Brain Facts

How the industry is changing your habits (and what you can do)

  • SumoMe

In our last article, we explained how your brain builds your daily habits and how they work in detail. Now, we want to have a look how the industry is using the habit loop to manipulate its customers and changing their existing habits.

As study have shown, a habituated behaviour can hardly be influenced only by information. If you want to lose weight, it’s not enough to know that after you’ve lost 10kg you will feel much better than before. It’s much more about focusing on the environment or surroundings (context & cues) to which a habit is linked. So, if you are confronted with radical changes occur in your environment or your life situation (so called ‘live events’), there is a much higher chance to change your existing habits. A good example is the the case of the US retailer Target. By collecting a lot of data, Target can identify the changes in buying behaviour as an indicator of changes in living conditions or lifestages. Think about a woman who found out that she’s pregnant. Pregnant ladies in the second or third trimester of pregnancy start to shop differently or to shop some certain things. Targets data system can recognize this to offer corresponding products pro-actively. By using special offers or coupons for products that are not normally bought at Target, Target can can significantly manipulate the buying behaviour of its customers. In the best case, the pregnant ladies, and young mothers after some months, will buy a lot more products than before at Target.

Another great example are the piano stairs in Stockholm in Sweden. By ‘transforming’ the stairs into a piano, including sounds which are generated when the steps are stepped on, 66 percent more pedestrians using the stairs now instead of the escalator. Watch the clip:

Here is another example: Did you know the first launch of the cleaning spray Febreze was a total flop? When it was launched on the market in 1996, it was positioned as a spray which removes bad odours from textiles. It was perfect for customers like smokers, cat and dog owners, sportsmen, motorists etc. But there was one problem: Febreze wasn’t successful, because there was no perceptible problem as the sense of smell itself habituates to smells. All the smokers, the cat owners, the sportsmen – they no longer notice the bad smell. Without a perceptible problem there is no cue and no reward. So, why should you buy it? The key point was now to link the product to existing routines instead of setting up a new routine, because that was impossible without a perceptible cue. The relevant practical routine was the cleaning and the marketing team of Febreze found out that the ‘cleaning habit’ is often connected with a kind of happiness: The clean-looking apartment was the reward. Febreze was now linked to this reward: after cleaning the customer is supposed to spray the freshly cleaned furniture, beds or floors with Febreze. To make the product more powerful, the spray was given extra scents. Instead of the bad smell, this scent was now perceptible and it strengthened the reward of the cleaning routine.

Febreze realized what they had to change about their marketing to make the product successful.

Febreze realized what they had to change about their marketing to make the product successful.


How can you protect yourself?

Some products are good, some are great, and some are awesome. It doesn’t matter how good it is, the advertising is always trying to position a product as the best on the market. So, what can you do to protect yourself from the manipulating tricks of the industry?

  • Think!: If you’re not prepared to think — and you often are not thinking when you’re watching television, reading a magazine or checking the ads in the newspaper—you will pretty much accept any suggestion if it is offered to you. And then it’s easy to say “Oh, I need that!” or “That’s something I have been looking for the whole time!”. Just think a few seconds. Think about what the ad is saying. Think about the negative aspects of the product which you will definitely not find within the ad. Just keep your brain active when you have a look at ads and you will be better off.
  • Wait!: Every ad wants you to buy a product. Very often advertising want to activate a hidden desire in us. Do you ever had this moment, where you were in a furniture shop and you bought a lot more than you actually wanted to buy? Often, it can help to wait 24-48 hours and think yourself “Do I really need this? Why do I need it?”.
  • Watch out!: The Target case makes it clear: Today, advertising can be targeted at you in details which were unimaginable before. Don’t fall into the trap! Don’t believe that you need everything which the ad is telling you. And if so, do your research instead of buying it immediately. Look for product reviews and other information. It can help you to find out if the product you want to buy can actually do what you think it can do.

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