Sunday, January 11, 2009

Consumer Behaviour - Simple Math?

“There’s definitely, definitely, definitely no logic, to
CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR” - Written by Amey Upfold

AD 14 Consumer Behaviour and Cultural Influences
The Conclusion Report
Over a period of four months we have been studying the behaviour of consumers and examining why it is important and hindering for marketing companies to monitor this behaviour. We began by choosing two supermarkets, Sainsbury’s and Somerfield, to observe people buying their shopping and how the products communicate to them and influence their choice in brand. We then picked five major brands to study in detail and examine why they are so popular to the masses. We did this at a time of economic crisis, the recession starting 2008, and considered this as a major factor when examining our results.
Brand and marketing companies are always seeking new ways to gain interest in their products, as most products stay the same whilst their image and packaging may change several times to keep up with current trends. This is where research into why people choose particular products is useful, however it is also hindering as a significant amount of consumer behaviour is erratic and seemingly illogical to expectations. Many theorists believe to get around this, branding and marketing companies manipulate consumers into buying their products, a condition referred to as consumer capitalism.
“The many critics of advertising claim that it is a tool whereby consumers are manipulated by the producers of goods (on whose behalf advertising is waged)” - Sut Jhally, The Codes of Advertising.
The phrase Consumer Capitalism is controversial, as “It suggests manipulation of consumer demand so potent that it has a coercive effect, amounts to a departure from free- market capitalism, and has an adverse effect on society in general”.
This suggests that humans are easily manipulated into choosing when they shouldn’t and acting when they didn’t plan it, which at a time of financial crisis particularly would worry people.
However it is important to understand the criticism comes from when advertising appears to change from being informative (its original purpose) and persuasive.
“The origins of consumer capitalism are found in the development of American departments stores in the 1850s, notably the advertising and marketing innovations at Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia”. In his book Land of Desire, Professor William Leach argues there was a deliberate effort to “detach consumer demand from 'necessity' (which can be satisfied) to 'desire' (which can never be satisfied)”.
It was this transformation of manufacturing companies selling and making money from the actual goods to making money purely from it’s image. This is the reason that modern day brands now appeal to the audiences feelings rather than their needs, referred to as emotional advertising. When choosing our five brands to study we specifically picked brands that stir up certain emotions in the way they advertise themselves. This involves appealing imagery, colours and even characters.
The Five brands:
Andrex - advertisers use symbols to summon up emotional responses. Consider the symbol X and what it connotes, ie kissing, x marks the spot, love. This symbol >< to some people appears as two mouths kissing. Now consider what a cuddly Labrador puppy connotes. The Andrex puppy has also weaved into our popular culture as an icon, as Labrador puppies are often referred to as Andrex puppies by children and adults alike.
L’oreal- advertisements heavily feature celebrity images, ideal figures and role models which consumers immediately connect with to the product as being the reason they look the way they do.
Lynx - very much a brand that focuses on one specific target market - the adolescent male meaning to attract a female. This type of advertising hones in on consumers individualism, defined as “the moral stance or social outlook that stresses independence and self-reliance. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires, while opposing most external interference upon one's choices, whether by society or any other group or institution”.
Bisto - branded as a necessity to a good home- cooked meal and specifically targets families, defined as a “collective”. Collectivism is a moral stance opposite to individualism, and when concerned with advertising refers to a group of people targeted rather than a consumer as an individual, such as a demographic. The most recent Bisto campaign targeted the family by releasing a “Bisto Pledge” - families of all varieties promising to set aside a day of the week as family night, where they would all sit at the table and eat a home cooked meal (presumably with Bisto on top). Following this, the message the consumer sends out when buying Bisto is that their family is a main priority.
Coco Pops - whilst the TV advertisements appear to target children with the animated jungle characters and promises of “fun in a bowl”, they are actually mainly targeting the parents. Kelloggs, along with most major brands, have re-branded themselves as nutritious and an essential for a balanced, healthy diet. The marketing and packaging plays heavily on this fact to attract mums, knowing that the fun element of the adverts will ensure pester power. This phrase, which immerged in the 1970’s refers to the repetitive nagging of a child or infant towards parents to purchase them a certain current trend or fashionable item.
Going back to how advertisements weave into popular culture, they can also weave into our everyday conversation. A classic example of this would be of a young American student Lonnie Thomas, who when interviewed about President George Bush visiting his school replied “He kept going and going and going… like an Energizer bunny!”. (Advertising and Popular Culture). This does not necessarily prove that advertising manipulates us to buy, with its emotional imagery and connotations, but certainly proves that it affects our everyday life to an extent that maybe because of this intrusion we subconsciously choose a brand we relate to.
So, do women buy L’Oreal shampoo so they can toss back their hair and declare that they’re “worth it”? They would probably never admit this. In testing consumer response a survey was conducted asking people if they had ever borrowed money from a personal loans company, all of which replied a firm “no”. The only reason these particular people had been interviewed was because their names had been obtained from a personal loans database(Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion). This was one of the reasons we decided to observe consumer behaviour in the supermarkets without their knowledge and not ask questions - we believed just our observations would give us sound and qualitative data.

