… and a Merry Christmas from Screwfix.com

So, the season of Joy is upon us, tills are ringing and the Christmas cards are beginning to drop onto the doormat. But hark, amongst the first to arrive – a card from who else but… Screwfix.com.

img_20161206_175910  img_20161206_175920

Ok – I know what you’re up to Screwfix. Sending me a Christmas card in an attempt to seem like you have feelings for me like other senders of Christmas cards do (representativeness heuristic). I won’t fall for your thinly veiled attempt to influence your brand availability in my mind.

But is there also something else at work here? Could Screwfix.com’s Christmas card also be exploiting the norm of reciprocation?

Reciprocation is the sense that we are expected to give something in return for something. It obliges us to repay others for what we have received from them and is one of the strongest social forces in human cultures (Gouldner, 1960)

It’s not a new concept and has been valued for many 1000’s of years – the Roman writer Cicero spoke of it and the Ancient Greeks based their system of law on it.

However reciprocation can be used to influence people’s behaviour (Cialdini et al, 2004). By giving something to someone, a donor can use the recipient’s perceived obligation to get something back. This sense of obligation is deeply ingrained. It even applies if the receiver knows that the donor won’t find out if they reciprocated in some way (Whatley et al, 1999). Is it possible that by receiving a Christmas card from Screwfix.com, i may feel an increased sense that i owe them something, for example loyalty as a customer?

Despite the apparent power or reciprocity, how strongly people perceive the need to reciprocate varies. People receiving an anonymous Christmas card are more likely to reciprocate if the Christmas card is printed on quality card (Kunz et al, 1976) than on an inferior card. This suggests that the perceived ‘cost’ incurred by the donor may be a factor in how motivated recipients are to reciprocate. A recent test (Meier, 2016) was unable to repeat these results as the response rate was so low and postulated that this may be the result of changing attitudes towards strangers.

The 1976 study by Kunz et al also found that the perceived social status of the sender also increased the likelihood of response compared with people who received cards with no indication of the senders social status. This may work in a social context (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs cites ‘Respect by Others’ as a secondary need) however in the case of Screwfix.com, it is unlikely to be a motivator. Interestingly, we also support the Dogs Trust Charity and they too sent a Christmas card. However this is a very personalised card and written in the form of a personal Christmas letter from the dog to us. This could potentially tap into a more emotional relationship and also the social needs of family as pets are often perceived as family members (Cain, AO, 1985).


I am already a Screwfix customer, so would the Christmas card be more likely to evoke a sense of reciprocation in me? Although liking does affect behaviours towards an individual or brand, reciprocation is not dependent on this. Investigators asked people to look at paintings, some of whom were given a free coke by an experimenter to induce reciprocation. The likeability of the experimenter had been manipulated beforehand so that some of the people liked the experimenter whereas other didn’t. The targets were then asked if they would buy some raffle tickets from the experimenter. The results showed that the sense of reciprocation didn’t rely on whether or not the people liked the experimenter (Regan et al, 1971).

However the drive to reciprocate fades with time. People given a free drink were happy to reciprocate when asked to deliver a letter for the donor 5 minutes later, however, after a weeks delay, there was no measureable desire to return the favour (Burger et al, 1997).

On balance, in light of the short lived effect of reciprocation, i feel the card from Screwfix.com is unlikely to evoke a reciprocal response in recipients. The low quality card and brief message suggesting that little expense has been invested adds to this. If it does have a behavioural impact, the Screwfix.com Christmas card is more likely to work by increasing mental availability of the brand. It is still a clever marketing tactic as recipients are more likely to process the message due to the novel format and the representativeness heuristic. It could also be perceived as a legitimate reason for a brand to get in touch – after all, everybody likes to be thanked – and this exposure can help increase liking through the Mere Exposure Effect (Zajonc, 1968).


Burger, J. M., Horita, M., Kinoshita, L., Roberts, K., & Vera, C. (1997). Effects on time on the norm of reciprocity. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 19(1), 91-100. Chicago

Cain, A. O. (1985). Pets as family members. Marriage & Family Review, 8(3-4), 5-10.

Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 55, 591-621.

Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American sociological review, 161-178.

Kunz, P. R., & Woolcott, M. (1976). Season’s greetings: From my status to yours. Social Science Research, 5(3), 269-278.

Meier, B. P. (2016). Bah humbug: Unexpected Christmas cards and the reciprocity norm. The Journal of social psychology, 1-6.

Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(6), 627-639.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1975). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. In Utility, probability, and human decision making (pp. 141-162). Springer Netherlands.

Whatley, M. A., Webster, J. M., Smith, R. H., & Rhodes, A. (1999). The effect of a favor on public and private compliance: How internalized is the norm of reciprocity?. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 21(3), 251-259.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9(2p2), 1.

Are You Following The Yellow Brick Road?


Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow followed the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, home of the Wizard of Oz. Along the way, the group experience a range of different emotions as they come across Munchkins, Wicked Witches, Winkie Soldiers and Flying Monkeys. The Wizard of Oz may only be an imaginative story, but many of us regularly go on a journey in which our emotions are manipulated by design – when we go shopping. So why are your emotions so powerful when shopping and how do businesses control yours?

People are generally not good at interpreting their own emotions. In trials by Schacter in 1962, arousal was induced in people through injections of norepinephrine. The participants perception of whether they were happy or angry was then controlled by exposing them to a happy or sad person. All the people were aroused in the same way – via the norepinephrine – but the actual emotion the participant perceived was not controlled by themselves, but by the cue they experienced. Companies can use contextual cues in the shops to cause people to interpret their emotions in ways that benefit the company. For example, inducing emotions of guilt can increase sales of pet products as shoppers feel guilty for he member of their social group (their pet) that they have left at home.

©Sad and Useless

People in a positive mood are more likely to try new products and to weight positive claims made about those products more heavily (Kahn et al, 1993). Inducing different emotions in people whilst they are shopping enables companies to influence shopper behaviours including what and how much they purchase.


Companies are sophisticated in how they go about controlling shopper emotions. One method companies use to produce specific emotional effects and increase the likelihood of a purchase is by the careful design of the stores and websites where you shop, known as Atmospherics (Kotler, 1973).

Emotion is defined as either intense affect OR affect plus physiological arousal (Kardes et al, 2008) . 3 factors control shopper’s affective responses: pleasure-displeasure, degree of arousal, and dominance-submissiveness (Mehrabian et al, 1974). Companies control these different factors during shopping to influence their emotions.

