How can advertising bans on tobacco, alcohol or gambling work in the era of the the global internet? It is a topic that intrigued MIT Sloan professor Catherine Tucker, who went on to discover that online alcohol advertisements are most effective in states that ban the more traditional billboard ads.

“In states that banned billboard alcohol advertising, people are 8 per cent less likely to say that they will buy alcohol - but for consumers exposed to online advertising, this gap narrows to 3 per cent,” says Prof Tucker. “Online alcohol ad campaigns are much more effective in states with offline alcohol ad bans than in states without such bans.”

In the research, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, Prof Tucker goes on to point out that online advertising has been seen as complementary to newspaper or billboard advertising, but in many cases it should be seen as a substitute.

Persuading people to drink or smoke is very different from persuading them to donate organs. In the US, however, just 40 per cent of people sign up to be an organ donor, even though there are more than 100,000 patients waiting for a new organ.

This convinced professors from Wharton and Harvard that they should try and come up with a scheme that would increase the number of people signing up to the donation programme.

Wharton’s Judd Kessler and Harvard’s Alvin Roth decided to test whether an organ allocation policy that gives priority to registered organ donors would result in higher registration numbers. A similar priority system is in place in Singapore and is currently being implemented in Israel.

As part of their research, the two professors created a game, played by students in a laboratory, that mimicked the decision to register as a donor. What the priority rule does, says Prof Kessler, is turn a “pseudo public good into something that looks more like a club good……For organ donors, there may be preferential treatment for those who agree to register. To the extent that those incentives provide preferential use of the public good, you can increase contributions.”

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