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.

I question your competency.

I question your competency.

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.

No no, after you.

No no, after you.

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.

20% off ALL Shamballa Fashion Beads!? What a Deal!

20% off ALL Shamballa Fashion Beads!? What a Deal!

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.

Let's make some serious mistakes on the 20th!

Let’s make some serious mistakes on the 20th!

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


6 thoughts on “SHOPOCALYPSE

  1. pippabeston says:

    Research has also found that when temporal urgency is placed upon the consumer, they are more likely to spend less time processing product information, comparing products and actually shopping (Engel, 1973, as cited in Jacoby, Szybilio & Berning, 1976). This may mean therefore that consumers may be more receptive to cues such as advertising when making decisions under time constraints.

  2. sdcps says:

    Hi! Very interesting post!
    I definitely agree that limited-time offers do attract a lot of consumers. Swain et al. (2006) found that shorter time-limits create a greater sense of urgency which leads to higher sales. People really do fear missing out. Black Friday seems to be one of those that make people lose logic and buy buy buy just because it’s Black Friday!But this can go both ways. If the time limit is too short, consumers tend to have lower deal evaluations and lower purchase intent due to perception of inconvenience (Greenleaf and Lehmann, 1995). Although there are those that would stop at nothing for a great deal. Of course having longer time limits on deals or offers can affect consumers negatively too. They delay making a decision and thus may end up not buying anything. But what’s the magic number?

  3. amp101 says:

    I love stargate.

    I also liked your blog, good read and I liked the way you put a consumer spin on the subject in hand. Panic makes us do some crazy things aswell, context is important, if we look at the 9/11 incidents we see different reactions to different situations (people jumping out the towers. However good find and some interesting research. Also with 2 weeks left on this world I am starting to wonder why I am sat on wordpress writing these comments….

  4. great blog 🙂 definitely thought you were going to go down the religion route at the beginning an try an steal my thunder! It’s true people always go a bit mad in apocalyptic circumstances which seems a bit ridiculous considering no amount of peanut butter and milk is really going to help in the event of a crisis. In fact, like you mentioned, once faced with a real crisis all that preparation becomes obsolete. One way Glass and Schoch-Spana (2002) found to decrease panic buying in emergency situations was to involve the public themselves as a key partner in preparation measures rather than leaving them to their own devices, reducing the disruption to everyday lives as much as possible.

  5. mashenz says:

    A week ago I was in Manchester. The centre was so much crowded with thousands of people who went there for shopping. Honestly, I have not seen such crowded street for years, although I am from one of the most crowded cities in the world (not to mention our subway – it is hell). Why do people act like this? Do they really need all this stuff? Ok, first, it’s Christmas. But it looked like they bought clothes for themselves, not as a gift. Discounts! Yes, that makes us so much irrational that we are ready to leave all our salary in a shop. The mechanism of discounts is obvious and many people know that, but they cannot stop. Why? My assumption is that in majority we are so much greedy…We are money-grabbing, we are hungry for love, for things…It is always not enough. I believe this is the main problem of all the mankind, and it makes us so vulnerable that we cannot resist the temptation to buy more and more thing at the apparent lower price…

  6. Another classic blog bry, one i spent again reading in your voice. I have found myself wooed into buying some useless products just because i got sent an email telling me that the offer finished at midnight,. I tend to find this common with clothing stores, the other day i was sent an email informing me that republic had some amazing sale on that ended at midnight, and being the fool I am i had a cheeky browse to see what was on offer and may have purchased a T-shirt. Inman, Peter, and Raghubir (1997) suggest that time restrictions have a positive effect on deal evaluations, Swain et al (2006) implies that shorter time limits causes the promotion to
    gain priority on consumers’ “to do” lists. So consumers are more likely to purchase items if offers have a short time limit.

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