Online, websites use messaging to show how many products are left or that demand is high. Limiting the availability of a product and introducing scarcity increases arousal (Suri et al, 2007). Arousal can also cause people to pay more attention. The Yerkes Dodson Law (1908)  states that higher arousal generates greater performance (up to a point).


Dominance in a retail environment can be influenced by the customers perceived control. This is also likely to evoke affect, for example if a customer judges that a site will enable them to complete their task, it’s likely to prompt positive affect, arousal, and involvement (Ward et al, 2001). Fast loading pages and clear navigation can both help increase perceived control. Feedback on actions such as indicating an item has been added into a basket also reassures users that the action they have initiated has resulted in the intended outcome.


Interestingly, excitement from a stimulus can be transferred onto a subsequent stimulus in an additive way. For example, a proportion of the arousal caused by seeing urgency messaging can be transferred to a subsequent stimuli such as viewing a product through a phenomenon called Excitation Transfer Theory (Zillman, 1971). Not only are you being affected by the product, but also by the stimuli experienced before the product. Potentially, this can make the product more stimulating than if you had seen it on its own, without any prior stimuli. There is a limitation to this transfer – if too much time has elapsed, then this won’t occur. However the time is long enough for the effect to occur with tv ad slots following a sporting event, so it can last minutes. Thus it can apply in an online or offline environment. So excitement caused by seeing urgency messaging on a website has the potential to enhance the excitement when looking at the hotels themselves.

Run-down hotel
copyright www.fotolibra.com

Physical stores also use atmospherics to manipulate our emotions.

Arousal can be manipulated by means of scents. Two slot machines were ‘odorised’ in a Las Vegas casino over a weekend and the amount gambled on the machines increased by 45.11% compared with the prior and subsequent weekends (Hirsch AR, 1995). Scents in the environment tend to increase physiological arousal levels.


Playing slow tempo music in shops also slows the pace of shoppers and increases sales volumes (Milliman 1982). However there are other considerations, for example the music needs to be congruent with the product (Kelaris et al, 1993). In one example, sad music produced the most significant increase in sales (Alpert & Alpert, 1990). This was thought to be due to the product – a ‘missing you’ greeting card.

Marduk‚ march 2012 Left to right: Morgan, Lars, Mortuus, Devo
Marduk‚ march 2012
Left to right: Morgan, Lars, Mortuus, Devo

Shops already exploit lighting to make fruit appear fresher (Rupp, R, June, 2015) but the research suggests that lighting offers scope for influencing our emotions through our levels of arousal. For example, blue light (470nm) caused greater responses than green (550nm) light in brain areas involved in the modulation of cognition by arousal  (Cajochen, 2007). 

Shops want to encourage more people into the shops, but if too successful, this can increase customers’ perceptions of crowding. Research has shown that perceived crowding leads to less enjoyable shopping experiences and can lead to less satisfaction, browsing and affect the number of purchases (Turley et al, 2000). To counter this, companies increase the ceiling height in their buildings and adjust aisle widths to reduce perceptions of crowding.


Shops can also influence consumers through atmospherics effects before they even arrive at the store. Exposing people to others activates similar traits and goals (Dijksterhuis, A, 2005).  The new John Lewis store in Leeds provides a graphic example of this. The shop is approached via an arcade of high luxury shops. People approaching the John Lewis store are exposed to many other shoppers buying from these shops, priming the behaviour (and perceived spend on hedonic goods) that John Lewis are targeting.


In conclusion, whether you are shopping online or in a bricks and mortar shop, companies can affect what you buy and your experience. It could be argued that offline stores have more ability to control these areas as shoppers are physically present at the store. Online stores have less control over the environment of the shopper when viewing. Perhaps this is one area where offline shops have an advantage over online and should focus on as an increasing proportion of shoppers make their purchases online.


Just like the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald city, pulling levers to influence Dorothy and her companions emotions, companies that are aware of the power of emotions influence your emotions during your shopping experience through the use of atmospherics.

What is the cleverest use of atmospherics that you have ever seen used online or offline?


Alpert, J. I., & Alpert, M. I. (1990). Music influences on mood and purchase intentions. Psychology & Marketing, 7(2), 109-133.

Cajochen, C. (2007). Alerting effects of light. Sleep medicine reviews, 11(6), 453-464.

Dijksterhuis, A., Smith, P. K., Van Baaren, R. B., & Wigboldus, D. H. (2005). The unconscious consumer: Effects of environment on consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 15(3), 193-202.

Hirsch, A. R. (1995). Effects of ambient odors on slot‐machine usage in a Las Vegas casino. Psychology & Marketing, 12(7), 585-594.

Kahn, B. E., & Isen, A. M. (1993). The influence of positive affect on variety seeking among safe, enjoyable products. Journal of Consumer Research, 20(2), 257-270.

Kardes FR, Cline TW Cronley ML, 2008, Consumer Behaviour, Science and Practice, Cengage, p.192

Kellaris, J. J., & Kent, R. J. (1993). An exploratory investigation of responses elicited by music varying in tempo, tonality, and texture. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2(4), 381-401.

Mehrabian, A., & Russell, J. A. (1974). An approach to environmental psychology. the MIT Press.

Milliman, R. E. (1982). Using background music to affect the behavior of supermarket shoppers. The journal of Marketing, 86-91.

Morrin, M., & Ratneshwar, S. (2003). Does it make sense to use scents to enhance brand memory?. Journal of Marketing Research, 40(1), 10-25.

www.nationalgeographic.com, 15 June 2015, Rebecca Rupp, Surviving the Sneaky Psychology of Supermarkets,

http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/15/surviving-the-sneaky-psychology-of-supermarkets/, [accessed, 5 December, 2016]

Schachter, S., & Singer, J. (1962). Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological review, 69(5), 379.

Suri, R., Kohli, C., & Monroe, K. B. (2007). The effects of perceived scarcity on consumers’ processing of price information. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 35(1), 89-100.

Turley, L. W., & Milliman, R. E. (2000). Atmospheric effects on shopping behavior: a review of the experimental evidence. Journal of business research, 49(2), 193-211.

Ward, J. C., & Barnes, J. W. (2001). Control and affect: the influence of feeling in control of the retail environment on affect, involvement, attitude, and behavior. Journal of Business Research, 54(2), 139-144.

Zillmann, D. (1971). Excitation transfer in communication-mediated aggressive behavior. Journal of experimental social psychology, 7(4), 419-434.

