Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Conformity and Sales

Consider the phenomenon of the stampede: one antelope on the fringe of a herd perceives a predator and runs away, and other join in until the entire herd is running at top speed.   Most of the herd never saw the predator, but are running because they trust that there must be some reason that the others are doing so.  When one animal tires and stops running, the herd slows down and comes to a halt.  Again, it is not because they know the threat has passed, but they are imitating the behavior of others.

And if you think that human beings are different and more sophisticated, then consider a common prank in which a person stares of into the distance as if he sees something interesting.  Other people stop and stare as well, trying to see what the original person saw – they did not see it, but are responding to the original person’s signals.   A group of people gathers, and continue to pause until someone suggests that there’s nothing there and wanders off, at which point others give up the attempt to see it – and again, they are reacting to the behavior of the person rather than to their own perceptions.

For all our pretenses at individuality, human beings are also social creatures who are prone to the same behavior: reacting to the actions of others, without evaluating environmental stimuli.    The effects of this cannot be underestimated – but neither can they be overestimated.  They apply where purchasing and consumption are social activities, not when they are individual activities.

Social conformity is often leveraged by advertisers.   An advert with a person is generally more effective than one that shows the product, because the person in the advertisement serves as a model to be imitated.   If the person in the advert is looking at an item, the tendency of the viewer is to follow their cues and focus their attention on the same thing the model seems to be looking at.  Eye-tracking software confirms that the most viewed portion of a page is the perceived focal point of the model – people look to the person first, then look at whatever that person is looking at.

But it goes even further than that: people do not simply tend to do what others do, but they feel what others feel.  If the model in an advertisement seems excited, the viewers of the advertisement tend to feel excitement as well.   If the model appears self-confident when using the product, people who use the product accept that this is the proper emotion to feel.

And while emotion can be a gimmick, the same applies to logic, as best demonstrated by the experiments conducted by Asch.   In these experiments, a test subject was placed in a room with stooges who would intentionally give the wrong answer to a question (generally comparing the length of two lines).  In most instances, the subject will go along with the answer given by the stooges, even when it is obvious to him that the answer is wrong.  This is not automatic, but it is significant: at least 75% of volunteers gave incorrect answers when asked in the company of stooges, whereas only 1% gave an incorrect answer when they were questioned alone.

So in the end, social influence may be stronger than an individual’s own inclinations, emotions, and logic.   The consume acts a s a puppet, imitating the puppet whose strings are pulled by the brand.   And in turn, the first imitator becomes a model for the second, the third, and so on, until the consumers are reduced to the mentality and behavior of a stampeding herd.

No comments:

Post a Comment