Holiday Shopping 101: How Marketing Psychology Gets You To Spend More

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Holiday shopping exposes consumers to psychology-based marketing: Photo by Sebastian Ballard

The holiday shopping season, including the now-famous Black Friday rush to stores, means one thing to retailers: money. Marketing experts create buzz for their products, and entice consumers to spend more money on gifts than originally intended, with carefully formulated strategies including the use of psycholinguistics. This approach combines psychology with marketing in such a way that the advertisements create a sense of urgency, causing consumers to feel that they need to make gift purchases today, without thinking through the costs or the necessity of the purchase.

Holiday Shopping: Marketing

According to Dave G., a marketing executive in Baltimore, MD, manipulating consumers holiday spending begins during the summer months.

“We start with a list from the company of the products they want to push for the season. Usually, these are the products that have the highest mark-up between production costs and retail prices. We take the list and begin working on the words used to describe the product.

We come up with a brainstorm of various buzz words. Once we have a list we can agree with, we test it with focus groups to find the words people believe have the most impact. Once we know those words, we turn them over to our writers. They create a narrative using those buzz words, and we come up with the images.”

If you’ve ever seen articles or news stories about the “Top Toys” of the holiday season, you’ve seen the results of Dave’s work. It’s his job to get a particular item labeled as a hot toy. This is done with the advertising campaign, and some subtle marketing with retailers.

“We make phone calls to top publishers, tell them the toys that we’re working to promote during the season. We find out what it would cost to get onto those lists, and we pay it. We rarely get denied when the lists find out who is supporting the effort.”

Psychology of Marketing to Christmas Shoppers

The use of words as motivators is nothing new. Marketing has been using words such as “limited,” “new,” “improved,” and “free” to entice buyers into making a product selection for years. These words conjure up images in the minds of consumers of getting an increased value for their money.

Words that are used, particularly around the holidays, to generate sales include: sale, limited edition, hot, collectible, shortage, delayed, must-have, and in-demand.

Marketing executives use the science of psycholinguistics to select these words. Psycholinguistics is a scientific specialty combining psychology with neurobiology to examine the components of language. Researchers study language development, usage, origins and acquisition from biological and mental processes. In marketing, these studies are then applied to retail markets and consumers as a whole.

One study that provided fodder for advertising campaigns was conducted in 2005 by Guiseppe Attanasi and Rosemarie Nagel. Actions, Beliefs and Feelings: an experimental study on Psychological Game Theory examined the relationship between actions and feelings. The study tested people’s reactions as they played games repeatedly. The researchers noticed that certain words and feelings would produce cooperation and trust in the person playing the game. The study concluded that the use of words which elicit feelings may produce trust and cooperation in a person or product.

As marketing firms continue to hire and retain more psychologists, child psychologists, psycholinguists, and research analysts, the power of marketing and persuasion for a particular product or service will increase using the latest research in psychology. Already, the United States government has started regulating direct marketing to childrenthrough television commercials because of the moral and psychological implications. There are no rules stating that similar tactics cannot be used on adults, however, provided that the commercial does not express untrue statements.

Marketing strategies include psycholinguistics: Photo by WikiFB3

From Black Friday Onwards: Avoiding the Tricks

If you want to avoid unwanted purchases, make a list prior to shopping, and stick to it. Much like grocery shopping, understand you’re buying, and what you actually want or need, and buy only those items.

When asked what he was getting his child for the holidays this year, Dave replied, “Something traditional. He’s wanted a bike, so most likely, a ten-speed and a helmet.” If you want to avoid the psychology of marketing, traditional gifts may be the way to go when it comes to holiday shopping, rather than buying into the hype about a new “must have” product.

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