How Derren Brown Used Attention To Predict The Future

Derren Brown is an illusionist and entertainer with a number of successful TV series and touring shows. He stirs many reactions – from a conjurer of evil to being likened to the Devil. Brown himself has reportedly openly claimed to hold no supernatural powers and many psychology students recognise the techniques he uses.

In one particularly impressive episode, Brown accurately predicts the concept and key elements for an advert that 2 designers will create, before they create it. The illusion is a powerful demonstration of how peoples attention and behavioural biases can be manipulated without their realisation. These same techniques can and are used by companies and brands to influence consumer behaviours.

So how is Brown able to do this so effectively and is he really the Devil or just a very clever consumer psychologist?


First, in case you haven’t seen it, take 5 minutes to watch the summary video:

Brown predicts that the designers will come up with an ad for a pet cemetery featuring a zoo, gates, a harp and a bear

For the first part of the illusion, Brown must draw the designers attention to a series of images without them realising.

Attention occurs when we select some information provided by our senses for further processing. We boost attention for relevant stimuli and inhibit processing of irrelevant stimuli. Importantly, our attention can become overwhelmed. For example research on people driving whilst on the phone showed that they were more likely to miss red traffic lights and had reduced reaction times (Strayer & Johnston, 2001).

To ensure the designers attention is focused where he wants it, Brown arranges a long taxi journey for them.


In the controlled environment of the taxi, the most stimulating flow of information reaching the designers is what they see outside the taxi on their route. By limiting information from the other sources, Brown makes it more likely that the designers attention is focussed on processing the visual information coming from outside the taxi, where he wants it.

Would the Devil arrange a taxi for someone? I think not: Devil 0, Consumer Psychologist, 1

Next he needs to get the designers to focus on specific images. Where attention is focused can be consciously (top down) or unconsciously (bottom up) selected. Consciously selected occurs when you select where your attention should be focused however unconsciously selected means it is involuntary – effectively it selects you. It is involuntary as it is related to our primary needs, for example to alert us to potential threats or food. To increase the likelihood of success, Brown cannot rely on the designers consciously selecting these objects. Instead he uses tactics likely to trigger unconscious (bottom up) processing. For example the large, fierce bear is likely to prompt bottom up evaluation as a potential threat.


Would a Consumer Psychologist use scary tactics like dangerous bears? I think not: Devil: 1, Consumer Psychologist 1.

Next, we look at Visual Salience – a significant factor determining where attention is focused. A salient visual object is easy to see. One factor that makes something visually salient is if a location is sufficiently different from its surrounds to be worthy of attention (www.scholarpedia.org, Itti). London Zoo is an iconic location that looks very different from its surroundings and as such it is likely to get the designers attention.


Would the devil arrange for a visit to London Zoo? I think not: Devil: 1, Consumer Psychologist: 2

Other factors that increase salience include colours, motions or shapes that stands out from their local surroundings (Yantis S, 1999). Brown uses these factors to increase the likelihood of gaining the designers attention. The group of young people on the level crossing all wear blue in contrast with the local area and their tee shirts repeats the Harp shape.


Interestingly, the level crossing has possible associations with danger. A figure in red also runs across the crossing, dressed in red and in the opposite direction to the group of young people in blue. This contrasting movement and the perception of danger are both likely to draw the designers attention towards Browns desired image – the harp shape featured on the groups clothes.


Would a Consumer Psychologist exploit young people and place them in danger? I think not. Devil: 2 votes, Consumer Psychologist: 2 votes

In the window display, the different shape and colour of the harp compared with the surrounding blue vases again uses visual salience to increase the likelihood of gaining attention.  


So once Brown has exposed the designers to these images, how can he know that they are likely to use them in their design? The Availability Heuristic (Tversky A et al, 1973) is a mental short cut that places more emphasis on examples that come most readily to mind. Hence by repeatedly exposing the designers to images immediately before setting their task, Brown influences the designers choices without them being aware.

Although this is an example taken from the world of entertainment, Brown himself acknowledges at the start of the video that many of these techniques are used in the world of advertising and media to influence behaviour. This real world powerful example provides a powerful, easily accessible demonstration of how brands and advertising can influence us, even when we believe we are engaged in a creative process.

And the final score for Devil vs Consumer Psychologist? Would a consumer psychologist ruin a perfectly good window display with a badly positioned harp? I think not, Devil: 3, consumer Psychologist: 2.

Devil it is….



Itti, www.scholarpedia.org,  http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Visual_salience [accessed 29 November 2016]

Strayer, D. L., & Johnston, W. A. (2001). Driven to distraction: Dual-task studies of simulated driving and conversing on a cellular telephone. Psychological science, 12(6), 462-466.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology, 5(2), 207-232.

Yantis, S., & Egeth, H. E. (1999). On the distinction between visual salience and stimulus-driven attentional capture. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 25(3), 661.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology, 5(2), 207-232.

Yantis, S., & Egeth, H. E. (1999). On the distinction between visual salience and stimulus-driven attentional capture. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 25(3), 661.


Why Adverts Are Scarier Than Spiders

Are you afraid of spiders? You’re not alone – it’s reported that in the US, 1 in 10 people has a phobia and of these, 40% are related to small animals such as spiders.


At this time of year, there seem to be loads around and they often seem to appear in the evening, heading out across the lounge floor (apparently, this is down to us switching up our heating, which makes the male spiders horny as they think its spring).

But as you settle down in front of the TV to watch your favourite show, at one with the world, instead of being afraid of the next spider, instead we should really be scared of the TV adverts that are issuing forth from the TV. Not convinced? Read on about to find out some of the ways TV ads get inside your mind to change your behaviours and understand why you should be more afraid of the ads than the spiders.


Our perceived needs are an important factor that influence how the TV ads we watch effect us.

According to Maslow and Drive theory (Maslow, 1943), we prioritise satisfying our primary (physiological) needs such as food and water. Then we move on to satisfy secondary (psychological) needs such as social belongingness, competence and problem solving. This forms the hierarchy of needs.

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

Even if we have no perceived need for a product or service when we see it advertised, advertisers can manipulate this by inducing or reminding us of an unmet need. Once we perceive that a need is not met, drive theory predicts that people are motivated to reduce these drives. By introducing a product or service that can help satisfy this unmet need, the marketers increase the likelihood that we see the advertisement a means of reducing this drive and hence as being personally relevant and important. This leads to higher levels of involvement – a big factor in how much and to what extent we think about the advertisement.

