How subtle triggers influence our choices. The most successful way of manipulation is to quietly lead a person to the "correct" thought.
The most successful way of manipulation is to quietly lead a person to the "correct" thought. Yona Berger, a young American marketing professor, explains why certain products, ideas and behaviors are becoming fashionable so quickly.
At every moment, some thoughts occupy us more than others or come to mind faster. Now, for example, you might be thinking of the sentence you are reading or the sandwich you ate for lunch. Some thoughts are constantly with us. Sports fans or foodies often think about their subject: the latest data on their favorite team, or how to combine ingredients to make it delicious. But environmental stimuli can also determine what thoughts and ideas come to our minds. If you see a puppy running in the park, you may remember that you always wanted to have a dog. If you smell Chinese food as you walk past a corner café, you might start thinking about what to eat for lunch. Or, for example, after hearing a cola ad, perhaps remember that you ran out of soda yesterday. Sights, smells and sounds evoke associations that will take over your mind. Hot day - thoughts of climate change. Sandy Beach View in Travel Magazine - Thoughts on Corona Beer.
Product use is a strong trigger. Most people drink milk more often than grape juice, so they tend to think about milk more often. But triggers can also be indirect. The sight of a jar of peanut butter open ajar will not only bring up the idea of peanut butter, but it will also make you think about its frequent companion, jelly. Triggers work like small ecological niches for related concepts and ideas.
Why is it so important which thoughts or ideas occupy our heads? Because current thoughts and ideas lead to action. Back in mid-1997, the Mars confectionery company noted an unexpected increase in sales of Mars bars. The management of the company was surprised, as it did not change marketing or pricing policy, did not spend additional money on advertising, did not launch special promotions. And sales went up. What is the reason?
At NASA. In particular, in the mission "Pathfinder". The mission is to collect samples of the atmosphere, climate and soil of a neighboring planet. The program required years of preparation and millions of dollars in funding. When the lander finally landed on the surface of an alien planet, the whole world froze in admiration, and all the news broadcasts talked about NASA's triumph. What was Pathfinder's goal? Mars.
Mars bars were named after company founder Franklin Mars, not after the planet. But the media attention to the planet has acted as a trigger that reminded people of the chocolate bars. And sales increased. Perhaps the creators of Sunny Delight should inspire NASA to explore the sun.
Musicologists Adrian North, David Hargreaves and Jennifer McKendrick have studied how triggers influence supermarket shopper behavior. Remember the background music you used to hear when shopping for groceries? So North, Hargreaves and Mackendrick replaced it with music from different countries. For several days they played French music, on other days they played German. It was the kind of music you'd rather expect to hear in a French cafe on the banks of the Seine or at an Oktoberfest celebration. Then they looked at what wines people were buying these days.
When French music was playing, most of the customers bought French wines. When the German played, they bought German wines. The music became a trigger that made buyers think about different countries. And this affected sales. Under the influence of music, country ideas came to shoppers' minds, and thoughts influenced behavior.
I worked with psychologist Granny Fitzsimons to do research on how to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Promoting a healthy diet is not an easy task. Most people understand that they need to eat more fruits and vegetables. Most even say they are going to eat more fruits and vegetables. But when it comes time to put fruits and vegetables in grocery carts or on plates, it is somehow forgotten. We thought we could use triggers so we don't forget.
Students received twenty dollars for reports of what they ate every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a nearby cafeteria. Monday: A bowl of cereal, two turkeys, lasagna with salad, and a stewed pork sandwich with spinach and potatoes.
Tuesday: Fruit and nut yoghurt, pepperoni pizza with sprite, and a plate of Thai shrimp. Two weeks later, in the middle of our experiment, we asked students to take part in another researcher's seemingly unrelated experiment. They were asked to comment on a health slogan for students. To make students remember the slogan, it was demonstrated more than twenty times, printed in different colors and different fonts.
