December 6, 2012 by bryannosaurusrex
It’s the end of the world again……again. The 21st of December is fast approaching.
This time, I’m pretty sure it’s for real.
Let’s not be negative about it, we had a good run here on earth; but I don’t think we will make it through this time. Aerosmith haven’t released a new album in years, Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell and Arnold Schwarzenegger are too old to launch an effective earth-saving mission. A mission which may or may not involve a robot, in space, going through a star gate, in the future, to save the present from the Mayan predictions of the past, so Ben Affleck can hook up with his daughter. Something I think we can all agree is worth fighting for. With America tied up in court over drilling rights on Mars and the European space agency pumping all of their resources into the development of new zero gravity underpants for the International Space station, it would seem we really are doomed. Our last hope is Colin Farrell, and seeing as he didn’t even leave the planet in the new, terrible version of Total Recall, I don’t think he has the necessary skills.
So what, if anything, does the imminent apocalypse have to do with the world of advertising and consumer psychology? Every time the world is supposed to end, the few people that really believe it will, rush around buying water and canned fruit as if, well, as if the world was about to end. Let’s not focus on those weirdo’s. What all this does, is evoke a panic-buying response. According to the most recent studies, panic, and I mean real panic, does not include stabbing your neighbour to get the last bag of Doritos Heatwave because they legalised marijuana in Washington. Drury, the unfortunately named Cocking, and Reicher (2009) in a case study involving the London train bombings, a very real panic situation, found that people in emergency situations, didn’t panic. They found that during a situation where panic is totally warranted, people were much more patient with their fellow victim, assisted those in need and were generally much nicer than they usually are.
However, when people were told not to panic because of an impending catastrophe that has not already taken place, THEN they panicked. Semin & Fielder (1996) called this Risk assessment vs Risk perception. The threat of something bad happening in the future causes people to frantically attempt anything and everything to protect themselves from the impending doom/inconvenience. Whereas in a real emergency, people generally just accept that it is happening and try to deal with it as it evolves. Recently, the UK government told the public not to panic, and that the petrol tanker strike probably won’t affect them too badly. Fuel sales increased by 45% in one day. That sounds an awful lot like panic to me. People queued for hours, some for up to 6 hours, to fill their cars and jerry-cans with all the fuel they could just in case something that probably wouldn’t happen, happened.
Now just imagine you are in your local shopping emporium and you see a sign that says ‘OFFER ENDS AT MIDNIGHT’ (just like how the world will end at midnight on the 21st of December 2012). Suddenly that tube of toothpaste looks an awful lot more important than the other ones. What does it mean? Why does the offer have to end? I need to act on this now! I’m not above admitting that I have often bought things I don’t need or want because of a deadline on what appears to be a once in a lifetime deal. These limited offer advertisements, especially the ones with very short, definite time frames, make the necessity to purchase a product seem very urgent. Urgency, which is the ‘tendency to act rashly in response to intense emotional contexts’ (Cyders & Smith 2008) is a powerful urge, which, as the definition suggests, can often push us into making the wrong decisions, fast. This works to the sellers advantage, helping them sell more products, often to people (like me) who had no intention of buying it in the beginning.
Companies are using this trick all the time. Limited edition coke cans, buy one get one free but only while stocks last, and the classic Cadbury crème egg that you can only buy at Easter and never again. Until next Easter.
It’s a dirty trick, and like all dirty tricks, it works. It increases the perceived value of the product, makes the customer more impulsive and therefore increases the likelihood that the product will be bought.
So really, if you think about it, squint your eyes and tilt your head to the left, the apocalypse is totally relevant to this blog.
Cyders& Smith (2008). Emotion-based dispositions to rash action: positive and negative urgency Psychological Bulletin, 134,
Drury, Cocking, & Reicher (2009). Everyone for themselves? A comparative study of crowd solidarity amongst emergency survivors.British Journal of Social Psychology, 48
Semin & Fielder (1996) Applied social psychology. Sage Publications Ltd