Advertisers can remind us of a genuine need, however they can also use other more controversial techniques to create invoke these unmet needs and make ads more effective.

For example, in 2005, Marks & Spencer ran a TV advertisement featuring Chocolate pudding. Showing close up images of sweet, calorie laden food such as chocolate can produce an involuntary response of salivation. Salivation is normally associated with food and hunger, a physiological need that affects everyone. To the salivating viewer, the advertisement now has more personal relevance and importance to their (induced) hungry state, causing their involvement with it to increase.

Would a spider consciously manipulate your involuntary reactions in this way?

Level of Involvement plays a large role in how we process an advertisement which in turn also impacts the effect it has on us. The Elaboration Likelihood Model of Persuasion (Petty RE et al, 1986) considers 2 distinct methods that people use to process advertisements – Central and Peripheral.

Central processing occurs when involvement is high and our ability to think about the ad is high. Peripheral processing occurs when involvement or our ability to think about an ad is low.

Each method leads to different effects and once again marketers can use these to their advantage.

Central processing leads consumers to think carefully about the claims being made within an ad. Strong arguments and reasons are most persuasive in these circumstances and this tends to lead to the formation of strong attitudes that resist change and strongly influence other judgements and behaviour. However this type of processing is cognitively demanding.

Peripheral processing occurs when involvement or ability to think is low, for example due to time pressures or sheer complexity. This has the benefit that it requires little effort, however the the effect is weaker – attitudes can be changed relatively easily, don’t last long and only weakly influence attitudes.

From a consumer perspective peripheral processing can be risky. Because people don’t think too much about the ad, they are prone to use heuristics and biases to form opinions or make decisions – however these ‘mental shortcuts’ are not perfect and marketers can exploit these through their advertisements.

For example the Telegraph reported on ‘Over 50’s plans – financial products designed to leave a lump sum to relatives but which offer ‘appalling value for money’ according to consumer body Which. In certain ads, marketers chose celebrities such as Michael Parkinson and Gloria Hunniford to endorse these products in TV ads.

Faced with a complex financial investment decision, low ability to comprehend the options can lead to people moving to Peripheral processing.

Even though this is an important decision, potentially costing thousands of pounds, faced with low ability, people are prone to Correspondence Bias (Gilbert D.T. et al, 1995) where the person’s attitude towards the product is influenced by their attitude towards the endorser and whether the endorser likes the product.

Not many spiders could cause you to lose thousands of pounds.

Language can also exert an important influence on the effectiveness of advertisements. People are averse to losses (Kahneman, D et al, 1991) and this leads to a bias in which framing scenarios as a gain leads to different behaviours compared with framing the same outcome as a loss. Gain-framed messages most effective for prevention. In tests, research showed that 71% of people acted on a gain framed message compared with only 51% to a message framed as a loss (Rothman, A.J. et al, 1999).

An example is the wording used in Corsodyl’s ad for mouth wash. eg Corsodyl is clinically proven to help stop bleeding gums.

The choice of words is also important. An analysis of frequency of occurrence of words in advertisements ranked ‘New’ and ‘Free’ as the first and third most often used words. Both these words have been shown to influence people in specific ways.

Allocation of attention is influenced by voluntary and involuntary factors (Kahneman, D. 1973). Salient stimuli draw consumers attention involuntarily (Greenwald, A.G., 1984). Use of the word ‘new’ implies novelty and novelty is a salient stimulus. Hence using the word ‘new’ increases the likelihood of a consumer’s involuntary attention.


Research has also shown that the word ‘Free’ influences customer choice. By introducing a free option in tests involving choosing between different chocolates, Ariely caused consumers to change their behaviour and choose a product for which they had previously shown less preference (Shampanier k.et al, 2007).

Would a spider cause you to choose a less preferable option?

In summary, these examples demonstrate how marketers use adverts to manipulate consumers without their knowledge. From causing involuntary reactions that predispose consumers to take interest in their adverts through exploiting known biases to influence consumer decisions. From framing language to convince you to use a mouthwash to using words that can influence your attention and alter your choices. Marketers use tactics that consumers have difficulty defending themselves against.

By contrast, spiders simply wander across the lounge, looking for a mate.

Which should we really be more scared about?


Buddle, C, 20 May, 2015, Why are we so afraid of spiders? Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/why-are-we-so-afraid-of-spiders-10263450.html [accessed 20 November, 2016]

Gilbert, D. T., & Malone, P. S. (1995). The correspondence bias. Psychological bulletin, 117(1), 21.

Greenwald, A. G., & Leavitt, C. (1984). Audience involvement in advertising: Four levels. Journal of Consumer research, 11(1), 581-592.

www.independent.co.ukChris Buddle (20 May, 2015) http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/why-are-we-so-afraid-of-spiders-10263450.html [accessed 2- November 2016)

www.theguardian.com, Jules Howard, 24 September, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/23/horny-male-spiders-scare-stories [Accessed 20 November 2016]

Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The endowment effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias. The journal of economic perspectives, 5(1), 193-206.

Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and effort (p. 246). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50(4), 370.

Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer New York.

Rothman, A. J., Martino, S. C., Bedell, B. T., Detweiler, J. B., & Salovey, P. (1999). The systematic influence of gain-and loss-framed messages on interest in and use of different types of health behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(11), 1355-1369.

Shampanier, K., Mazar, N., & Ariely, D. (2007). Zero as a special price: The true value of free products. Marketing science, 26(6), 742-757.

www.telegraph.co.uk Emma Scott 14 December, 2011 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/savings/8954019/Warning-on-celebrity-endorsed-over-50s-savings-plans.html [accessed 20 November 2016]

Donald Trump and the Attentional Blink

Two things happened this week that got me thinking…

Firstly there was the US Election result (blimey!) and secondly was learning more about a effect known as the Attentional Blink. It got me thinking could these be linked?

The Attentional Blink (Raymond et al, 1992) describes a phenomenon that occurs when the conscious mind is occupied with a task such as spotting a white letter in a sequence of briefly shown black letters. This occupation causes a blindspot for the conscious mind lasting typically 200 – 500ms immediately following display of the target letter.

But before delving further into the Attentional Blink, a short diversion into the World of Brands.pink-domestos

Love them or hate them, it’s hard to ignore them.



So what is a brand?

The simple answer: it’s complicated. In describing a brand, Paul Feldwick uses phrases such as “offers reassurance” and “creates good feelings of security and anticipation”.

