Monthly Archives: October 2012

We all know what we should say when someone asks us what we mean by sustainability. Peace and harmony. Understanding. Symbiosis. Respect. Wind farms. Trees! But as psychologists we know that just because we say something it doesn’t mean that’s how we actually behave.

The truth is, I don’t particularly care or feel bad about not behaving in a sustainable way. Don’t get me wrong; the day that I can afford an electric car (how cool will that be), I will be on it like a shot. But right now, I don’t feel like I need to change my behaviour, because frankly, I don’t feel like I’m the problem.

Where Sustainability Marketing is at

Unilever urging consumers to buy (their) sustainable products.

In this article, the CEO of Sainbury’s is reported as saying that it is a “challenge” to “inspire” customers to adopt sustainable values, and that Sainsbuys have been consulting other supermarkets for advice. The head of unilever has described similar difficulties.

 “The trouble is that the environment is somebody else’s problem and people feel powerless. That’s why with our corporate brand we’ve been focussing on small actions and big difference. We need to use our broad consumer base to say ‘you individually are making small actions but you multiplied by 100 million – that’s a big difference’. That’s the way we’re going to try to engage people in this.”

It’s a perfect case in point of how I think retailers underestimate the intelligence of shoppers, and demonstrate a pitiful understanding of what it means to inspire someone.

If you want to inspire someone to do something, you need to lead by example. The most inspiring manager I ever worked under (ironically, at a supermarket) once told me “You should never ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself”. That’s why these sustainability campaigns aren’t working. Supermarkets are trying to figure out how to get consumers to make sacrifices and change their behaviour, without making the same sacrifices themselves.

Redirected Efforts

Instead of trying to sell consumers sustainability, supermarkets should invest A LOT more effort into behaving in ways that reduce their carbon footprint. One retailer that seems to be making an effort is Sainsburys. They have committed to a 2020 sustainability plan that outlines 20 clear goals to move towards long-term sustainability.

They’ve already begun putting their money where their mouth is, having installed around 70,000 solar panels on 169 stores nationwide, making it the biggest solar power generator in Europe.

Sceptics have suggested that they aren’t going far enough. But at least they’re setting goals within a realistic deadline. TESCO in contrast have outlined plans to be zero carbon by 2050 – ambitious, and it’s going to be a long wait to see if they make good on these promises. It also seems like an unrealistic goal. Are they really going to be able to turn 6,351 stores worldwide into zero carbon stores?

Sadly, most companies have no such plans. In fact, this article highlights that that almost half of the UK’s biggest companies do not have targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What example are these companies setting for the public?

 How to inspire real change

People aren’t going to change their behaviour on the back of a clever marketing campaign that makes them feel like they belong to some kind of movement. Remember Kony 2012? However, the more that companies begin behaving regularly in sustainable and eco-friendly ways, the more that will become the norm, and the more likely people will be to follow suit.

Currently, this isn’t the norm. The norm is maximising profits, increasing market share then buying more land, building, and expanding.  This whole process makes a greater carbon footprint than I will make in my entire life. The way they try and dress this process up to be compatible with sustainability is laughable. TESCO for example, state that their aim is that by 2020, the average carbon footprint of their new stores will be 50 per cent smaller than in 2006. How noble – only exploiting the world’s resources half as much? Real philanthropy right here people.

This is the fundamental contradiction of retailers advocating sustainability  – expanding their businesses increases their carbon footprint. Is that enough of a reason for them to stop expanding? Of course not.

And yet, we’re the ones who needs to change our behaviour??

It’s going to take a lot of PR to spin our way out of this one.


Credit for today’s blog goes to the gods of procrastination. Sauntering over to youtube early this afternoon and throwing productivity to the wind in search for some classic Tracy Chapman I was greeted with this disapproving message:

I have to applaud the marketers behind this advertising campaign for their ingenuity. Youtube is the procrastinator’s paradise – which the advert taps into, with the actor (handsome and commanding Max Beesley) chastising the viewer “What you watching this for? I thought you were serious about changing your job”, then giving you an encouraging fatherly nod “come on, press pause”.

Let’s face it, if you have the free time to be browsing youtube on a weekday afternoon, you’re more than likely: a) unemployed; b) bored in your current job; or c) a student.

In all three cases, an advert for a jobsite is likely to make you think that you should be doing something about your personal situation. The advert offers a solution, and plants firmly in the viewers consciousness. It’s like reminding someone than they need to do more exercise and then selling them a gym membership!

Another example of excellent target marketing is this advert for Johnnie Walker. It’s six minutes long, tells the history of the Johnnie Walker brand, and stars one of the finest actors ever to emerge from Scotland, Robert Carlyle. More impressively, it was filmed in a single take, with very little margin for error (you’ll see why). Incidentally, this was the last take of 40.

