Classical Conditioning: Its Use in Marketing
Most people think of Pavlovís dogs when they
hear the phrase classical conditioning. Classical conditioning has become much
more complex since the turn of the century when Ivan Pavlov (picture in
Appendix A) conducted his conditioning experiment. This however, does not make his work irrelevant in todayís context,
perhaps this is why he won a Nobel prize in 1904 (The Nobel Prize Internet
Archive.) Classical conditioning is used in many aspects of society and the
simplicity and notoriety of Pavlovís study makes it a valuable example. To
refresh everyoneís memory back to psychology 101, Pavlov began his work
studying the digestive systems of dogs (Classical Conditioning As A Part of Psychological Behaviorist Theory.) He noticed
that the dogs salivated before their food was brought into the room. This could
be at the site of the person who fed them. Pavlov then rang a bell (conditioned
stimulus, or CS) before the food (unconditioned stimulus, or US) was brought
in. At first the dogs only salivated (unconditioned response, or
Classical Conditioning in Everyday life, and Marketing
A bit of anecdotal evidence of classical
conditioning can be offered to pet owners who happen to feed their pets canned food (Classical Conditioning.) As soon as you
begin opening a can, whether it be pet food, or pork
and beans (assuming you donít feed your pet pork and beans,) your pet will come
bounding into the room ready to eat. The sound of the can opening has become
the CS, paired with the food, or US. The
Classical conditioning has also found its
way into the realms of entertainment. The most notable example of this is the
1962 novel A Clockwork Orange written by Anthony Burgess and it
subsequent 1971 movie directed by the late Stanley Kubrick
(Internet Movie Database.) A Clockwork Orange details the activities of
a young ultra-violet protagonist named Alex. Alex is "cured" of his
evil tendencies via classical conditioning. He is forced to watch various films
depicting ultra-violence (
In addition to entertainment, classical conditioning is also used as a marketing tool. Classical conditioning is generally used with low-involvement products (Hawkins 1998.) This is because classical conditioning is most effective when emotion is involved (Classical Conditioning.) Advertising for low-involvement products usually attacks the consumer through affective means because nobody wants to think (cognitive) about purchasing low-involvement products. Advertising and sales promotion (event sponsorship) are the most common forms of classical conditioning in marketing.
Classical conditioning is used in a plethora
of advertisements. The idea behind it is a simple one. Make an ad (
One area extensively covered with regard to classical conditioning and consumer behavior is the effect of background music. Gerald Gorn can be considered the leader in this research due to his 1982 experiment involving background music and the color of pen chosen as a gift (Kellaris 1989.) The experiment involved pairing one pen color with pleasant music, and pairing another pen color with unpleasant music. Several pen colors were tested and ranked on a scale of one to seven. Then two pen colors with similar positions were used in the experiment. The music was picked using a ranking scale as well, except instead of picking two pieces with similar positions, the two selections were on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The subjects then were exposed to slides of the one color pen paired with pleasant music, and the other with unpleasant. When given a choice the more subjects chose the pen color associated with the pleasant music This study has a major impact because it showed that consumer behavior can be influenced rather easily. The Gorn experiments are not without controversy (mostly regarding the procedures used in the experiment), but the are still very widely accepted and referenced (Kellaris 1989.) Another area looked at by marketers is how often to repeat the advertisement.
Low-involvement advertising needs extensive repetition in advertising (Hawkins 1998.) This is mostly because people just are not actively searching for information on low-involvement products. This generally means that not a great deal of attention is paid to ads for low-involvement products. The problem with this is a certain amount of diminished return on the ad. The first time the ad is adequately comprehended it is generally as funny, emotional, etc. as it is going to get. From that point on its affect diminishes and the conditioning is not as strong. This encourages companies to advertise in campaigns. This way they donít have to reinvent the wheel every time out, but they can still remain fresh with ongoing variations.
The number of examples of classical conditioning at work within a marketing framework is quite extensive. Due to this fact examples will be broken down into either advertising of event sponsorship with only a few examples of each.
1. Michelinís use of babies sitting in
tires. The babies (US) elicit positive feelings (
2. Anheuser-Busch using the Budweiser frogs
and then lizards (or nearly every Budweiser ad.) The frogs/lizards (US) are
3. Cokeís polar bear ad campaign. The bears
(US) generate positive feelings (
1. The many sponsors of Nascar, with Du Pontís sponsorship of Jeff Gordon. Lou Savilli attributes 20% of Du Pontís automotive refinishing groupís growth from 1991 to the present, an amount around $100 million, entirely to Du Pontís relationship with Gordon (Johnson 1999.) This is a pretty powerful endorsement for classical conditioning as well as sponsoring the right event.
2. Billboards at baseball parks are a form
of event sponsorship utilizing classical conditioning. The game (
3. Wheaties sponsoring the Olympics is an example of event sponsorship. The Olympics can be a great source of emotion (pride, etc.) for many Americans. By associating their product by putting Olympic athletes on the box, Wheaties is attempting to tap into all of those positive emotions.
Relevant Web Sites
Classical Conditioning http://www.as.wvu.edu/~sbb/comm221/chapters/pavlov.htm
This site has easy to understand explanations of Pavlovís experiments.
Classical Conditioning As Part Of Psychological Behaviorist Theory http://tiger.chm.bris.ac.uk/cm1/KimM/Welcome.htm
This site has more Pavlov stuff. The picture of Pavlov is from this site.
This is Coca-Colaís official web site.
Michelinís official North American homepage.
This site allows the visitor to vote for their favorite Wheaties Champion. 75 different boxes are available to see.
The Nobel Prize Internet Archive. (No date.) Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Online: http://www.almaz.com/nobel/medicine/1904a.html.
Classical Conditioning as a Part of Psychological Behaviorist Theory. (No date.) Online:http://tiger.chm.bris.ac.uk/cm1/KimM/Welcome.htm.
"The Persistence of Classically Conditioned Responses." (1998.) The Journal of Advertising, (27,) Spring, 24.
Classical Conditioning. (No date.) Online: http://www.as.wvu.edu/~sbb/comm221/chapters/pavlov.htm.
The Internet Movie Database. (No date.) Online: http://www.imdb.com. [April 20, 1999.]
Hawkins, Del I., Roger J. Best, and Kenneth A. Coney (1998.) Consumer Behavior: Building
Strategy, Seventh Edition.
Kellaris, James J., and Anthony D. Cox (1989.) "The Effects of Background Music in Advertising: A Reassessment." Journal of Consumer Research, (16), 113-118.
Johnson, Roy S. (1999.) "Speed." Fortune. April, 57-70.