Bangor Consumer Psychology Guru Professor James Intriligator talks of a “complex, abstract representation” encompassing “functional, sensory/perceptual and emotional qualities

Why are brands so important? From a consumer point of view, brands aid identification, reduce uncertainty and they can add value over a generic product. Lois Geller likens a brand to a promise.

Brands are also important for companies. Brands are valuable, saleable assets. In April, 2016, brewer AB InBev sold the Peroni and Grolsch brands. Although the exact figue was not released, the buyer had already offered £1.8bn (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36079368). As assets, brands play an important role in the value of a company and hence factors such as how easy the company can raise additional finance. In addition, brand strength can help a company’s resilience. For example in 2015, Marketing Week reported that the strength of the BBC brand would help the organisation weather the challenges it faced (https://www.marketingweek.com/2015/07/17/the-strength-of-the-bbc-brand-means-it-will-be-able-to-weather-the-review/)

It’s also useful to identify how a brand is performing versus competitor brands – to give early warning of opportunities and threats.

measurementGiven the importance of a brand, measuring a brand objectively is vital, but how can this be done? Taking the earlier description, some factors are relatively easy to measure, such as functional qualities. For example, Google can measure how quickly it returns a search result or the proportion of users who click one result but then click a second result.

However sensory/perceptual and emotional qualities are more challenging to quantify.

Some work to assess these was done by Thomson et al in 2005. They took the approach of asking people to report on how they felt about a brand when they thought about it and their relationship with it.

These measures were taken as multi-item Likert scales, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) wherein respondents rated the extent of their agreement concerning how a particular brand makes them feel.

However, this approach relies on responses made by the conscious system 2 thinking when attempting to measure system 1 qualities such as perceptions and emotions.

Could there be a better way of measuring brand strength?

Research (Awh E et al, 2004) found that faces were not subject to (or ‘survived’) the Attentional Blink. Further work (Landau et al, 2008) tested a variety of objects, confirming this and proposing that perceptual salience of the faces was what enabled them to survive the Attentional Blink.

Professor James Intriligator extended this and hypothesised that the more familiar an object, the more likely it was to survive and tested this using a section of brand names. This research confirmed a correlation between the ability of a set of brands to survive the attentional blink and their sales figures. The Attentional Blink provided a possible means of assessing brand strength without involving a conscious rating method.

So what does this have to do with Donald Trump? The US election result came as a surprise compared with predictions from pollsters. Even as late as the eve of the election, the BBC reported that pollsters placed Clinton in a 4 point lead (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2016-37904843)

So why could the polls have got it wrong?

Research by Shiv et al (1999) suggest that if processing resources are limited, people tend to be influenced more by their emotions than more thought through choices. For undecided voters, faced with time pressures and difficult choices, these perceptual and emotional factors may form a more important part of the decision on who to vote for than rationalised processes.

If the polls are based on voters rational responses to questions about these political ‘brands’, rather than a measure of how strongly the voters see the candidates from an emotional and sensory/perceptual perspective then they may be missing an important influence on the voters decision – emotions and sensory/perceptual factors.

donald-trumpIf we consider Trump and Clinton as brands (nothing new https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/2015/apr/02/political-brands-who-gets-your-vote), a more accurate poll method may have been to use the Attentional Blink method. By occupying the conscious decision processes, this method could be used to provide a more accurate measure of the relative strength of the 2 candidates/brands in voters minds. In addition, by applying this test to undecided voters on the run up to the election, accurate trends could be predicted and useful feedback gained.

This raises some ethical questions, as more accurate polls could themselves begin to influence the outcome.

Edit: The BBC have an interesting article published here discussing the ability of social media in prediction.


Raymond, J. E., Shapiro, K. L., & Arnell, K. M. (1992). Temporary suppression of visual processing in an RSVP task: An attentional blink?. Journal of experimental psychology: Human perception and performance, 18(3), 849.

Landau, A. N., & Bentin, S. (2008). Attentional and perceptual factors affecting the attentional blink for faces and objects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 34(4), 818.

Awh, E., Serences, J., Laurey, P., Dhaliwal, H., van der Jagt, T., & Dassonville, P. (2004). Evidence against a central bottleneck during the attentional blink: Multiple channels for configural and featural processing. Cognitive Psychology, 48(1), 95-126.

https://www.thinkbox.tv/News-and-opinion/Opinion/Exploding-the-myth [Accessed 11/11/16]

Exploding the Message Myth. (24/12/2013.). Retrieved November 12, 2016, from https://www.thinkbox.tv/News-and-opinion/Opinion/Exploding-the-myth

Shiv, B., & Fedorikhin, A. (1999). Heart and mind in conflict: The interplay of affect and cognition in consumer decision making. Journal of consumer Research, 26(3), 278-292.

Light Up Your Torch of Freedom

Classical conditioning is a learning theory centred on creating associations between meaningful objects or ideas to elicit desired responses (Kardes, pp 199).

Marketers work hard to pair meaningful unconditioned stimuli with their brand or product to condition consumers to feel positively about that brand.

I came across an example from the 1920’s that is well known as a piece of PR but which may also demonstrates the effectiveness of classical conditioning and raises some ethical questions.

At the beginning of the 20th century, smoking was seen as a male pastime. Women thought to have loose morals smoked in public

A 1901 New York Times article warned that womens’ smoking of cigarettes was ‘growing to be a menace in this country’ and in 1904, a police officer stopped a car in New York because a woman occupant was smoking.

Despite women getting the right to vote in 1920 taboos about smoking persisted.

In 1929, George Washington Hill, President of the cigarette brand Lucky Strikes, determined to increase sales to women by overcoming one of these taboos – that of women smoking in public places.edward_bernays

Hill enlisted a PR agent, Edward Bernays. (Bernays EL. Biography of an Idea: Memoirs of Public Relations Counsel Edward L. Bernays. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster; 1965:849)

Bernays was a nephew of Sigmund Freud and wanted to make use of the available scientific knowledge regarding behaviour change at the time. He consulted Psychoanalyst AA Brill on what cigarettes meant to women and Brill proposed that women saw cigarettes as ‘torches of freedom’.

Bernays then staged an intervention. He hired a group of debutantes to walk in the 1929 Easter Day Parade in New York and instructed them to light up their cigarettes and walk up and down, briefing them to tell the press the cigarettes were ‘torches of freedom’.


