Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas - Marketing, psychology and the world

Santa Claus, Christmas carols, gifts, endless queues at the malls and the local post offices, house decorations and more human externalities! Christmas is here! Hohoho!! But, what does Christmas mean for us? Why "Merry Christmas"? Does Santa really exist? How could Christmas decoration both in houses and in retail stores affect our psychology? Marketers and psychologists are actually curious human beings that have studied almost every aspect of human and consumer behavior, including Christmas psychology!

Santa Claus really exists?

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas or simply "Santa", is a mythical figure with legendary, historical and folkloric origins who, in many Western cultures, is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children on December 24, the night before Christmas. Images of Santa Claus were further popularized through Haddon Sundblom’s depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company’s Christmas advertising in the 1930s. The popularity of the image spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was invented by The Coca-Cola Company or that Santa wears red and white because they are the colors used to promote the Coca-Cola brand. Historically, Coca-Cola was not the first soft drink company to utilize the modern image of Santa Claus in its advertising: White Rock Beverages had already used a red and white Santa to sell mineral water in 1915 and then in advertisements for its ginger ale in 1923.

Kids believe in Santa Claus as a function of age. Kids are also more likely to believe if their parents encourage them to do so [Anderson & Prentice, 1994]. But it’s not clear that these beliefs are a sign of greater gullibility or even a greater interest in fantasy.

Actually, researchers found that a belief in Santa was unrelated to other measures of a child's interest in fantasy [Prentice, 1978]. And a recent series of experiments conducted at Harvard found that kids make important distinctions between beliefs in folkloric, fantasy characters and beliefs in other unseen, but scientifically-established, entities. Kids who professed to believe in Santa were nonetheless less certain about it than they were about the existence of oxygen or germs. Another set of experiments revealed that 4-year old kids don't invoke magical explanations for things that happen in the real world-not unless those things otherwise seem impossible [Rosengren & Hickling, 1994].

What happens when kids finally penetrate the veil and reject our fantasies? We might feel a little awkward or wistful. But the kids don’t appear to be heartbroken. When researchers questioned children who had stopped believing in Santa Claus, a milestone they reached around the age of 7, kids reported feeling pleased.

They had figured it out. They were enlightened now.

According to Anderson , it was THE PARENTS, NOT THE KIDS, who reported feeling a bit sad..

Why Merry Christmas?

Tim Kasser, an American psychologist, known for his work on materialism & Kennon Sheldon, professor of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, noticed 10 years ago that "More happiness was reported when family and religious experiences were especially salient, and lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated. Engaging in environmentally conscious consumption practices also predicted a happier holiday, as did being older and male. In sum, the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may undermine well-being, while family and spiritual activities may help people to feel more satisfied". Thus consumerism is not always the answer.

Christmas decoration

Werner & Brown [Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1989] suggested that most people like decorating their house for Christmas. One possible reason for this behavior could be the desire to communicate friendliness and cohesiveness with neighbors. Stimulus homes had been preselected to represent the four cells of a two by two factorial design crossing the presence/absence of Christmas decorations with the resident’s self-rated social contact with neighbors (low/high). As expected, a main effect for the decorated factor indicated that raters used Christmas decorations as a cue that the residents were friendly and cohesive. Decoration interacted with sociability in a complex but interpretable way. 

In the absence of Christmas decorations, raters accurately distinguished between the homes of sociable and nonsocial residents; in open ended comments, they attributed their impressions to the relatively more ‘open’ and ‘lived in’ look of the sociable residents’ homes. When Christmas decorations were present, raters actually attributed greater sociability to the nonsocial residents, citing a more open appearance as the basis for their judgments. The results support the idea that residents can use their home’s exterior to communicate attachment and possibly to integrate themselves into a neighborhood’s social activities.

