Most adults would say that they made economic decisions about what to buy in a rational manner; saying that they do a cost-benefit analysis of the purchase and then, after weighing the options, choose the most beneficial one. This assumption has been attacked by psychologists and economists alike. This argument is presented in PBS' Nova video Mind over Money (2010). The documentary explains that what we all would love to think are rational, well-thought-out decisions about what to buy are not that at all. Instead they are choices made for us by the marketing wizards of the modern age. The moment we step into a well-marketed shop, we are bombarded with stimuli that manipulate us into feeling and thinking a certain way so we are more likely to buy their product.
Emotion can be generally defined as an intense affect. "The word affect is commonly used in the research literature to describe an internal feeling state that can incorporate both emotions and mood." (Jansson-Boyd,Catherine, 2010) Emotions and mood are interrelated but can be separated as two separate things in the eyes of a marketer. Emotions are feelings, such as a feeling of happiness with the effectiveness of a product; while mood is a general state of feeling that is a little more elusive then an emotion. Marketers choose to focus more on our mood then our emotions because our mood can be more easily manipulated. They can do this both with visual stimuli like pictures or movies, or an auditory stimulus like music. (Jansson-Boyd,Catherine, 2010) If you think for a moment about the experience at a shopping mall, this manipulation is rather obvious. There are images manipulated to show us exactly what the producer wants. Good-looking, happy people in the clothes sold by that particular store, everything from the background music to the scent in the air. These kinds of images are created to affect our mood in a way that will make us more likely to purchase their items.
How do producers know how images make us feel and what emotions come from different images? They simply ask us. Companies have for many years used the survey method to identify the emotions elicited by their advertising and marketing. They are called self-report measures. Sharing this kind of information with students could be a really helpful way to connect the material to them. There are many resources online where you can find psychological surveys that ask the test taker to self-report on their feelings or attitudes. What companies do, in a scientific way, is show focus groups images or advertisements and have them respond by filling out surveys reporting how they felt. The focus group member, who could be a teenager, reports on a scale created by the psychologist. For example: on a scale of 1-10, one being very sad and ten being very happy, how does this thirty second commercial make you fee?.
This is not the only way to get a response from a focus group, however. Some researchers have used pupillary responses as a measurement for excitement and emotional response. The problem with this way of conducting research is that it does not give researchers a clear picture of how a viewer is feeling. It is known that pupil dilation (pupils become larger in response to a stimulus) can be a response to a pleasant stimulus, like an attractive person, or an unpleasant stimulus, like a bloody film scene. (Mullen, Johnson, 1990) So this is a way to know that a person is feeling something, but what they are feeling is uncertain unless you use a survey along with pupillary response measurements.
There are four different ways that producers use our emotions against us in trying to persuade us to buy their stuff. The first is repetition, not the most effective but it does work. If you are introduced to a product enough times and in many different ways, it becomes familiar, and familiar things are trusted. So the next time you go to make a purchase you buy that familiar brand you see everywhere, even though you know almost nothing about the product itself.
The second is classical conditioning. This is a complex way of modifying behavior discovered and perfected by Ivan Pavlov. You can read about him in almost any modern psychology text book. Classical conditioning is the process of introducing an unconditioned stimulus along with a natural stimulus to elicit a natural response of the then conditioned stimulus. For example Pavlov had his dogs drooling at the sound of a bell because he repeatedly sounded the bell when he introduced their food.
Producers use classical conditioning all the time. Say for example you really enjoy the way that the caffeine in Dunkin Donuts coffee perks you up in the afternoons. The Dunkin Donuts corporation introduces the same signage and color scheme in all of their businesses. So seeing the sign for Dunkin Donuts and the colors gives you a bit of that pleasant feeling which makes you more likely to turn in and grab your afternoon fix.
The third way producers use our emotions against us is through humor. Market research has shown that if your company has advertisements that are commonly seen as funny, when people think of your company they will fell happy and be more likely to buy your product. (Mullen, Johnson, 1990) There are many examples of this in popular consumer culture. Simply search the internet for the most recent Super Bowl advertisements and you will find plenty of hilarious advertisement footage. Humor disarms us and makes it a bit more likely for us to give in to what the advertiser wants; which is to buy their product.
The fourth way that advertisers use our emotions against us is through an appeal to fear. This basically says if the producer can provide a scenario that produces anxiety and fear, which their product can reduce, their product will be more likely to sell. (Mullen, Johnson, 1990) A good example of this is the button necklace created for elderly people. The advertisements do a great job of creating a scenario of a fallen elderly person unable to get up, which to any one with a grandmother could be a fear and anxiety ridden scenario. Then the advertisers show how their product can reduce your fear and anxiety in that scenario.
Most of us really would like to believe that we are rational thinkers when it comes to purchasing choices. In some situations consumers can become aware of a product, go through a cost-benefit analysis and make a rational choice. In reality we often do not do these things, and make quick uninformed decisions about the products we buy. Think about the last time you went grocery shopping. Did you buy anything that was not on your list? Most likely you bought more then just a few things not on your list. Products are placed with much care in grocery stores. Candies and gum, which are often impulse buys, are placed right by the register. As well as the candy aisle shared with the cereal isle. We have come a long way beyond the old-fashioned Piggly Wiggly grocery store which were basically mazes that shoppers were forced to go through so they had to pass every item in the store.