This was a controversial act, staged at a significant public event at a time when womens rights and smoking was an emotive subject. The act was widely reported, not least thanks to Bernays briefing the press in advance. The New York Times ran an article with the headline: “Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a gesture of Freedom”.

Within 3 days, newspapers published accounts of women smoking publicly in San Francisco, Denver and Boston Common. Within 6 weeks, the league of theatres lifted their ban on women smoking.

Supported by lessons to teach women how to smoke and advertising, the tobacco industry continued to target women. The result was that the proportion increased from x to y.

The Easter Day Parade event is known as a successful PR stunts, however was this just a PR stunt – or was it also a behavioural intervention?

Returning to the description from Kardes, classical conditioning is a learning theory centred on creating associations between meaningful objects or ideas to elicit desired responses (Kardes, pp 199).

It seems very likely that not long after getting the right to vote, equality would have been a salient subject for women. Pairing that with the act of smoking certainly appeared to drive the desired response of increased uptake of the act of smoking in defiance.

The subsequent reports in the press of other women smoking in open spaces suggests that there was an impact on behaviour – however these reports could have been made of behaviour that was already occurring, simply because the topic was seen as current.

However, whatever the reason, the repeated exposure to material reporting a link between the act of smoking and protest against inequality would contribute to a conditioning effect.

The metaphorical use of a ‘torch of freedom’ could also have contributed to the effectiveness of this intervention. The metaphor evokes a vivid and powerful image, focussing attention on the product as well as just the act of smoking. The closeness of the metaphor to the product increases the potency of the metaphor – a torch and a cigarette are both set alight. The possible association with the powerful symbol of the statue of liberty and it’s torch that ‘lights the way to freedom’ adds further to the emotional symbolism of this construct.

It could be argued that the association between womens equality and the act of smoking cigarettes already existed – at least for some women. However as well as reigniting this act as a symbol, the additional publicity must have exposed fresh minds to this and helped build this through the Mere Exposure effect (Bornstein et al, 1992).

Kardes also states that: “It is crucial for advertisers to select unconditioned stimuli that appeal to the target market”, suggesting that the choice of a salient subject for women (equality), increased the likelihood of a conditioning effect occurring.

Are there other factors that combined to increase the effectiveness of this intervention?

Maslows hierarchy of needs highlights peoples need for respect by others within the esteem level of needs. According to drive theory, people perceiving a lack of respect by others (such as through inequality) would be compelled to behave in ways to reduce this. Association with other women in this act would also help in terms of a sense of belonging, another need in Maslows hierarchy. Finally, womens assertion of their right to carry out acts such as smoking on the same level as men could also help towards higher level needs such as self-actualisation. By promoting smoking as a gesture of asserting rights for equality, Bernays also tapped into womens fundamental needs.

We don’t have precise scientific measurement available from the time and other initiatives to encourage smoking were underway, so it is not possible to isolate the influence of Bernays intervention with complete certainty. However the intervention and subsequent coverage does contain some of the key features that could lead to classic conditioning.

From an Ethical perspective, in light of what we now know about the negative effects of tobacco, this use of behaviour change raises difficult questions. At the time, the health effects were not well understood. It was almost 30 years later in 1964 that the US Surgeon General started to issue health warnings for tobacco. Bernays himself expressed regret. A recent report in the Huffington post reported him as saying: “This was before anybody knew cigarettes were carcinogenic,”  he continued. “I later worked to get tobacco advertising off radio and television to ease my guilt complex.”

Additionally, this intervention took place when scientific knowledge of psychology was relatively yoiung and it’s application in terms of marketing products was even younger. Could there have been a degree to which people were more naive about these effects due to their reduced exposure to them?

Even setting aside the knowledge of the health impact of smoking, the use of such an emotive and charged topic as inequality to effectively manipulate people for commercial gain also raises difficult questions.


Allan M. Brandt. 1996. Recruiting women smokers: the engineering of consent. Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association 51(1-2): 63-66.

Bernays EL. Biography of an Idea: Memoirs of Public Relations Counsel Edward L. Bernays. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster; 1965:849

Bornstein, R. F., & D’Agostino, P. R. (1992). Stimulus recognition and the mere exposure effect. Journal of personality and social psychology, 63(4), 545.

Kardes, F., Cronley, M., & Cline, T. (2014). Consumer behavior. Cengage Learning.

Mackintosh, N. J. (1974). The psychology of animal learning. Academic Press.


Decisions, decisions….

Ok – How are you today? Good? Excellent :o)

So, earlier this week, i had to grab some lunch. But where to go? In a perfect theoretical world, i’d research and test every option, but c’mon – this is just lunch right? True… but we make trivial decisions many times a day. Understanding the decision making process and what’s going on better from a consumer psychology perspective may help understand more complex decisions, like what blog post to write or maybe even a possible reason how people decide to vote.

Sandwich, courtesy TripAdvisor

So i thought i’d deconstruct my lunch decision to see what i could learn and how well it fitted decision making theories.

First, a bit of context. I’d been doing some research work in the local library, so i wanted somewhere located within 10 minutes walk that could provide me with something i liked to eat. I’d been working through some recommended research sources and i was feeling pleased with progress so i’d earned a break – the sun was out and i was looking forward to driving home that night. In addition, this was only my 5th day in the area, so i had really limited experience and knowledge of the nearby places to eat and what was available. Working on my own also had the effect that i wanted somewhere social, where other people were eating. Finally, this wasn’t a blow out lunch – so a low price was important.

The location, price and social requirements are known as ‘determinant attributes’. In a purely rational decision model, evaluating these should enable me to make my decision,

So, i started off by building my Consideration Set – my mental shortlist of places i thought may score highly against my determinant attributes.

  • Antoniazzis – family firm, established for years – been here once before, sat out and enjoyed a slice of pizza and a good espresso
  • Gregs – everybody knows Gregs (don’t they?) – functional but tasty food
  • Blue sky – never been in – but came across these guys on the web while researching nice places to get breakfast and was struck by the very positive reviews online.

Next, the type of decision to be made. Kardes (p65) defines 4 primary types of consumer decisions based on the degree of involvement and amount of information processing required: brand laziness, brand loyalty, variety seeking and problem solving.

Involvement is a reflection of how important the decision is from an emotional or concern perspective. Information processing is the effort expended – for example low information processing is the equivalent of responding intuitively – without much conscious thought.

For the decision about where to eat, i had relatively low involvement however i had a mixture of knowledge levels about the different options and no clear favourite. To decide between these would require a more moderate level of information processing.