As regards retail stores and their Christmas decoration, the following video, that explores current neuromarketing methods (measuring stimuli and emotions to retail stores Christmas decoration), might shed light on unconscious consumer decision-making processes:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Marketing & Social Psychology for a Better Future

Because Marketing is interested in persuasion, changing attitudes and provoking specific behaviours, it has always used psychological theories, and more specifically theories coming from Social Psychology. As early as 1928, the famous work of Edward Bernays on Propaganda, one of the many ancestors of marketing and Freud's nephew,explicitly refers to several social psychologist’s work in order to address and influence the masses to sell them products, for example by manipulating the nature of the source of information to for better influence in claims.

Apart from theories and experiments, Social Psychology also brought many a technique which is now used in Marketing, especially in the consumer research side: to name the most prominent, in-depth interviews, focus groups, attitude scales, laboratory experiments on choices.

Human behavior and the installation of the world

The determinants of human behavior are distributed: Some lay in the subject (motives, goals,preferences, habits), others lay in the context (artefacts, rules, other people). In an operational perspective, for practitioners who want to understand, predict or influence human behavior at a given moment, and a given place, the world can be considered as an installation.Installation must be understood here in the artistic sense of assembling patterns in space to modify the way we experience this situation. The installation of the world guides subjects into their activity track, at three levels: physical,psychological, social. It is possible to frame this installation in order to influence behavior. Let us detail these three levels.

The physical level refers to material reality and artefacts. It provides affordances for activity (which can be supported by the objects). For example, chairs afford sitting; buses afford transportation; on-line support affords help. One can only do what is afforded by the present environment. This layer of installation is distributed in the physical environment by construction of infrastructure, and various mechanisms of supply and procurement.

This first, physical, level of determination affords a tree of possibilities; but not everything that is possible will be realized. This is where psychology comes into play. To take action,subects must interpret situations. Objects evoke for humans specific connotations of activity, and operative images. At psychological level, motives,representations and practice provide possible interpretations of the situation by the subject.For example choosing between various artefacts (e.g. different brands of same product) which all provide some affordance for the desired activity. Representations include the “how to use” the objects; for example a web browser, a car, or a self-service restaurant. Representations also enable subjects to elaborate and plan behaviors  This layer of installation is distributed over individual humans, by the means of physiology, experience, education and exposures to discourse (media, advertising, etc).

But again, not everything that is even both possible and desired will be realized: a third level of determination, social, will cut off more branches from the tree of possibilities. For example, although we could drive on any side of the roads, only one is allowed in every country. Because individual actions produce externalities, they are limited by others. Institutions are a social solution to control potential abuse or misuse, and minimize social costs also called “negative externalities”. Institutions set common conventions which enable cooperation (e.g. people should all drive on the same side of the road; etc). Many of the rules are already contained in the normative aspects of representations, but institutions are special in their capacity to enforce behavior  by social pressure or more direct means.

So, at a given moment, individual behavior is determined by this distributed installation: Artefacts installed in the physical environment, interpretive systems installed in humans, and institutions installed in society. This enables us to understand better the role of Psychology in this framework. Because some determinants lay in the context, psychological theories alone cannot explain or predict behavior but because some determinants are psychological and social, a social psychological approach is necessary.

Installation theory is of course very schematic. Still, it enables a first orientation in the complex socio-technical systems which innovators must deal with; it provides a check-list for analysis and agenda for action. If we want to change the World, or more modestly one of its subdomains, it is clear that no action limited to a single layer of determination -for example a new product, or a campaign- will be enough to change the behaviors of people. We should make sure that appropriate installation in the three layers (physical environment, individuals concerned, relevant institutions) has been addressed. What is left to us is the strategy of how to create and distribute such installation.

