Pragma Synesi – interesting bits

Compendium of interesting bits I come across, with an occasional IMHO

How ads take advantage of you

Just one of the many ploys marketers use to sell their merchandise to you — taking advantage of your desire to avoid the “uncool” crowd.  Good to know.  From the Globe and Mail, Dec. 10, 2007:

Sorry, but that is so not me

How the uncool crowd is actually influencing the purchases you make


If you’re racking your brain to find the perfect gift for a picky teenager, you may try thinking about what they don’t like rather than trying to guess what they do.

Recent research into consumer identity shows that our desire to avoid “dissociative reference groups” – a.k.a. the uncool crowd – strongly influences our decisions, sometimes even more than our desire to associate ourselves with groups we like.

“If you get something neutral, that’s okay, but if you get something from the ‘wrong’ group it could have a very negative effect,” says Katherine White, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Calgary.

This desire to avoid uncool associations runs deep, she says: “It’s almost like a reconfirmation of who you are when you avoid products that represent who you are not.”

Dr. White and Darren Dahl, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia, published their study of consumer identity in this month’s Journal of Consumer Research.

The researchers sought to figure out how consumers decide which groups or products to shun, and found that a little priming makes a big difference. Reminding people of their “in group” identity prompted them to judge products associated with the “out group” much more harshly.

In one experiment, study subjects used and graded identical pens that were randomly labelled as “vintage” (a neutral group), “Belgian” (not a group they belong to, but one that doesn’t provoke strong feelings of non-identity) and “American” (a label with which they did not want to be associated).

People rated the “American” pen much lower after researchers asked them a series of questions that made them think about their Canadian identity. (For example, “name a Canadian celebrity you admire” and “name a Canadian city you’d like to visit.”)

It’s not that the research subjects were anti-American, Dr. White says. They just felt strongly that “American” was a group they did not belong to, and thus they unconsciously lowered their opinion of products with that label.

The “Belgian” label didn’t have the same effect because people didn’t care whether they were associated with Belgium.

Marketers have already found clever ways to exploit this tendency.

Dr. White and Dr. Dahl published research last year showing that when given a choice between two cuts of meat, men are far more likely to order a bigger steak when the smaller option is called “Ladies’ Cut” than when it has a neutral name such as “Chef’s Cut.”

Another example of the power of dissociative influence is Apple’s “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” advertising campaign, which attempts to portray the PC as bumbling and dowdy.

“Mac’s doing a good job there, showing the competition as being a dissociative reference group,” Dr. White says. “And they’re not doing it in a mean way.”

Of course, such marketing attempts can backfire – some consumers like the “PC guy,” preferring his dorky charm to the smirky hipster who portrays the Mac brand.

For consumers, Dr. White says, knowledge is power. Being aware that marketers are trying to exploit your negative associations to get you to spend more money can make you immune to their efforts.

She recalled one male student who told her that after hearing her lecture he was emboldened to order the “cowgirl’s breakfast” at a local restaurant rather than the “cowboy’s breakfast” that he didn’t really want.

Says Dr. White, “I think this is something that if consumers knew, they wouldn’t fall for it any more.”

April 27, 2010 - Posted by | behaviour, decision making, emotions | , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: