The power of peers
We saw different tricks that make us buy more.
But, do you know which is the most effective trick?
It’s your friend, your cousin, or even a stranger.
What the other person says, matters for us, a lot.
We watch what others are doing and change our own actions and behaviours.
In 2007 the Washington Post made an interesting experiment. Joshua Bell was playing with a $3.5 million violin on a subway during the morning rush in Washington D.C. Most of the people walked right by and ignored him.
All day, he had made only $32.17.
In another situation, they would be happy to pay $100 to $200 to see him perform.
One person was in a hurry and ignored the performer, and so the person behind him, and so on. And during the morning the whole mass was brushing past a world-class performer.
Standing out, or differing from everyone else, causes us great discomfort.
When you show people a group picture on Facebook, they’ll first see themselves which is common. Then they’ll analyze how they appear compared to others. Are they making the right impression? Are others looking on at them positively?
It shows we’re social species, we asses our behaviour in relation to everyone else.
Marketers know the rule: Humans want what other humans want.
Now, imagine you’re a parent thinking about the present you should buy for your kid for Christmas.
And as the previous Christmas, there is a present that everybody is talking about. Other parents you meet at the playground are planning to buy that toy.
Every Christmas a toy becomes a must-have for their child and they will pay 2-5 times more just to get it.
For example, the most popular toy on the Christmas of 2016 was Hatchimals.
The $60 version was scarce on store shelves, so the parents bought on eBay for $200.
So, why the manufacturer didn’t produce more toys?
It is an old trick which is scarcity. The harder is for us to obtain a product the more we want it.
We’ve gotta have it
Sometimes we rely on purchasing a product based on what others are saying even if it’s a complete stranger.
A survey by brightlocal showed that:
97% of consumers looked online for local businesses in 2017, with 12% looking for a local business online every day.
85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
Their opinions are so convincing that we know that at least 25% of them are fake reviews written by employees or friends. We want to trust these reviews even though we are a little uncertain.
A simple example is “best-seller lists”.
Let’s say you want to buy a book.
You hesitate to spend $25 on a book which it may result to not worth it later. But wait, you see “It’s a New York Times Bestseller with X million copies sold”.
Subconsciously you think: If so many people have bought this book then it must be good.
Followed by: If so many people are reading this book, would I be left out of the conversation if I don’t read it too?
This isn’t a fortunate accident for the publishing industry.
The main reason best sellers list exist isn’t just to know the number of sales but to make us think these books have been “preapproved”.
To suggest that everybody else is reading it.
From the fact that bestseller lists are persuasive other industries used it.
- Best selling cosmetic products
- Most popular TV shows
- Best toys for 2017
Now, let’s see iTunes. It has multiple lists such as:
- What’s popular
- What they’re watching
- What we’re listening to
- Top songs, top albums, top movies
Here Apple is trying to imply that its team of experts has spent the past month parsing through thousands of songs to show their chosen picks.
It’s possible that companies pay big money to put their music/movie/show on the front page.
Now a two-tier system is possible to happen.
First, due to big exposure and from the fact people consider them as “best”, among all others end up making the top list.
And once there is a bestseller, we think: What others know more than me? Am I missing out something?!
A study published in the Sciencemag shows just how well this can work.
The researchers invited 27 teenagers to visit a website where they could download samples for free. They told to some teens what others had downloaded. And these teens downloaded the same songs as their friends did.
The second part of the study divided the students into 8 groups. The researchers found that teens not only choose pre-downloaded songs, but these songs became a “hit”.
All was clear: The song would become “hit” solely by whether it was perceived as already being popular.
It may not seem such a bad thing, but look at this way: If we buy something just for being popular then we miss out the great products.
Researchers used fMRI to see what was going on in the teenager’s brain. They had 12 seventeen-year-old teens and they had to rate 15 seconds clips.
The results showed when the participants liked a popular song had activity in the caudate nucleus (a section of the brain linked to rewards).
However when teen preferred a song which was unpopular, an area of the brain linked to anxiety lit up.
Researchers concluded that this “mismatch anxiety” motivates people to shift their preferences toward consensus.
Marketers and Teenagers
It is a fact that the world glorifies teenager years, just look at the movies with the subject of high school.
Teenagers are the most vulnerable to peer pressure than other ages. Not to mention that now teenagers spend 5 times more money than their parents did at the same age.
Why? Because teenagers don’t know who they are truly yet.
Studies have shown that when a teen ask for an iPhone, a pair of jeans or a Wii game is asking more than the latest product. They’re trying to increase their self-esteem.
Deborah R. John at the University of Minnesota recruited 250 kids from the ages 8-18 and asked them to answer the question: “What makes you happy”.
The results showed that children with higher self-esteem chose words that described nonmaterial activities such as playing or getting good grades.
Children with low self-esteem chose possessions, like new clothes or an iPod. 
How do they sell us poison?
UK banned all TV tobacco commercials on 1 August 1965, the USA on 1 January 1971 while Australia in December 1989.
Despite heavy anti-smoking campaigns, the tobacco industry has had an increase in their profits during these 15 years.
In 2016 their profits combined were $35 billion.
The governments raise taxes, they make laws that prohibit consuming on closed environments and ban tobacco advertising. So, how do tobacco companies stand out?
With TV ban the Tobacco companies have become more sophisticated.
Philip Morris (Who owns Marlboro), Reynolds Tobacco Company (which owns Camel) funnel a huge percentage of their marketing budget into subliminal marketing.
For example, Philip Morris finances bar owners to use specially designed furniture, ashtrays, suggestive tiles and many other subliminal symbols to convey the essence of Marlboro.
To ensure the highest exposure, Marlboro also markets clothing (gloves, boots, jackets, jeans, watches, bags) to invoke associations with the brand.
In Malaysia, Benson & Hedges has sponsored coffee shops to sell their products with their logo.
One of the best ways for advertising tobacco is by sponsoring NASCAR and Formula 1 cars.
Formula 1 is a popular sport mostly in Europe. And its popularity makes a great opportunity for advertising Tobacco. Why? When your TV ads are banned which is the best way to convey that feeling of risk, cool, dynamism, and youth than to sponsor a car race?
They paint the Ferrari car on Marlboro red. They dress the driver and the crew in bright red jumpsuits.
Studies have shown that when smokers see logo-free advertising associated with
cigarettes, like the Ferrari, trigger cravings more than the logos or cigarette packs themselves.
The reason is that since the subtle images showed none visible logos; the smokers weren’t consciously aware that they were looking at an advertising message, so they let their guard down.
It’s a little scary to find out that what we think it doesn’t have to do with smoking, in fact, is the most effective technique.
Tobacco companies have been using movies for decades to advertise cigarettes. It is a powerful way to relate smoking to beauty, romance, sexual appeal, and manhood.
Silvester Stallone signed a contract where he would smoke Brown & Williamson cigarettes for a fee of $500,000.
$350,000 to have Lark cigarettes show up in the James Bond film, License to kill.
Superman 2 received $43,000 to show Marlboro.
They paid $30,000 to place Eve cigarettes in Supergirl
Selling cigarettes to kids
A huge part of the marketing budget goes out to the stores in signs, posters, and promotions.
Behind the clerk, you can see the tobacco shelves on the same eye level of the kids.
Research shows that kids who visit convenience stores with tobacco marketing more than twice a week are more likely to smoke.
There are also cheap cigars with flavours and menthol cigarettes which makes smoking more easy for beginners.
The largest neuromarketing experiment ever made
Martin Lindstrom in his book Buyology explains the details of the largest neuromarketing experiment.
The researchers choose 32 smokers from 2081 volunteers from US, England, Germany, China, and Japan.
The purpose of the study was to see what was happening to the brains of smokers when they look at the warning labels.
Participants went through fMRI.
fMRI is a powerful machine which measures the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity.
When your brain is operating on a specific task, it demands more fuel- mainly oxygen and glucose. The harder the region is working the greater its fuel consumption.
So during fMRI, when a portion of the brain is in use, that region will light up.
The results showed that warning labels and fonts on the cigarette packs had no effect on suppressing the smokers cravings at all. All those anti-smoking campaigns and billions of dollars that world governments had spent were all a big waste of money.
The fMRI results showed that warning labels not only failed to decrease smoking, but they also activated the nucleus accumbens making smokers crave more.
Companies are smart but tobacco companies are scarily smart.
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