One group of students saw the slogan: "Lead a healthy lifestyle, eat five fruits and vegetables a day." Another group was shown, "For each tray, five fruits and vegetables a day." Both slogans encouraged students to eat fruits and vegetables, but the tray slogan used a trigger. The students lived on campus, and many of them ate in canteens, where trays are used. We wanted to see if we could make the students' diets healthier by using the tray as a trigger reminiscent of the slogan.
The slogan with the tray did not impress the students. They called it "banal" and rated its attractiveness at half the value of the slogan with the words "healthy lifestyle." In addition, when students were asked whether the slogan would affect the consumption of fruits and vegetables, they were more likely to answer “no”.
But when it came to actual behavior, the results were astounding: Students who saw the slogans of “healthy living” did not change their habits. And the students who saw the slogan with the "tray" and used the trays in the canteens noticeably changed the diet. The trays brought to mind the slogan, and as a result, they ate 25% more fruits and vegetables. The trigger worked. We were delighted with the results. Getting students to do something - let alone eat more fruits and vegetables - is an impressive achievement.
When our colleague heard about the study, he wondered if triggers could have an impact on elections. If Americans are asked, "Where did you vote in the last election?" - most will name their city or state. Evanston. Birmingham. Florida. Nevada. If asked to clarify, they can add "near my office" or "across the street from the supermarket." Few people will answer more precisely. Is it really necessary? While the geography of the vote is clear (the East Coast of the United States sympathizes with the Democrats, and the South leans toward the Republicans), hardly anyone would think that where they voted matters. But it does.
Political scientists usually assume that voting is based on rational and stable preferences. People have convictions and weigh the pros and cons to decide who to vote for. If we care about the environment, then we vote for candidates who promise to protect natural resources. If we are concerned about healthcare, we support initiatives to make it affordable and accessible to a large number of people. With this cognitive model of electorate behavior, the type of building in which voting takes place does not affect people's behavior.
But knowing about triggers shook our confidence somewhat. Most US citizens must vote at a specific site. These are usually public buildings (fire departments, courthouses or schools), but voting also takes place in churches, private office buildings or other places. Different buildings trigger different triggers. Churches are full of religious images that remind people of the commandments. Schools are filled with lockers, tables and chalkboards that are reminiscent of childhood or children. And as soon as these thoughts appear in their heads, people can change their behavior. Could Church Voting Cause Negative Thoughts About Abortion or Same-Sex Marriage? Could voting in schools trigger the idea of funding education? Testing this idea, Mark Meredith, Christian Wheeler, and I accessed data for each polling station in the 2000 Arizona general election. By the name and address of each polling station, we determined whether it was a church, school, or some other building. 40% of voters were expected to vote in churches, 26% in schools, 10% in community centers, and the rest in apartment buildings, golf courses, and even caravan parks.
We then investigated whether the voting results differ depending on the type of polling station. Specifically, we focused on a legislative initiative proposing to raise the sales tax from 5.0% to 5.6% to support public schools. This initiative was hotly debated, with strong arguments both for and against. Most people support education, but few will enjoy paying more taxes. This is a difficult decision.
If the place where the voting took place did not matter, then the percentage of those who supported the initiative should have been approximately the same everywhere. But it didn't work out that way. The School Funding Initiative received 10,000 more votes when the polling station was a school. The location of the polling station had a decisive influence on the behavior of the electorate. And the initiative passed.
This difference persisted even at the level of such phenomena as regional political preferences and demographics. We even compared two similar groups of voters in order to double-check the results: we compared those who live near schools and should have voted in one of them, and those who also lived near the school, but had to vote in a different type of polling station (for example, in the fire department). A significantly higher percentage of people who voted in schools took the initiative to increase funding. The fact that they were in school at the time of voting led to a more loyal attitude towards education problems.
The difference of 10,000 votes in a statewide election may not seem like a lot. But this turned out to be more than enough to change the result of the elections with an almost equal number of votes. In the 2000 presidential election, the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore was less than 1,000 votes. If even 1000 votes can decide the outcome of an election, then 10,000 is definitely enough. The question is about triggers.