The new research makes the case that what you see in your everyday world can influence your choices as a consumer.
In an experiment participants were shown repeated images of dogs were quicker to recognize the Puma brand, and liked its sneakers more, than those who had not seen the images.
It turns out that dogs are associated with cats, and cats are associated with Puma. Seeing dogs is not going to cause people to leap out of their chairs and go buy 10 pairs of Puma sneakers. But the experiment does suggest that environmental cues, even ones you may not be consciously aware of, can influence what you like and buy.
Marketers always think if they want a product to catch on, they have to think up a catchy slogan or come up with a slick advertisement to create a buzz. Companies can get a payoff by creating a link between their product and something in the environment.
Marketers think of advertising as a way to remind people of products; putting up more ads should increase sales. But they should also think about linking products to the environment and let the environment do the work.
The example of Tide detergent:
The conventional thinking is that the more Tide ads consumers see, they are more likely want to buy it. Perhaps seeing waves on the beach (think ocean tides) may work just as well to stimulate consumer interest in Tide detergent.
Researchers have argued that ‘consumer behavior’ is strongly influenced by subtle environmental cues. But few studies have empirically investigated this argument.
It was observed Mars Bars saw an increase in sales after NASA landed the Pathfinder spacecraft on Mars on July 4, 1997.
Although the Mars Bar takes its name from the company founder and not from earth’s neighboring planet, consumers apparently responded to news about the planet Mars by purchasing more Mars Bars. This was a lucky turn of events for the candy company, but what does it mean for understanding consumer choice?
To test the hypothesis that exposure to environmental cues can prime the memory to favor certain products, the researchers devised a series of experiments. In the first, they looked at what effect the abundance of the color orange around Halloween had on consumer thinking about certain products.
They asked 144 shoppers to list what came to mind in the categories of candy/chocolate and soda. Half were asked the day before Halloween, and the other half were asked a week later. The shoppers on the day before Halloween were almost twice as likely to list orange colored products, Reese’s candy and Orange Crush and Sunkist sodas, than those shoppers questioned a week after the holiday.
In another experiment, 29 people were approached on a university campus and asked to complete a ‘Consumer Choice Survey.’ Half were given an orange pen with orange ink to write with; the other half were given a green pen that wrote in green. Participants were asked to write a few sentences to expose them to the pen’s color.
They were shown product images and asked which of two products they would choose in various categories, such as candy, detergent and beverages. Among the choices: Sunkist soda and Lemon-Lime Gatorade.
Exposure to a colored pen led participants to choose more products of that same color. Those using an orange pen favored orange products; the green-pen group liked green products by a factor of 20%. Exposure to an environmental cue primed participants to think and choose a certain way.
Nutritionists and public health workers might be particularly interested in the results of another one of the researchers’ experiments, this time involving fruits and vegetables (and dining hall trays). Another research wanted to know if college students would eat more fruit and vegetables if a slogan reminding them to do so were linked to something in their everyday life, in this case, cafeteria trays.
The experiment had a couple of variables. Some students ate in dining halls that used trays; others ate in dining halls that didn’t use trays. Some of the participants learned a slogan, without an environmental cue such as one referring to trays, saying, ‘Live the healthy way eat five fruits and veggies a day.’ The others heard a different slogan, one with the environmental cue: ‘Each and every dining hall tray needs five fruits and veggies a day.’
The participants were asked to keep track of what they ate over a two-week period; halfway through, they learned one of the two slogans. It was theorized that this differential cueing by the environment would cause participants who were exposed to trays in their daily environment to consume more fruits and vegetables.
And they were right. While students in the non-control groups (non-tray slogan, no cafeteria trays) did not change their consumption, those who were cued by the environment ate 25% more fruits and vegetables.