This combination of low involvement and medium to high information processing defines my ‘where to eat lunch’ decision as a ‘Variety Seeking’ type decision. In fact, because i wasn’t being forced to look around (for example because my favourite placed to eat was closed), i was indulging in a particular flavour of Variety Seeking called: ‘Intrinsic Variety Seeking’.

I decided to walk around the area and take a look at each venue.

Gregs, Bangor – Google Maps

First Gregs. I know the food, low prices and hey – they even had some tables so i can sit amongst others and satisfy the social requirement (though people do just seem to be eating quick and heading off). So Gregs ticks all my boxes





Antoniazzis, Bangor – Google Maps

On to option 2 – Antoniazzis. I’ve been here before and i know a little about the story behind this brand. They certainly had reasonable food within the price range however once inside and looking round, I felt there was less of a fit from a social perspective.





Blue Sky Cafe, Bangor

Finally, Blue Sky. This was interesting. First I had to walk up an alleyway to find the door. From the door, i couldn’t actually see the cafe as it was upstairs. Figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained, i headed on up the stairs, hearing an increasing hubbub to find myself in a large space with wooden floors and lots of people eating and talking, very similar to a couple of other coffee bars and cafes i know and visit regularly.

So a number of the options met my requirements but which one did i pick and why?

I picked Blue Sky. So now to understand why this was the more likely choice from a consumer psychology perspective.

Firstly, why didn’t i pick the tried and trusted Gregs? After all, it was my first stop and it met all my criteria – so why invest more time and risk disappointment elsewhere?

Investigating the consumer psychology literature reveals that positive mood may have been one factor. In 1993, Kahn et al investigated the influence of positive affect on variety seeking. Using sweets and praise to induce positive affect among a group of consumers, they showed that this led to increased variety seeking within safe, enjoyable product categories.

Conversely, whilst standing outside Gregs, i was faced with a choice of a brand in front of me (a stimulus based choice) vs others i was trying to remember (memory based choices).

In this ‘mixed choice’ state, stimulus brands usually have the advantage (Biehal et al, 1983). So what happened? According to Kardes et al (p103) this effect can be reversed in special cases, such as where memory brands seem too good to be ignored.

I originally found the Blue Sky Cafe when Googling places for breakfast. The search result for the search ‘Best breakfast in Bangor’ shows Blue Sky prominently on the page – as though it offers the best breakfasts in Bangor (see screen shot below). Research in the medical field has shown that information delivered by a perceived expert can be more effective at causing change (Web et al, 2006). So the strong memory was enough to overcome the immediate attraction of Gregs as i stood before the shop -my memory told me that Blue Sky was potentially too good to be ignored. This also brought home to me just how easy it is to form an incorrect memory – when writing this post, i rechecked and Blue Sky is not actually ranked #1 on the various individual result pages for that search – however the prominent position and images of Blue Sky on Google were enough for me to form the impression that they were the #1 place for breakfast in Bangor. I use Google often and to me this highlights the potential risk of perceiving Google as an ‘expert’.

Google Search Result – ‘Best Breakfasts in Bangor’


But why select Blue Sky?

Heuristics are quick ‘rules of thumb’ that consumers sometimes use when making decisions. One reason these can come into play is when decisions need to be made quickly as there is less time for more considered thinking.

One particular heuristic researched by Tversky et al in 1974 – the ‘Representativeness Heuristic’ –  occurs when a consumer observes features on a new product that are similar to a known product. The consumer then also makes assumptions about other similarities, even though these may be incorrect.

Katsouris, Manchester

In the case of Blue Sky, when i arrived at the top of the stairs, conscious of all the people around me, i found myself wanting to make a decision quickly. Scanning the room i took in the chalk board coffee menu, wooden floors and reclaimed tables/furnishings, and immediately formed a judgement that i would eat there. Thinking this through with hindsight, Blue Sky shares these features with one of my favourite, regular Manchester Cafes –  Katsouris.

Despite having no first hand knowledge of the coffee and food at Blue Sky, the representativeness heuristic suggests that i would have the experience i enjoyed at my regular cafe back home, here in this different cafe.


Another factor could be the ‘sunk cost’ effect – once an investment has been made in an endeavour, there is a tendency to continue (Arkes and Blumer, 1985). So having ‘invested’ my time in walking upstairs to see the cafe, i was more likely to stay.

So in conclusion, decision making is a complex business. Although the consumer psychology is becoming better understood, in reality, many different influences and factors are occurring simultaneously. Understanding the interraction between these and which ones will dominate is not straightforward.

With hindsight, i can see how my decision process fits against the models and how understanding some of the factors at play such as heuristics can help people make better decisions.

In the end, the espresso and sandwich i had at Blue Sky were excellent, the ambience was great and i left feeling that i had made the right choice.

Which heuristics affected a recent decision you made?


Arkes, H.R. and Blumer, C., 1985. The psychology of sunk cost. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 35(1), pp.124-140.

Biehal, G. and Chakravarti, D., 1983. Information accessibility as a moderator of consumer choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 10(1), pp.1-14.

Kahn, B.E. and Isen, A.M., 1993. The influence of positive affect on variety seeking among safe, enjoyable products. Journal of Consumer Research,20(2), pp.257-270.

Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D., 1975. Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. In Utility, probability, and human decision making (pp. 141-162). Springer Netherlands.

Webb, T.L. and Sheeran, P., 2006. Does changing behavioral intentions engender behavior change? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence.Psychological bulletin, 132(2), p.249.

Catching a Flight? Don’t Forget Your Duty Free

Holidays – what’s not to love? You’re all set to go – cases packed – check, passports – check, tickets – check. But have you readied yourself for Duty Free?

The UK duty free market is forecast to grow by 4.6% per annum and the airports want your hard earned cash.

Last week i was catching a flight and thinking how science has made it easier than ever to travel thousands of miles – from the computers used to book flights and reserve car parking to the technology of getting a plane airbourne, upto 39000 feet and safely landed.

But I also started to consider a shorter stage of the journey where science is less obviously hard at work – the science of consumer psychology and the 200m journey through the duty free area at the airport.

At airports, many of us are tempted by the lure of duty free purchases – even when they are travelling to other EU countries and there are no duty free benefits.

So I started to ask myself why is this?

Manchester airport duty free provided an opportunity to evaluate some of the ways in which psychological theory and research is being applied to encourage passengers to begin their journey with a purchase.