Towards a more sustainable future

In this global change management, as said earlier, Marketing plays a key role. Marketing has been in charge of implementing change for most built environment and policies, in a market context. But now, precisely, we have become aware of the limitations of the market system.Now, we face a new challenge with global sustainability, of which the current financial crisis is only one of the first global symptoms, together with climate change and ecological destruction.Too often in the past, Marketing has been on the dark side of the force, mobilizing considerable resources only to move the frontiers between brand territories, in a zero-sum game. In doing so, though, a considerable amount of knowledge and agency has been accumulated. Now, marketers, the World needs your capacities to help degrowth. We have collectively failed in creating a sustainable civilization, and there is little time left to change it into a better system.

Social value is the resource. An observation of what does actually work in terms of sustainable consumption.In the end, what Humans look for is belong to a group where they are recognized, have status, and gain other’s people’s love. And for this they are ready to give, not only take. In fact, most consumption has this final use of building someone’s position in groups. When people buy fancy cars, display brands on their clothes, and in general work or spend their money and time, it is usually for that purpose of gaining or keeping position in a group.

This is probably the way into which Marketing should engage in this 21st century. After the markets of goods and services, it is the markets of sociability which will be the next frontier. Many of us have already recognized the social realm as a major source of value, and as said earlier there are numerous attempts to use it, but until now it has been mostly mobilized so serve the old regime of brands. It should now serve society itself, or there will be no 22nd century for the civilization we have built. But make no mistake: when I talk about a “market of sociability”, this means not that we should commoditize and sell sociability, as has unfortunately been often the temptation lately. I mean, on the contrary, that sociability is a kind of “money”, a psychological reward system for performing other activities. Building markets with this new currency is certainly a challenge for Marketing [Professor Saadi Lahlou,LSE,2009].

I strongly recommend the following lesson @Coursera for young marketers with no previous background on Social Psychology (, as well as The Social Animal,a must-read written by Elliot Aronson .

Monday, July 01, 2013

Cross-Cultural Consumer Behavior

What are the key cultural constructs or dimension?

The constructs of individualism and collectivism represent the 
most broadly used dimensions of cultural variability for cross-cultural comparison. In individualistic (IND) cultures, people tend to prefer independent relationships to others and to subordinate the goals of their ingroups to their own personal goals. In collectivistic (COL) cultures, in contrast, individuals tend to prefer interdependent relationships to others and to subordinate their personal goals to those of their ingroups. The key distinction involves the extent to which one defines the self in relation to others. The focus is on whether the self is defined as autonomous and unique or seen as inextricably and fundamentally embedded within a larger social network. This distinction has also been referred to as egocentric versus sociocentric selves (Shweder & Bourne,1982), or independence vs interdependence.

In sum, the distinctions between IND and COL societies, and independent and interdependent self-construals, are crucial to the cross-cultural understanding of consumer behavior. Indeed, whereas the 1980s were labeled the decade of individualism/collectivism in cross-cultural psychology, similar distinctions represent the dominant structural approach in cross-cultural consumer research in 1990s and 2000s. The studies to be reviewed in this chapter offer a wealth of evidence that these cultural classifications have fundamental implications for consumption-related outcomes.

Expanding the Set of Cultural Dimensions

The nature and meaning of IND and COL (or of independent and interdependent self-construals) appear to vary across cultural, institutional, gender, and ethnic lines. Although the breadth of the INDCOL constructs lends integrative strengths, further refinement of these categories holds the potential to enhance prediction of consumer behavior.

The Horizontal/Vertical Distinction: Which additional cultural categories offer value in the prediction of cross-cultural consumer behavior? Within the INDCOL framework, Triandis and his colleagues have recently introduced a further distinction between societies that are horizontal (valuing equality) and those that are vertical (emphasizing hierarchy). The horizontal/vertical distinction emerges from the observation that American or British individualism differs from, say, Norwegian or Danish individualism in much the same way that Japanese or Korean collectivism differs from the collectivism of the Israeli kibbutz. Specifically, in vertical individualist societies (U.S.,Great Britain, France), people tend to be concerned with improving their individual status and distinguishing themselves from others via competition. In contrast, in horizontal individualist societies (HI; e.g., Sweden, Norway, Australia), where people prefer to view themselves as equal to others in status, the focus is on expressing one’s uniqueness, capability, and self-reliance. In vertical collectivist societies (Japan, Korea, India), people focus on fulfilling obligations to others, and on enhancing the status of their ingroups in competition with outgroups, even when that entails sacrificing their own personal goals. In horizontal collectivist societies (like exemplified historically by the Israeli kibbutz), the focus is on sociability, benevolence, and interdependence with others in an egalitarian context.

