deliver that gives kids such a rush. If you’ve read the book (Hooked by Nir Eyal) then you will know this itch is most certainly more arousing to the brain than the reward of 2 Wayne Rooney's, half a Boyln Ground, Mark Hughes and an Ashley Williams cut out.
So right up until the end, there is that itch to buy just one more packet, it might be the one that completes the book I never completed.
The reward of the Self
At the 2014 World Cup I was a man on a mission, to complete my first sticker book. It was my aim to be whole and complete. But not only that but for each sticker to be damage free and perfectly aligned. These are almost OCD like symptoms you’ll see with stamp collectors and what not. If you’re a boy from the 80s/90s you’ll have probably gone through these emotions yourself – admit it.
The reward of the Hunt
That a book of 500 or so stickers is a lot of stickers to complete without breaking the habit. So the sticker album folks like Panini give you a little nudge. We use mental models to break down the album ourselves, to give yourself mini hits of reward. I like how we will deconstruct the album into teams, half an album, just the ‘shinys’ and so on. It gives the user mini goals that are more likely to occur and so more likely to get that feeling of elation when the right sticker comes in.
The real stroke of genius was Panini would make this even easier for you, to ensure you get your little fixes along the way. The football stadium or team shots are often split into 2. It means you only need 2 corresponding sticker numbers to get a fix. Of course, there were the more obvious Shiny stickers and now cut out stickers which will be on everyone's target list despite them being no more valuable to a complete album goal.
I think part of this genius is not only enabling people to feel complete at different stages in their and your design but by also managing the size of the reward. Each time the size grows a small amount inline with your flow. There’s no one big hit, it means you are always itching for the next little fix to keep you hooked. That might be something that is omitted in the Hooked book, but the examples like swiping through Pintrest are great examples of how they are tiny hits of dopamine, not big giant ones. The cat and the random fix of food never got a whole bowl in one press, it always got a varying amount but never a lot.
The reward of the Tribe
Probably the best but most critical part of the sticker album franchise comes in the infamous noun “got”. I said “got” a lot. Got was the name of a card you already had, something your trading partner on the school field would hear time and time again from every kid on the playground when he presented his Wayne Rooney. Panini claims they print equal amounts of stickers and through online sharing sites which show trends, I’d be inclined to believe them.
But the real beauty here was usually the only viable way to complete a book was to trade your way to the finish, and it was a race. Who could do the best swaps the fastest. Holding ‘shinys’ here was a valuable resource, as a kid you could flog these for 5 regular stickers of high worth to you. The perceived worth of a sticker could often outstrip its real worth thanks to playground (market) fluctuations. It was ones ability to champion the best deals that gave you the tribal rewards.
There was the guy on Nir’s blog who called out the model as being incomplete or flakey for making a claim to manufacture desire. I kind of believed it and kind of didn’t. Firstly I would argue if you are not aware of your actions then the external triggers manufactured your outcome. Secondly I would say that it is true a sticker book kinda wears thin as an adult. Why? I still like football, it’s because we become a little more self-aware. It becomes easier to break these habits, easier to spot when something is a bad idea. But that didn’t stop billions of Apple products being sold did it. Like em or loathe em you can’t argue that Apple manufactured desire. They got inside peoples heads and generated a huge desire to the point where low-income earners will give up everything just to have one and high net wealth individuals can’t be seen without one. It became obligatory to many because of the way Apple created first an illusion and then a real approval of outside authority that compelled people to buy. That obviously fades with sticker books and has a reverse effect as you get older. As a kid its almost obligatory to like football but by the time you discover beer and girls the street cred for playing with stickers evapourates.