Behaviour Change

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

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Addictive Queue Jumps

'You bought the queue jumps right?'

Every Warwick University student has heard about the notorious nightclub called Smack. It’s cool fluorescent lighting, musical hits and cheap alcohol make it a popular Tuesday evening plan. It seems that students cannot get enough of this club! Nevertheless, with the icy cold Leamington weather, no one is willing to queue outside for hours. Instead, there is an option to buy a ‘queue jump’ beforehand, where students pay extra to be able to walk straight into the club, without any boring waits. Whilst it would be much easier to purchase these tickets online, the owners of Smack obviously have a key understanding of how to manipulate student’s behaviour. In order to buy these special tickets, students are forced to go to a local pub named ‘Duke’ at precisely 6pm on Tuesday. Here, they anxiously wait, amongst hundreds of others, to buy the ‘VIP’ tickets. This ticket system seems to work as the club is always full!

Why is this ‘inconvenient’ ticket system so successful? Why do people keep coming back for more ‘queue jumps’?

The fact that tickets need to be bought 5 hours before the actual event starts, forces students to publically commit to going out beforehand. With tight funds (student budgeting is tough), the £4.50 added ticket cost is hefty and simply cannot go to waste. Once you have committed yourself to Smack, there is no backing down. Research indeed supports this, claiming that public commitment is a successful behaviour change technique (Burn & Oskamp, 1986). Burn and Oskamp (1986) investigated the effects of public commitment on community recycling. Results showed that people recycled more if they had previously signed a pro-recycling statement, compared to the control group (which made no prior commitments). Public attitudes therefore increase future behaviours which are consistent with them. People have a natural tendency to behave in ways which match their prior commitments, in order to avoid cognitive dissonance (internal conflict between beliefs and behaviour). Once the smack ticket is bought, the going out plans have been strictly solidified.

Only a limited number of tickets go on sale before the event. As previously mentioned, the tickets go on sale at precisely 6pm (never one minute earlier). By 6:15 all of the tickets are usually gone. Many students go home disappointed, as they have been unable to get hold of the golden tickets. The thought of later having to wait outside Smack in -2 degrees is utterly horrifying. The ‘queue jump’ tickets are considered scarce, due to the high demand yet limited number of tickets. Whilst many are annoyed at how competitive they are to buy, the ‘scarcity principle’ presents this as an advantageous marketing tool. Research has shown that when opportunities are scarce, they become more attractive (Cialdini, 2007). When something becomes less available, we lose freedoms which we previously had. This is extremely unappealing and causes greater appeal towards the scarce and limited opportunities. This is a commonly used sales technique, where salesmen often notify the customer that the product is ‘low in stock’, in order to incentivize them to purchase it (Mallalieu, 2006). Customers feel pressured as they understand that the product might sell out, if they do not buy it there and then. This similarly applies to the highly limited smack ‘queue jumps’. Their scarcity makes them very appealing to the students.

Every Tuesday students cramp together as they huddle around the staff who are selling tickets. They never seem to question the overly expensive price (essentially just for skipping a queue) because ‘everyone else does it’. This is a classic case of ‘social proof’, where other people’s behaviour acts as a determent of what is ‘normal’ and ‘correct’ (Rao, Greve & Davis, 2001). Social proof is a heuristic (mental short cut) which allows people to quickly and easily make decisions based on what others do (Cialdini, 2007). If many people, especially those who are very similar in nature (e.g. students), behave in a certain way, it is usually classified as the correct social norm. People have a tendency to want to fit in with society, and so they copy the most popular behaviours (Cialdini, 2007). For example, the use of ‘canned’ laughter in television shows encourages viewers to laugh as well, as a result of social proofing (Platow et al., 2005). People tend to laugh more, laugh for longer and rate the material as more humorous if canned laughter is used on television (Platow et al., 2005). Similarly, the majority of students buy ‘queue jumps’ because everyone else does it, and so it feels like the right thing to do.  

Students immediately get hooked and thus they consistently want to buy ‘queue jumps’. Once they have experienced the luxury of these tickets, they find it very hard to go back to buying a normal ticket. When the purchasing of ‘queue jumps’ becomes a routine, the alternatives suddenly appear less appealing. This phenomenon can be explained by ‘mere exposure effect’ (Lee, 2001). Existing evidence shows that people show an increased positive affect towards familiar stimuli which they have been repeatedly exposed to (Harmon-Jones & Allen, 2001). Peskin and Newell’s study (2004) explored the relationship between familiarity and attractiveness of shown faces. Results concluded that mean attractiveness ratings were higher for faces that were more familiar (greater previous exposure), as shown in Figure 1. Therefore, strong preferences towards something can simply be due to familiarity. This same effect can be applied to multiple types of stimuli such as art, music, personality ratings etc. (Lee, 2001) which clearly shows the relevance and prominence of this effect in our everyday lives. Regardless of the overpricing and inconvenience (having to interrupt your Tuesday evening to go buy tickets at a crowded pub), students will continue to go and buy their ‘queue jumps’ because it’s part of their comfortable routine.

Figure 1. A graph showing the effects of exposure on mean attractiveness ratings of faces.

Exposure 1 (faces were seen only once) and Exposure 6 (faces were seen 6 times).

One can only imagine the impressive profit Smack has made due to these highly sought after ‘queue jumps’. They truly are great marketing tools!

To all the Warwick students reading this, see you next Tuesday at 6pm!



Burn, S. M., & Oskamp, S. (1986). Increasing community recycling with persuasive communication and public commitment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology16, 29-41.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.

Harmon-Jones, E., & Allen, J. J. (2001). The role of affect in the mere exposure effect: Evidence from psychophysiological and individual differences approaches. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin27, 889-898.

Lee, A. Y. (2001). The mere exposure effect: An uncertainty reduction explanation revisited. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin27, 1255-1266.

Mallalieu, L. (2006). Consumer perception of salesperson influence strategies: an examination of the influence of consumer goals. Journal of Consumer Behaviour5, 257-268.

Peskin, M., & Newell, F. N. (2004). Familiarity breeds attraction: Effects of exposure on the attractiveness of typical and distinctive faces. Perception33, 147-157.

Platow, M. J., Haslam, S. A., Both, A., Chew, I., Cuddon, M., Goharpey, N., ... & Grace, D. M. (2005). “It’s not funny if they’re laughing”: Self-categorization, social influence, and responses to canned laughter. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology41, 542-550.

Rao, H., Greve, H. R., & Davis, G. F. (2001). Fool's gold: Social proof in the initiation and abandonment of coverage by Wall Street analysts. Administrative Science Quarterly46, 502-526.

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