This advert is an interesting case study because it was part of a cinema campaign. This environment is much more suitable for a six minute ad, as you can’t hit the mute button or channel surf (apparently, 2/3 of people do this). Crucially though, this is also an audience much more likely to appreciate the qualities that make the advert so good, such as the story telling, the technical and acting skill required, the involvement of a high profile actor, and the atmosphere and scenery.

What also appeals to me about these two adverts is that they are not designed for repeated viewing – the impact they have is based on one exposure. There is a psychological basis to this – research actually suggests that if exposure to a company is too high, it can create ambivalence towards an advert and lower the reputation of a company (Brooks & Highhouse, 2006). My own observations and experiences also tell me this is true – is there anything more annoying that seeing the same adverts over and over again?

I wanted to share these adverts with you as two good examples of brands targeting a narrow section of the population extremely well. Dewan, Jing and Seidmann (2002) suggest that targeting favourable customers (narrowcasting, as they call it) through electronic media is a viable way for a seller to increase sales and reinvigorate static markets. I would love to hear of other examples from you guys. Do you think being exposed to an advert once can ever be as effective as repeated exposures? Perhaps you have some ideas that you think would make a similarly effective advertising campaign? Speak your brains!!

Behold: a car advert, featuring an attractive woman

It’s the oldest trick in the book – pairing a desirable babe with a thing you can buy. Classical conditioning at it’s finest – and apparently, it’s very effective at selling cars. Mainly to men, I think. But who actually decided that this particular woman was the right girl for the job? On what basis do car manufacturers decide that one girl, above all others, will sell the most cars, or promote the brand better than any other?

Every Body is Different

Take a look at the following pictures. I understand that we’re not talking super-model sexy here, but think about how attractive you find each of them. If you had to choose, which would you say has the “ideal” body?

Swami and Tovee (2012) showed these pictures, which form the basis of the Photographic Figure Rating Scale (Swami, Salem, Furnham & Tovee, 2008) to two groups of males. One group was put through a 20 minute task called the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which is designed to evoke a stress response, before being asked to evaluate and rate each picture for physical attractiveness; which woman they thought had the “ideal” body; and which were the largest and thinnest figures they found physically attractive. The control group simply had to wait in silence for 20 minutes, at which point they too evaluated the figures on the same dimensions.

The researchers found that participants who were exposed to stress rated figure 5 as the “ideal” body, whereas non-stressed individuals rated figure 4 as the “ideal”. Furthermore, stressed participants rated figures 5, 6, 7 and 8 all higher than non-stressed participants did. The researchers explain this preference in light of the environmental security hypothesis, which suggests that during stressful times humans develop a preference for those with mature physical characteristics.

So what does this have to do with Consumer Psychology?


Picture your typical hard-working city-living young professional. He makes a fair bit of money, but it doesn’t come easy. He works long hours and is under a lot of pressure, and stress is an occurrence.

Outside of office hours he wants to enjoy his time. He wants a good car, nice clothes, maybe an expensive watch, and premium holidays to make the most of the breaks he gets. He has money, and he doesn’t mind spending a bit extra to get exactly what he wants. He would be a great person to try and sell luxury goods to.

Here are the types of adverts that I would say target this demographic:

Maybe, rather than going down this well trodden path, a company targeting this particular demographic of men might consider using a woman with a curvier, more mature body… in short… a “thick” girl.

In terms of celebrities which might embody this idea, an example would be Monica Bellucci – curvy body, eternally youthful (she’s past her forties in this picture), and I would say, not the typical type of woman you might see in your average luxury car advert

Such campaigns could potentially be focussed in inner cities, where the number of people who fall into that demographic would be highest. It would be a bold move, but it could potentially be pretty memorable. Furthermore, the scientific evidence suggests it would appeal to a certain demographic of people who these products are geared towards.

Future research in aid of further segmentation

While this study only tested White British participants, future research could test participants in other countries to evaluate the extent to which stress impacts on sexual preferences in other emerging markets such as China, Japan, Brazil and Russia. This would help companies use the most effective models in their advertising of luxury goods in these countries.

This study also only examined male sexual preferences. Investigating whether females under stress prefer males with more mature features would also be a worthwhile research question. If this does prove to be the case, then this would provide a basis for effective marketing to female workers in similar high stress jobs.

The shape of things to come

This is just one example of how I think Psychological Research should be being used to inform the marketing of products and brands. Over the coming weeks I aim to explore this theme further, and hope to find other innovative ways in which scientific research can inform more effective marketing strategies.