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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

From free trial to commitment, to being a better self

Having a fit physique is something that a lot of people would like to have. Eating on this trend of being fit, there are a lot of fitness shops in Hong Kong, trying to design fitness programmes that could be easily incorporated into the hectic lifestyle of people living in Hong Kong. Being a Personal Trainer (PT) could potentially earn a lot, considering that they could easily charge 750HKD (roughly £75) per hour.

£75 is a large amount of money to pay, especially when it is continuous payment that could lead to a limitless prospect of subscription. That being said, this trend is still being a hit. It could relate to some of the persuasion techniques that fitness centres adopt.

In Hong Kong, it is very common for fitness centres to offer a free trial for people to experience what the fitness package brings. In order to get an in-depth view of how and why this business is so celebrated. I signed myself up to one of the free sessions.

1.     People like Free stuff
These one-session trials are free of charge, while everything is identical to a charged session, in a sense, people have ‘earned’ £75 for just attending the trial. Providing free samples is a positive reinforcement (Rothschild and Gaidis, 1981), shaping people’s attitude towards the ‘full’ package of fitness sessions, thus heighten the plausibility of having commitment made.

2.     Foot in the door technique
Since you are already in their place, physically. They will start persuading you with potential plans that they have, and probing you to try one or two cheaper paid sessions. Having your foot stepped in the door paying for those cheaper sessions, it practically opens your door of opting for the best (always the most expensive) plans that they have. Burger (1996) and Freedman and Fraser (1966) subsequently demonstrated the robustness of this Foot in the door technique, of having you to comply with their wish without forcing you do so.

3.     Posh environment
The Fitness atrium, was extremely modern and beautiful. It is not like those ‘traditional’ gym places where there are constant smell of sweat and stains. In fact they have cleaners that clean frequently. Also they had a very large and bright shower room, for people to clean themselves up after being messy from doing sports. Combining with these peripheral aspects of the fitness plan, we are more likely to engage in the peripheral route of thinking, considering that ‘wow, this place is fancy’, increasing the likelihood of committing to the particular fitness atrium.

4.     Commitment – Gillette Model
Similar to the environment, the fitness centre I went to yesterday, they actually provided free towel and t-shirts for people to change into after their free session. It operates similarly with the Gillette model, providing the handle for the shaver for you for free, but you’ll have to buy the shaver itself. They have you wearing their branded T-shirts for free, levelling up the likelihood that you would subscribe to their plans. This is also working on the basis of salience effect, as whenever you wear that T-shirt (assuming you would), you are constantly reminded of the existence of that centre.

5.     Celebrity Endorsement and Halo Effect
In the fitness atrium, there were a lot of posters of fitness celebrities that go to train themselves as well. For example, clips and pictures of members of the Hong Kong Football club training there were shown. Biswas, Biswas and Das (2006) found that it is particularly effective when the ‘celebrity’ is in congruence with what they are endorsing, in this case, the football players are endorsing a fitness programme, thus it could be very effective, in that, people are likely to think ‘oh, professionals are coming to train as well, this must be good’. Another effect closely associated with the celebrity is the halo effect, those celebrities are generally good-looking and very fit people, thus we assume they are better and they are more credit worthy, subsequently leading to higher chance of subscribing to the programme.

6.     Constant Brain-Washing
When the session ended, the personal trainer that I had with, stopped me down for a sit and for a ‘friendly’ chat. During the chat, he was constantly bugging on me about the advantages and my potential growth. The personal trainer was smart enough to use rhetorical questions, Petty et al., (1981) showed that rhetorical questions are more effective in getting a message through. Repetitiveness could go two way, both effective. Either the person gets too fed up and just paid for things to get out of the situation, or as Cacioppo and Petty (1979) demonstrated, this increases the effectiveness of passing on the message thus you are more likely to purchase the plans they are selling.

7.     Role Modelling
It is not uncommon for people to want to get as fit as the personal trainers are. Leaning on this idea of role modelling in social learning theory (Rosenthal & Bandura, 1978), looking at those ripped trainers, with them wearing less to nothing. It serves as a motivation for people to subscribe to the programme in hopes to get as ripped as the trainers.

8.     Get personalised
This particular gym emphasises on the importance of being personalised, providing customised session plans for each single individual (as opposed to some more main stream of group sessions), having such speciality on the individual would increase the value of customers (as least they would think), being a more special person, that is being pampered and taken care of on a one-to-one basis is going to lead to a more positive appraisal of the plan, again, leading to a higher chance of subscription.

Being successful in this business requires more than proper physical techniques to pass on to
students. Instead, having a great brain and turning such sport into a business is the key to the success of these kinds of business. As shown above, there are so many techniques that require deep thoughts, and some has to be subtle to subconsciously influence you, while others are overtly persuading you. By doing so, business owners have a higher chance of having you paying that huge sum in a long-term commitment. One might be wondering if I, at the end, subscribed to any of their plans, the answer is NO. Being a proud psychology student, I had my mind clear enough to dissect their tactics rather than falling for them.

Biswas, D., Biswas, A., & Das, N. (2006). The differential effects of celebrity and expert endorsements on consumer risk perceptions. The role of consumer knowledge, perceived congruency, and product technology orientation. Journal of Advertising35, 17-31.

Burger, J. M. (1999). The foot-in-the-door compliance procedure: A multiple-process analysis and review. Personality and Social Psychology Review3, 303-325.

Cacioppo, J. T., & Petty, R. E. (1979). Effects of message repetition and position on cognitive response, recall, and persuasion. Journal of personality and Social Psychology37, 97.

Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: the foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of personality and social psychology4, 195.

Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T., & Heesacker, M. (1981). Effects of rhetorical questions on persuasion: A cognitive response analysis. Journal of personality and social psychology40, 432.

Rosenthal, T. L., & Bandura, A. (1978). Psychological modeling: Theory and practice. Handbook of psychotherapy and behavior change: An empirical analysis2, 621-658.

Rothschild, M. L., & Gaidis, W. C. (1981). Behavioral learning theory: Its relevance to marketing and promotions. The Journal of Marketing, 70-78.

Wright, S. M., & Carrese, J. A. (2002). Excellence in role modelling: insight and perspectives from the pros. Canadian Medical Association Journal167, 638-643.

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