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.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The skinny on skinny teas

Recently while doing my rounds on Instagram, I was intrigued by a curious rising trend of celebrities and even some female friends uploading photos of themselves posing with...tea. Namely, 'teatox' herbal slimming teas which claim to help girls lose weight and “cleanse” their system - all adorably packaged in girly packaging. The whole thing sounded quite dubious to me as there were no scientific evidence backing up the claims, and one brand I came across was $30 for a 14-day supply - for a bunch tea leaves.

Upon further digging, I found that the trend was mainly being driven by social media influencers  - models, bloggers, actresses and personal trainers who have amassed huge followings on their social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat  and have been majorly responsible for steering today’s fashion and lifestyle trends. In this new age of social media advertising, companies have seized the opportunity for a new kind of celebrity endorsement to reach a larger and more targeted audience.  For example, Bootea, a UK based company selling detox tea paid a whole army of celebrity endorsers to increase its social media presence to the tune of over 100,000 posts (mainly images of attractive females with toned figures posing with their teas).

So how did such a seemingly simple ( and tad overpriced) product rise in popularity so quickly? An obvious factor is the attractiveness of these online celebrities who have painstakingly built up their following through looking drop-dead gorgeous on camera,their beauty and lifestyles further amplified to surreal levels by photoshop and Instagram filters. People tend to like attractive people more and hence are more likely to believe them.

Another major factor is social proof (Cialdini,1987), which is the idea that we look to the actions of others to ascertain socially acceptable behaviour. The proliferation of both your idols and friends endorsing this tea and looking fabulously slim and healthy in their pictures is a clear indication that thye must be doing something right, and slimming tea is the way to go. This also leads us to the bandwagon effect. Bandwagon effects appear when consumers buy products that other consumers have chosen before them, in which case demand accelerates because others consume the same product (Corneo & Jeanne, 1997). For example,when consumers perceive high demand for a chocolate chip cookie, they begin to want it too (Worchel et al., 1975).

Unfortunately, there have been many negative reviews questioning the safety of such “teatox” teas, plus the nasty side effects many claim to experience. However, as the power of online celebrities and the number of social media influencers continue to grow, we can only learn to become more discerning and critical of the honesty of such endorsements.

-Gladys Pea

Cialdini, R. B. (1987). Influence (Vol. 3). A. Michel.
Corneo, G., & Jeanne, O. (1997). Snobs, bandwagons, and the origin of social customs in consumer behavior. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 32(3), 333-347.
Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32(5), 906.

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