Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Are You a Rational Consumer? – The “Be a Rational Consumer” Campaign

Amy Wan; Katie Zhou; Jessica Li
Our starting point
Among the fields of behavioural science and social psychology, there is a variety of knowledge and research that can be used as persuasive techniques to change people’s behaviour and attitudes. For example, cases have shown these techniques are exceptional at promoting energy saving (Ayres, Raseman & Shih, 2013; Schultz et al., 2007). However, these techniques have been exploited far more frequently by marketers to make money. In the highly developed contemporary marketplace, we are exposed to huge amounts of choices and temptations. Among which, are the hidden marketing traps, making you spend money on things you didn’t intend to. Lay people are often ignorant of these traps and can be tricked without even knowing. Therefore, we would like to increase people’s awareness about typical marketing tricks, and thus be more rational as consumers.
Our project (
We aimed at promoting consumers to spend money rationally by revealing some marketing strategies used by franchises. To ensure the knowledge is expressed in an accessible and reader-friendly way, we framed the knowledge into short stories and made them into comics. In the comic, there are two main characters named Ben and Sally (figure 1). Ben is portrayed as silly, and easily convinced by others, and Sally is characterised as geeky and loquacious. Each of the stories typically describes how Ben spends money unnecessarily, and gets nagged by Sally. The speech given by Sally would explain what tricks marketers have used and how that affected Ben to spend the money. In the end, Sally would shout our slogan at Ben, that is, be a rational consumer. We intentionally avoided using any technical expressions so that the comics are fun and easily understandable, yet carrying knowledge and insights. We also intended to describe the scenarios that most of us may have encountered before, to help us recognise that you and I were probably just as silly as Ben. We believe our comics could help people in recognising common marketing traps, and be more conscious about what our real needs are. And therefore, to make people more rational about spending money. Furthermore, we also hope to interest others in studying about influence, and human irrationality further.

Our Cartoons
Figure 1.
Below are some examples of our comics, and their underlying explanations. 
Figure 2.
See figure 2., the “Buy one get something free” technique is extremely widely-used. In fact, such marketing strategy has been called the “razor and blade model”, which underlie the grand profit made by the Gillet company. According to research, when something is sold at a reduced price (or free), the sales of its complementary goods go up, and this usually brings about better profit (McCarthy, 2011). The beauty of selling things for free is that it elicits a feeling, that is, it would never go wrong to take it, and if you don’t get it, you are at lost. This is called loss aversion (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979), and this psychological construct has been exploited in many ways, such as the use of framing (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981). Marketers can frame their speech to elicit loss aversion. For example: “Buy it or miss it forever!”
Figure 3. 
See figure 3., this is perhaps the case that many have encountered. But did you know that Amazon’s sale increased dramatically, just by offering people a month of free deliveries? When you fancy something on Amazon, having a couple of pounds’ delivery fee really keeps us from buying them. When the delivery is free, what’s there to stop us? We just cannot resist freebies. Various study found people give up valuable things just to get the free stuff. Even worse, we are too lazy to unsubscribe free delivery, which automatically leads to spending on Prime to keep the privilege. No wonder how Amazon has made their profit. 
Figure 4. 
See figure 4., did you ever wonder why, when the salesman shows you something you can hardly afford, before showing the one you really needed? The truth is, they never meant to sell you the expensive one, they are just showing you the prices as they increase the likelihood of you buying the cheaper ones. Studies have shown people estimate the price of things based on values they have previously encountered. And the numbers can be as arbitrary as your social security numbers. These irrelevant figures act as “anchors” in your mind, and significantly affects people’s estimated prices for subsequent products (Ariely, Loewenstein, & Prelec, 2003; Scott & Lizieri, 2012). This process is called arbitrary coherence. Therefore, if you are shown a more expensive good, the cheaper choices would seem less expensive. 
Figure 5. 
See figure 5., some businesses quite like holding contests and challenges, just to make people use their product. The event aims to familiarise people with the companies’ product, and this simply gets them loyal customers. In psychology, it is argued that your actions largely influence your attitudes. Though your initial incentive to participate in the event was the money or the good deals, nevertheless, your very actions would somehow convince you that you love the product. This is called the effect of Cognitive Dissonance, such that your attitude changes in concordance with your actions (Festinger, 1962). Indeed, why else would you spend so much effort writing the essay, just for losing the contest in the end?
Did you like our comics? There are more fun cartoons on our homepage, why not go and check it out?
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