John B. Watson, a key figure in the development of behaviourism, famously said that effective advertising revolved around three basic emotions: love, fear and rage. (Get the backstory on this here). It’s a nice meme. But is it still accurate?
After all, at the time that Watson set forth his hypothesis, advertising was built largely on a framework of persuasion and repetition and took place on set channels in set formats and within highly structured societal expectations. But as societal rules have relaxed, and marketing has evolved new expressions, our consideration-set has broadened. What’s fascinating now is the extent to which online, the upgrade culture and social collectivism have combined to introduce new, often globally based, motivations that Watson might never have imagined. Today, we don’t just act for ourselves. We act alongside, and with a very powerful awareness of, others.
- We still buy for reasons of love – loyalty, habit, prestige and attitude are all motivations that help us form powerful bonds with brands. We buy what feels good to us, what we know, what we agree with, what we feel we deserve, what the brands we associate with say about us and when brands express through statement, belief or action things that concur with our worldviews.
- We still buy for reasons of fear – risk, danger and prevention all drive us to seek out brands that we believe will help us in a world that, at times, feels threatening and uncertain. We also don’t want to miss out – on a bargain, a discount, a perceived opportunity or a trend. More and more, people actually fear being left out of the loop.
- We still buy for reasons of rage – outcry, rebellion, justice, a wish for change and an undercurrent of impatience all push us towards different brands in different sectors because we refuse to accept something or we want to disrupt the status quo or we wish to condone a “champion” of what we see as right.
- We now buy for reasons of collective excitement – as consumers, we are addicted to recency. We’re tuned into an “always on” world that moves at pace, where change and upgrades are standard and where everyone wants to feel that they have the newest and the best. In fact, research shows we are much more susceptible to be prompted than we think.
- We buy successes because we want to associate with success – and increasingly that success isn’t just a personal perception (love), it’s a crowdbased, hashtagged and trending idea that gives brands authority and presence and makes them exciting (further fuelling our need to buy). Buy-in and participation grows and withers on the collective judgment of millions, and it happens in ever-shorter timeframes. It’s never been possible to be successful so quickly – or to disappear from view so fast.
- We buy for reasons of connection – we are presented in so many fora with new ways of thinking, new contexts for consideration and revision of ideas, conjecture and nuance. The opportunities to talk things through and find new ways forward are greater than they have ever been. We buy the brands that emerge as conversation leaders through that haze of data and debate to inspire us, and we choose them for what we hear and what we learn from them. Many of them also build their interactions with us into powerful habits.
- And we are motivated by generosity. We consider brands for the actions they take to improve the world for us all and for what they say and are prepared to do for those around them. Debate continues as to whether acting this way actually drives an upsurge on the bottom line for brands, but there are plenty of examples to show that we are turned off by companies that we view as contributors to global social crises or that we see as acting badly.
To my mind, the quest to dominate the conversation around one or more of these seven motivations in your category should lie at the heart of every marketer’s thinking. Anything less, perhaps everything else, just becomes advertising wallpaper.
Love, fear or rage against that.
Read my Virtual Coffee with Nir Eyal interview.
Note: A version of this article was posted elsewhere under the title Consumer Motivations: The 7 Reasons We Buy Now