Ok, let’s put social influence research to the test:
If psychological theories in this area can explain anything, surely they must be able to explain advertising… This is, after all, a field in which ‘experts’ get paid ridiculous amounts of cash to influence the buying behaviour of us folk out here in society…
So can psychological concepts help us explain how adverts work? Let’s have a go with one of the original classics: ‘Happiness is Egg-Shaped’ with Tony Hancock (He was the Russell Brand of his day – only less hairy… ask your Grandad)
So, here we go. Let’s try a few concepts. See if we can rustle up a few explanations of why this ad might influence us to buy eggs:
Obedience – we buy eggs ‘cos an out of work actor told us to…..
Normative conformity – we buy eggs because we are concerned about what out of work actors and their housekeepers are having for breakfast. We don’t want such people to look down upon our own breakfast choices… We want to fit in… We want to be loved… We want to be accepted into the social world represented by Tony and his housekeeper…. Eating eggs might just do the trick…
Informational Conformity – we are troubled by what constitutes a cheap, easy, nutritious breakfast and we look to others for guidance on the matter. As Mrs Housekeeper tells us : ‘Eggs is cheap. Eggs is easy. Eggs is full of proteins’.
Hmmmm… no, I’m not convinced either…. (not about the eggs -I like eggs – about the theory)
I think the interesting part is that Tony doesn’t even seem that bothered. He’s embarrassed to be here. Hardly even trying…. Why do that in an advert?
I think that this is because people like to consider themselves resistant to social influence. They are their own person. No-one tells them what to eat for breakfast, and thus Tony – he’s not even gonna try…. This might have something to do with people desiring an internal locus of control. People feel that their breakfast is their business, and advertisers know this… so they have to kind of nudge them towards eggs, whilst looking like they are not trying too hard. That’s why Tony is being paid loads of money for moaning about being in an advert. Yep… me and you Tony, we don’t buy into all this nonsense…. we’re our own men… we will tolerate no interference in our breakfast choices….. but still, those eggs do look rather nice…..
Coming up to date, this line of thinking culminates in adverts like this:
Clearly a gorilla playing the drums isn’t trying to provide us with information. We’re not meant to identify with him or look to fit in with his social scene (though he is kinda original and cool and who doesn’t want to be that?). We’re obviously not meant to obey him as an authority figure (though I wouldn’t mess with him) – So what are we meant to do? We are meant to take control. We are meant to decide.
In this one the ad agency didn’t even want to put the product name at the end of the ad. You are your own person. You have a high internal locus of control. Make your own decision here. You decide what it all means. You’re the clever one and not us.
Well done for working it out – why not reward yourself with a nice bar of chocolate?