The more I read about social psychology, the more I know we in marketing and advertising have a lot to learn.
One big area is self-justification. We humans are constantly trying to convince ourselves we're doing the right thing.
In a study of smokers who lit up between one and two packs of cigarettes daily, 60% considered themselves "moderates". These people were very aware of the long-run dangers of smoking. They just took a subjective way out. Social psychologists say we are not only motivated to want to be right, we are motivated to believe we are right.
Here's another example. Let's say you're trying to decide between two cars --- a small VW Jetta and a full-size Acura SUV. You read the research, talk to people, and decide on the Acura. Why? You identify more with SUV owners. You conclude you'll keep it far longer than the Jetta. You'll think about how majestic it makes you feel, and all the amazing weekend trips you'll take now that you'll have the proper wheels.
All rationales, of course, and you use them well. Even after you own the Acura, you'll read the Acura ads more carefully than ever. They'll help stave off buyers' remorse.
According to UC Santa Cruz professor Elliot Aronson, this sort of thing is natural. After we spend a chunk of money, dissonance sets in. This is because nothing is 100% perfect, and the alternative we rejected is never 100% awful.
A safe way to reduce the dissonance, Aronson says, is the advertising. It can be counted on not to disparage your choice. In fact, new buyers of cars steer clear of ads for other makes; they don't want their decision to be shaken, as we de-emphasize the negative attributes of what we've bought.
Do we ever think of this kind of thing when we prepare our marketing plans? Nope. Should we? Yes. We should try to decide if it's relevant, and if so, how we can put it to good use.
The psyche is a wonderful thing. And each of our customers has one.