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 –

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?