July 23, 2008

Habitual Advertising

Advertisers have found another way to manipulate us - through the introduction of habits:
Procter & Gamble introduced Febreze in 1996 as a way to remove odors from smelly clothes. Consumer surveys had shown that people were leaving their jackets and blouses outside after an evening in a smoke-filled bar. P.& G., which at the time already sold products that cleaned one out of every two laundry loads washed in American homes, decided to spend millions to create a spray to remove offensive smells...

But Febreze flopped. In fact, early sales were so disappointing that the company considered canceling the entire project. One of the biggest problems, P.& G.’s researchers discovered, was that bad smells simply didn’t happen often enough in consumers’ lives.

At about the same time, the company’s staff psychologists were beginning to extend their understanding of how habits are formed...The researchers at P.& G. realized that these types of findings had enormous implications for selling Febreze. Because bad smells occurred too infrequently for a Febreze habit to form, marketers started looking for more regular cues on which they could capitalize.

The perfect cue, they eventually realized, was the act of cleaning a room, something studies showed their target audience did almost daily...

Today, Febreze is one of P.& G.’s greatest successes. Customers habitually spray tidied living rooms, clean kitchens, loads of fresh laundry and, according to one of the most recent commercials, spotless minivans. In the most recent fiscal year, consumers in North America alone spent $650 million buying Febreze, according to the company.

Dozens of other companies have also redesigned advertising campaigns around habitual cues. Beer commercials, once filled with busty women in ill-fitting tops, are now more likely to feature groups of buddies, because research shows that groups of friends are one of the strongest habit cues. Candy bar companies, through commercials, have tied their products to low-energy cues, transforming what was once a dessert into a pick-me-up for cubicle dwellers.

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