How to sell a 9v battery in a cocktail

(for science) Part 1 of 2

How does a 9v battery, cocktails, and science all go together?

Ok, first off, yes, this was a science experiment. Well, behavioural science. It was also great fun and lot s of people participated. Well, 5 staff (6 including me, I made the drinks.) and we ran the experiment on exactly 527 people, over 2 days. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the why.

Why even run the experiment?

Well, for a while, I owned a restaurant with 3 partners. We had hit over $1M in sales within 90 days, were trending within 200km from our location and had a virtually grassroots campaign strategy. Not bad for a shop that spanned just over 1,500 sq. ft. Still, I wanted more. I wanted something original. I wanted something as weird as I was.

Since I was a lead strategist at a major bank at the time, I got stuck with the weekend night shifts. So, I made the best of it. I started using behavioural science in daily operations and got my staff involved. I mean, free steak and cocktails to the winning team was a great deal (Esteem Motivation) and the guest experience was heightened through our efforts through the use of social proofs mixed with the scarcity bias, the Ikea effect, the halo effect, and the good ol anchor bias. In short, we scienced the $#!+ out of our cocktail.

What's Behavioural Science?

Well, it is the scientific study of human and animal behaviour. (sorry it’s an American definition).

It’s the study of why people think the way they do. Every major corporation uses it. How do you think YouTube knows what content to share? Or how Facebook helps companies target ads to your preference? It’s all science.

Our experiment was simple:

  1. We would focus on 1 bias and statement to use to “pitch” to 50 guests.
  2. We would track results, feedback and conversion rates.
  3. Then we would move onto the next bias.
  4. We would run through all 4 biases within a night.
  5. Tally the scores and claim a victor (bragging rights for a week.)

The following week, we would run the same experiments all over again. Same staff. Different guests. Same awesome experience. On the final Sunday, I surprised the staff that were working with a free for all. Use any of the 4 tactics and let’s see what happens. Day 3 wasn’t included in the calculations, as it was less about the science and more about the staff using their newfound skills in behavioural design.

Here’s the cocktail recipe, feel free to make it at home:


  • 2 oz. Japanese whisky
  • 1 ½ oz. guava nectar
  • ½ oz. maple syrup
  • ½ oz. lime juice
  • 1-2 dashes of black walnut bitters
  • 1 dash of the spice mixture

For our experiment framework, we focussed on social proof for our foundation. This means that people would prefer things that are popular amongst larger groups. Since our team was “selling” the feature, it was only fair to include this as part of the “pitch.” However, with each monologue, came a unique behavioural bias. I always told my staff, people won’t remember what you’ve done for them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. For me, it was always a matter of making people feel important because they are. So when times are good, make sure everyone feels it.

I mean at the end of the day, marketing is pretty simple; just be genuine. If you’re not, people will know. We focussed on small groups of people, because to me, you don’t need 1M people to like you, you need 1,000 people to absolutely LOVE you. So our challenge was to find how we get people to LOVE what we do with a little science because science (and bowties) are cool.

Like all good experiments, we started with having staff try the drink. This electrifying cocktail was first served at @BumpCaves in London, England. It was inspired by Tom Wolfe’s 1968 psychedelic non-fiction book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The signature sip was served with a 9v battery designed to be licked and a bag of white powder (sugar) clipped to the glass filled with a citric acid mixture that can be added to the drink as “seasoning”.

For our 4-part experiment, the staff worked in teams. This way we could document the results and help each other as needed. I was on one team with our newest staff member, essentially giving us a handicap.

  • Experiment 1: Scarcity Bias: This behaviour places greater value on items that are limited or scarce (like Air Jordans or a 9v battery cocktail)

  • Experiment 2: The Ikea Effect: This behaviour gives a higher value on things we feel a part of creating (like Ikea furniture or a 9v battery cocktail)

  • Experiment 3: Halo Effect: This behaviour looks at the positive or negative effects that spill over and influence another nearby option. For example, if you’re at a party and you hear people laughing at a joke, you may not know what the joke is about, but subconsciously you are more like to “like” the person telling the joke, without ever meeting them.

  • Experiment 4: Anchor Bias: This behaviour uses 1 option when measuring all other options. By framing our signature drinks list at X dollars and then showcasing our 1 night only special at x-1, patrons saw value in the exclusivity based on the price point of a conventional cocktail. (The best example was when Steve Jobs promoted the first iPad at $999 MSRP. Then when it was released he sold it at $499. How do you think that the launch event went?

More to come.

Ok, so I am at 1,100 words and we haven’t even gotten to the experiment. Looks like we’ll need another post on the results and what our observations were.

In the meantime, here’s some of the cheeky artwork I created for the bar.

How to sell a 9v battery in a cocktail - Part 1 of 2 2
How to sell a 9v battery in a cocktail - Part 1 of 2 3
How to sell a 9v battery in a cocktail - Part 1 of 2 4