Major behaviour we observed
- Couples: When shopping together, the man tended to push the trolley whilst the woman loaded it up, brandishing a list.
- Male, alone: The 6 males we observed who shopped alone always wondered idly through the aisles, making it hard to track them as they collected their shopping in an illogical order according to the thought out layout of the shop. This suggests males, who along with our findings we observed rarely procured a shopping list, could be easier to manipulate with convenient offers.
As well as quietly observing from a distance and making notes in disguise as shopping lists, we conducted practical experiments on manipulation and collected quantitative data. One such experiment we dubbed “Pukka Pies Manipulation”, which began under the suggestion that maybe we could manipulate people’s decisions by making ourselves self-advertisements. We did this by approaching products with confidence, as a unknowing customer seemed indecisive nearby, loudly claiming positive attributes of the products. On three separate occasions the consumer chose the item we positively described, most notably a singular Pukka Pie box.
Our quantitative data consisted of observing the Reduced section of Sainsbury’s, noting who stopped to browse and who actually picked an item. These are the results:
Number of consumers who passed
Number of consumers who
stopped to look

We believe whilst though the reduced section is popular in it’s own way, the position of the rack needed to be nearer the end of the store closer to the tills (reduced is usually stock that no one wants to purchase anyway and is seen as an unplanned, last minute decision).
There are countless ways in which modern day advertising appears to be persuasive in a way that influences the consumers choice and sometimes disturbs people who don’t like to believe they can be swayed in their purchasing decisions.
Campbell describes some of the effective persuasive techniques in Media and Culture, such as-
- Famous person testimonial: When a person sees an advert featuring someone recognisable from other instances of popular culture such as film or TV, it establishes an instant feeling of trust in the brand being advertised. The consumer feels reassured by the fact the famous individual is associating themselves with the brand, connoting that if the brand is good enough for them, it’s good enough for anyone. George Clooney, for example, exerts a cool exterior playing himself in the recent TV campaign for Nespresso, an espresso making facility. Upon watching the advert the person does not necessarily feel they will be just like George Clooney by buying an espresso maker, but their opinion of the brand and product is lifted when they familiarise themselves with him and his connection with it as an essential to his life.
Other brands that appeared in the supermarkets we studied, such as L’Oreal, heavily feature famous person testimonial and rely on them to maintain their image of beauty and desire. Sainsbury’s itself is heavily advertised and promoted by famous TV chef Jamie Oliver, a down to earth cockney celebrity who installs faith in Sainsbury’s customers that the food they buy is satisfactory enough to please a trained well known cook.
- Bandwagon effect - This method gives them impression that “everyone” is using particular product. A good example of this is the line “The car in front is a Toyota” from the Toyota campaigns, simple copy suggesting that it is a vehicle everyone is purchasing and having fun with. This heightened sense of security is considered important in automobile advertising as it is what is referred to as a high involvement purchasing decision (similar to holidays and other costly purchases). Beauty products, what would come under as low involvement decision making, also use this technique to stand out from competition brands. They use voiceovers in TV campaigns often explaining how “9/10 woman prefer” their brand to any other, with the audience not questioning the means in which they collected this data. Conformity is powerful human motivator; “Popularity is like a magnet, advertising enhances it’s power to attract”.