When such distinctions are taken into account, however, it becomes apparent that the societies chosen to represent IND and COL cultural syndromes in consumer research have almost exclusively been vertically oriented. Specifically, the modal comparisons are between the United States (VI) and any of a number of Pacific Rim countries (VC). It may be argued, therefore, that much of what is known about consumer behavior in individualistic and collectivistic societies reflects vertical forms of these syndromes and may not generalize, for example, to comparisons between Sweden (HI) and Israel (HC) or other sets of horizontal cultures. As an example, conformity in product choice, as examined by Kim and Markus (1999), may be a tendency specific to VC cultures, in which deference to authority and to ingroup wishes is stressed. Much lower levels of conformity may be observed in HC cultures, which emphasize sociability but not deference. Thus, it may be inappropriate to ascribe differences in consumers’ conformity between Korea (VC) and the United States (VI) solely to the role of IND/COL or independence/interdependence, because such conformity might not be prevalent in horizontal societies. In particular, levels of product conformity in HC contexts might not exceed those in HI contexts.

Predicting new consumer psychology phenomena

Several recent studies examining the implications of this horizontal/vertical cultural distinction have provided evidence for its value as a predictor of new consumer psychology phenomena and as a basis for refining the understanding of known phenomena. For instance, Gürhan-Canli and Maheswaran (2000) demonstrated that the tendency to favor products from one’s own country over foreign products (a country-of-origin effect) emerged more strongly in Japan (a VC culture) than in the United States (a VI culture). This fits well with a conceptualization of collectivists as being oriented toward their ingroups. However, mediational analyses using individual consumers’ self-rated cultural values indicated that only the vertical dimension of IND and COL accounted for the country-of-origin effects in Japan. In other words, the collectivistic tendency to favor one’s own country’s products appeared to be driven by cultural values that stress hierarchy, competition, and deference to ingroup wishes, not by values that stress interdependence more generally.

In line with this, research suggests that advertising messages with themes that emphasize status, prestige, hierarchy, and distinction may be more prevalent and persuasive in vertical cultural contexts. Such advertisements also appear to be generally more persuasive for those with a vertical cultural orientation, and may be inappropriate for those with a horizontal one. Shavitt, Zhang, and Johnson (2006) asked U.S. respondents to write advertisements that they personally would find persuasive. The extent to which the ad appeals that they wrote emphasized status themes was positively correlated with respondents’ vertical cultural orientation (and negatively correlated with their horizontal cultural orientation). Moreover, content analyses of magazine advertisements in several countries suggested that status-oriented themes of hierarchy, luxury, prominence, and distinction were generally more prevalent in societies presumed to have vertical cultural profiles (Korea, Russia) than a horizontal cultural profile (Denmark).

Last but not least,the horizontal/vertical distinction provides a basis for refining our understanding of individualism/collectivism effects. Their studies showed that individualism/collectivism differences in socially desirable responding appear to be mediated at the individual level by horizontal (but not vertical) IND and COL values. These findings shed light on the motivational drivers linking culture with socially desirable response styles. The main point here is that these dimensions of cultural comparison have multiple implications for advertising and marketing processes. Attention to a broader set of cultural dimensions will not only expand the range of independent variables in our research, but will also prompt consideration of cultural consequences hitherto unexamined in cross-cultural studies (based on publication by Sharon Shavitt-University of Illinois & Angela Lee, Northwestern University).