We’ve discussed how commercials and contemporary advertisements often revolve around the principles of Classical Conditioning. However, there’s far more to the story than meets the eye! Sure, commercials aim to create associations between certain products and a person’s positive emotional response, but there are also other psychological factors at work in modern day advertising.
Operant Conditioning, originally theorized by Albert Bandura, is equally prevalent in today’s commercial world. The theory revolves around the notion that current behavior is shaped by the consequences of past behavior. For example, if you burn your hand from touching a hot stove, you’re quite unlikely to touch that stove again in the future. That’s basic logic and learning applied to self preservation.
In Operant Conditioning, “reinforcement” means that the likelihood of the behavior increases, whereas “punishment” means that the likelihood of the behavior decreases. Bandura demonstrated the concepts on reinforcement and punishment through his Bobo Doll experiment, which served as a study on social learning. Bandura randomly assigned a population of children to two different groups, one group being aggressive and the other being more passive.
Children in the aggressive group witnessed footage of a woman beating up the Bobo Doll, then receiving cookies and milk as a reward. Not surprisingly, the childen exhibited similar aggressive behavior when subjected to the same situation. The womped on that doll with all of their might! Conversely, children in the passive group witness edthe woman beating up the Bobo Doll and being sent to the corner for her actions. In response, they were much more hesitant to display aggressive action toward the doll due to fear of receiving a similar punishment.
Both groups of children were given a chance to play with the Bobo Doll, but displayed radically different behaviors while doing so. That’s due to Vicarious Learning, a tenet of Operant Conditioning. The children didn’t have to experience consequences themselves in order to learn what would come of their behavior; watching the woman’s actions and the following consequences was more than enough. That’s the principle behind Vicarious Reinforcement and Vicarious Punishment. Simply witnessing consequences is enough to leave a lasting impression.
Modern day commercials use the principles of vicarious learning all the time! In doing so, ad agents hope to reinforce viewers to buy and use the product in question. The commercials transpire like this: certain people in the ad are reinforced for using the product, so something unbelievably good happens to them as a result of their usage. Those who don’t have the product are left on the sidelines, looking longingly at those who are having fun or becoming successful. Consequentially, they are punished for NOT using the product. These commercials scream “YOU MUST BUY NOW” to consumers, suggesting that without that product their lives could be ruined.
Take the well-known AXE commercials as an example. In these commercials, thousands of scantily clad women sprint toward one lucky young man who has discovered the AXE Effect. Simple by spraying the deodorant/cologne on himself, all the attractive women in the vicinity flock to his presence. If that’s not rewarding, I don’t know what is. And that precisely the point! The AXE user is reinforced to continaully use the product in order to garner female attention. Furthermore, male viewers are also encouraged to use the product so they don’t miss out. That’s Vicarious Reinforcement incarnate. Anyone who doesn’t buy AXE is left on the sideline, experiencing the punishment side of things.
Simple, but effective. As consumers, we are reinforced or punished when we buy a certain product, shop in a particular store, and interact with sales people. Commercials and advertisements constantly utilize psychological principles in their favor. Learn them, know them, be aware of them. In doing so, you’ll be prepared to make wise buying decisions based on products you actually want and need (which may or may not be the AXE Effect).
Big things are in the making!
Join me on Facebook!
Image(s) from marketingsocietysrcc.blogspot.com