The behaviour we observed in the supermarkets was of course low involvement decision making, none of the products available being too extravagantly priced such as when booking holidays or buying cars (high involvement decision making). Branding companies recognise and acknowledge that peoples decisions in supermarkets are quick instead of well thought out. Price is obviously a major factor, it goes without saying that if a product popular or not is reduced it will sell quicker than a competition brand not reduced. We observed this for example with Tetley and PG Tips teabags. Whilst Tetley Tea bags were on offer the shelf promoting this was empty of stock, despite being mere pennies less than the price of PG Tips and still more expensive than the supermarkets own brand.
Smaller influences to purchasing decisions include:
- Hidden fear appeal - plays on anxieties, examples spot treatment, bad breath (Listerine). As another example from our five chosen emotional brands, Lynx plays on the confidence of young adolescent males and the ways they can attract girls, one way being to smell nice. Lynx advertisements heavily feature women pursuing the central male who uses Lynx body spray/ deodorant.
- Irritation advertising - using repetition and intrusive methods to stick in consumers memories, people moan about this style of advertising but can not deny they are easily forgotten. A classic example of this would be the Mr Whipple advertisements, following which sales drastically increased despite audiences claiming the advertisements annoyed them.
- Comparative advertising- playing off similar brands. Some brands rely on the competition between them and other brands, even making a success out of something negative. Rent-a-car service Avis had always been 2nd to competition service Hertz. Yet when DDB created the campaign stating “We’re number two, why go with us? We try harder” the competition certainly increased in favour of Avis.
Advertising guru and co-founder or Ogilvy and Mather David Ogilvy stresses his view that research into a brand and why people buy it is imperative to its success. He lists his achievements in advertising campaigns and how this only came about by “doing his homework”
“When I got the Mercedes account, I sent a team to the Daimler- Benz headquarters… they spent three weeks taping interviews with the engineers. From this came a campaign of long factual advertisements which increased Mercedes sales in the United States from 10,000 cars a year to 40,000”.
Obviously this is clear evidence that researching into what interests people in purchasing particular products, in this case knowing more about the mechanics of a car, works to increase sales and brand loyalty.
To conclude my report, I believe research into how advertising affects a consumers final purchasing decision is important to a certain extent, but we can never completely predict the final choice based on behaviour theories. As it is quoted in Advertising Age, “In very few instances do people really know what they want, even when they say they do”.

1) PACKARD, V. 1957. The Hidden Persuaders. Canada: Ig Publishing.
2) SUTHERLAND, M AND SYLVESTER, A. 1993. Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer. 2nd Edition. Australia: Kogan Page Limited.
3) FOWLES, J. 1996. Advertising and Popular Culture. US: Sage Publications INC.
4) JHALLY, S. 1990. The Codes of Advertising - Fetishism and the Political Economy of Meaning in the Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.
5) FULOP, C. 1981. Advertising , Competition and Consumer Behaviour. Great Britain: The Pitman Press.
6) SCHUDSON, M. 1984. Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: It’s Dubious Impact on American Society. London: Basic Books, inc.
7) CAMPBELL, R ET AL. 2008. Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. 6th Edition. US: Bedford/ St Martins.
8) OGILVY, D. 2007. Ogilvy on Advertising. 2nd Edition. London: Carlton Publishing Group.
Definitions from Wikipedia (Individualism, Commercialisation, Consumer Capitalism)

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