We use our senses to perceive our environment and make decisions on how to respond.

Approaching duty free, a number of possible routes into the area are possible but the prominent position of the yellow information signs to the left, staggered red boxes to the right and the prominent, full length, illuminated panel are strong visual cues and draw passengers attention to enter via the left hand side of the duty free area.


Highly visible discount signs hanging just above eye level stretch into the distance, proclaiming discounts compared with high street prices.


Approaching closer also reveals a second sensory cue affecting the environment – the up tempo sound of The Supremes singing the You Can’t Hurry Love. This familiar music evokes memories that have the potential to cause arouse emotions (Gorn, 1982), helping to start to switch attention from the impending flight.

The same music is not being played throughout the area – a few steps on introduces a different song Diamond by Izzy Bizu. By comparison with the 97 beats per minute (BPM) of The Supremes, Diamond has a far slower tempo of 66 BPM.

Research has shown that playing music that people like can influence product choice (Gorn, 1982). In addition tests in a US supermarket found that the pace of in store traffic flow was significantly slower with the slow tempo music than for faster tempo music (Robert Milliman, 1982).

The floor to the left hand side features a defined ‘path’ that flows through the duty free area – but rather than taking the most direct route, this turns and wends, influencing the path of passengers.


Positioned at staggered intervals are columns. Of course, columns are necessary to support the roof, however these columns are faced with mirrors and angled at 45 degrees to the oncoming flow of people. This results in passengers seeing reflections of products from the fittings on either side rather than themselves in the mirrors. More visual cues designed to gain attention and distract passengers from their route to the departure lounge areas.


Glancing back, it was also apparent that the column layout was configured in such a way that there was no clear path back, in contrast with the clear route into the areas provided by the earlier visual cues.


Progressing further, one column in particular stood out. Unlike the others, this displayed flight departure information – timings, gates and flight numbers. This salient information caused people to pause in front of it to check the latest information about their flight.


Immediately after this sign, the path swung to the right and to the left, passengers were exposed to a large multi screen wall display. This cycles through a series of short advertisements for expensive mens and womens fragrances  (Dior) and information videos. Many of these featured scenes designed to arouse – people kissing (video below) and provocatively posed women (image below). The choice of music in these areas is also important as research has shown that the music and fragrance should be congruent – 



Research has shown that womens attitudes towards the use of sexual images to promote a product are less negative for expensive products compared with cheap ones (Vohs, 2014).

By gaining the attention of passengers, causing them to halt to check the flight information and then immediately presenting a large screen showing videos of attractive male and female models, the design layout is making use of environmental cues to influence where we focus our attention and appeal to our senses, emotions and memories.

The question has been posed whether the consumer world pays attention to scientific evidence. From the use of environmental cues to attract passengers attention through their senses and influence behaviours to the choice of videos, these examples suggest that in the case of duty free shopping at Manchester Airport, the answer is yes.

What is the best application you have seen of consumer psychology in a retail environment?


Gorn, Gerald J. “The effects of music in advertising on choice behavior: A classical conditioning approach.” The Journal of Marketing (1982): 94-101.

Milliman, Ronald E. “Using background music to affect the behavior of supermarket shoppers.” The journal of Marketing (1982): 86-91.

Vohs, Kathleen D., Jaideep Sengupta, and Darren W. Dahl. “The Price Had Better Be Right Women’s Reactions to Sexual Stimuli Vary With Market Factors.” Psychological science (2013): 0956797613502732.

Mattila, Anna S., and Jochen Wirtz. “Congruency of Scent and Music as a Driver of In-Store Evaluations and Behavior.” (2003).

“It’s (not just) all about the brand, ‘bout the brand, no trouble”

What is it about any brand that makes it stand out? “A strong brand name triggers many important associations in consumers’ memories” (Kardes et al, 2011).

Brands are aware of this and work hard to build strong memories in consumers minds. Take FaceBook. Most people will know the FaceBook ‘Look Back’ movie by now. FaceBook marked their 10th Birthday in 2014 by launching a feature they called your ‘Look Back’ movie.

Although there may have been a few hiccups along the way, The Look Back movie was a masterful piece of marketing with a foot firmly planted in consumer psychology.

It combined individual users most shared and liked posts of the year into a personalised film that generated a powerful emotional response in users. Prompting that emotional response and associating and that with the FaceBook brand elicited a powerful result – almost 200 million people watched their video and 50% of those shared it.

Fast forward to last week and a smaller brand that makes a regular appearance at our house made a play in the same vein, but not quite with the same result.

Boden are a successful British clothing company and their catalogue is a regular visitor to our letter box.


The catalogue that arrived last week proudly announced: “We’re 25”. To mark this occasion, the company had sent every customer a catalogue containing personalised messages aimed at evoking memories (for example, by mentioning the first item the customer purchased). It also offered free delivery, free returns and a 10% discount.

Image result for flaming zombie cocktail

This seemed like a heady cocktail of marketing ingredients and consumer psychology levers. It looked like the credit card was in for a battering and i prepared myself for the worst… so i was puzzled when my wife explained how disappointed she was.

Why should this be?


The brand is a regular discounter, frequently offering discounts of 20% (or more) together with money off vouchers and other incentives. A 25th Birthday event had raised expectations of great discounts… only to deliver a disappointing 10%.


In his book, Predictably Irrational (2008), Dan Ariely talks about the framework of Arbitrary Coherence, (Ariely et al, Quarterly Journal of Economics 2003 – http://users.nber.org/~rosenbla/econ311-05/syllabus/stabledemand.pdf).

In this, the reaction to an offered price is driven by the memory of an original ‘anchor’ price for an item and a desire for coherence with past decisions. This anchor price is established at the point a consumer considers buying the item at that price. Importantly, it persists despite subsequent exposure to different prices. Once you establish a certain price for an item, you tend to judge future purchases of that item against that price.

In this case, it appears that the reaction to an offered discount may have been driven by the memory of an anchor discount and a desire for coherence with past decisions, leading to disappointment at the (relatively) low discount offered.

In my opinion, this shows how important it is to have a broad understanding of the factors at work in consumer psychology and their interdependencies if the desired outcome is to be achieved. Bodens work to personalise their catalog and evoke emotional memories succeeded in generating interest and anticipation, however the offer was not judged to be enough when set against past offers. It is not enough to just have ‘one part of the jigsaw puzzle’.

Have you ever been disappointed by an offer from a brand you like?