I’m always excited when science finally catches up with marketing.
A man walks into a sociologist’s office, and is asked to write a short essay highlighting his healthy life habits. He does so. Afterwards, he’s offered a choice of two small rewards for his work: an apple, or a pack of M&M’s. He makes his choice and leaves.
After that, another man walks into the sociologist’s office, and is asked to write a short essay highlighting his healthy life habits. As he’s about to begin, the sociologist asks him to write it with his non-dominant hand. After he does so, he is offered a choice between an apple or a pack of M&M’s.
This second man, who wrote with his non-dominant hand, is significantly more likely than the first to choose the apple. Why would that be?
A lot of excellent research is starting to emerge dealing with the relationship between “state” self-confidence (short term mental states) and purchasing habits. The study I’ve just referenced came out of Stanford last year. It was published in Advances in Consumer Research by Leilei Gao, S. Christian Wheeler, and Baba Shiv, and talks about the concept of the “shaken self.” Read more…
Previously, I have remarked on an area of interpersonal dynamics called the Status Transaction. This concept comes from one of the fathers of improv theatre. It says that humans, just like other pack animals, communicate in subtle behaviors that convey where they stand with regard to each other. We establish an unconscious structure of deference and social value in order to keep our relations mostly harmonious. As Johnstone remarks, “In the park we’ll notice the ducks squabbling, but not how carefully they keep their distances when they are not.”
This principal is the key link between acting performance, marketing, and social psychology. It is the subtext of human life. It represents the unvarnished, true meaning of people’s communication. It is, either consciously or unconsciously, a crucial factor in honest and authentic acting portrayals, because it factors into a character’s key attitudes. It also factors into how we feel attraction to one another. Also, it has repercussions in group psychology, and therefore also in marketing messaging. People arrange their little worlds in ways that cultivate and communicate status. Status, recognition and validation play a central role in most people’s secret dreams and ideals.
We tend to associate high status with certain favorable traits, like wealth or physical attractiveness. People speculate that correlation came from evolution; in order to survive, we will tend to associate ourselves with those who have means, and signs of healthy DNA. Our conspicuous consumption is an example of a status-driven tendency.
What people may not know is that most status communications are conveyed through ordinary, everyday behavior. Johnstone discovered this through improv exercises. He started with large-gap status differences, like king and butler. He then reversed behaviors so that the butler behaved in a high-status manner, and the king deferring to the butler. And, improv comedy was born.
In real life, most status-communicating behaviors are hard to fake. That’s why we get the creeps when someone who has the appearance of status (e.g. wealth) behaves in a way that seems incongruent. Most people who try and put on a short-term game persona usually fail at it. Their insecurities “peek out” through the cracks.
Based on the search keywords that lead into People-triggers, there are a lot of people searching for a discussion on which behaviors communicate high status, and which communicate low status. Johnstone talks at length about this in his book, Impro, and there are many other status discussions around the blogosphere. One blog that shows a lot of insight into this subject is appropriately named, The Statustician, and I would recommend checking it out for a more in-depth discussion.
So, for your experiments in interaction on stage and in life, here is my list of the top five behaviors that communicate interpersonal status. Read more…
I was walking a friend of mine home the other day, and she was telling me about the kinds of men she had been meeting recently. We started talking about whether you could be into somebody just because they were “off-limits” to you in some way: already attached, emotionally unavailable, constantly busy, runs in high social circles, borderline-inappropriate age difference, etc.
She was pretty sure that she wasn’t affected by any of these considerations, or at least, not consciously. My gut, on the other hand, was telling me that the “off-limits” factor might be pretty significant. I once staged a live adaptation of the book, “He’s Just Not That Into You,” and I remember a lot the reprinted letters in the book were sent by women in some of these very situations.
One was sent by a woman who talked with a lot of enthusiasm about how busy her “boyfriend” was in the filmmaking business, and how “important” that made him…so important in fact, that she hadn’t heard from him in forever. Another talked about how secretive her boyfriend was, and how his unwillingness to tell her anything substantive made him “intriguing.”
While researching, I found the blog Miss Adventures in L.A., in which the author goes into great detail about her obsession with a man who makes himself very unavailable.
Many of these writers openly admit that their obsessions make them sound perhaps a little pathetic, but I don’t think they are pathetic. I think there’s something inescapably attractive about that which is inaccessible. Askmen.com agrees. Their dating advice columns say flat out that “Women don’t feel attraction for men that are pushover wuss bags. Women feel attraction for men who are a challenge.” Read more…
We instinctively know that our society affords the benefit of the doubt to the best looking among us. Newsweek just ran an article to help us quantify exactly how much.
In her recent article, “The Beauty Advantage,” columnist Jessica Bennett cites the following facts:
- Handsome men earn, on average, five percent more than do less attractive men (four percent more for women).
- Over his career, an attractive man will make $250,000 more on average than a less attractive man (from economist Daniel Hamermesh).
- Thirteen percent of women say they’d consider plastic surgery if it made them more competitive (American Society of Plastic Surgeons).
- Sixty percent of overweight women and forty percent of overweight men say they’ve experienced employment discrimination.
- Fifty-seven percent of surveyed hiring managers told Newsweek that qualified but less attractive candidates will have a harder time landing a job.
- Sixty-one percent of managers (majority men) surveyed said that women gain an advantage by wearing work attire that shows their figure.
- Ranked in order of importance, looks came in 3rd behind experience (1st), confidence (2nd), but ahead of the candidate’s school (4th).
The article goes on to talk about “The Halo Effect,” saying, “like a pack of untrained puppies, we are mesmerized by beauty, blindly ascribing intelligent traits to go along with it.” I wouldn’t stop at intelligence. I’d add virtue, charisma, energy, wisdom, and sexual ability.
It is intellectually dubious to assume qualities like intelligence and virtue based solely on appearance, and it is morally dubious to grant jobs and benefits based on that assumption. And you know what? None. Of. That. Matters.
As I’ve written in earlier entries, society grants attention and benefit to those of high status. Status drives our attraction instincts. This is a biological pack-animal imperative, hard-wired into the collective unconscious. And one attribute of the high-status pack animal is that they are physically attractive. We all unknowingly contribute to this silent social contract, even if it does not benefit us as much as others. We may judge it, or condemn it, or wish it away, but it is fact. Read more…
The article linked above highlights a study by a sociologist at the Kellogg school of business, Dr. Lauren Rivera. It’s a fascinating summary detailing the incredibly intricate status distinctions at New York night clubs.
A few thoughts:
- Since this is an elite setting, celebrity and celebrity-association are the strongest determiners. After that comes wealth. After that comes gender (women first).
- Bribes seem to be outdated and unwelcome, even though they indicate wealth.
- The best thing a guy can do if he is a “new face” is to (Duh!) bring young, attractive women with you, and dress well.
- The author notes that (attractive) women are given more value than men. She notes that this is opposite of the typical, more cliche dynamic like that in a workplace. But she doesn’t seem to note the fact that men follow hot women to an establishment, but not the other way around.
- Note that dressing well for a club, and being “well-dressed” are two different things. The author notes “elegantly-dressed” men being turned away…but doesn’t seem to recognize that there’s something inherently wrong with wearing a suit to a dance club.
- Behavior matters less as a status-factor in this situation, because the decision takes place in a split second. So ask yourself, if you had to, how do you show your social value in a way that’s instantly recognizable?
What do you think? Please take a moment and leave a comment below.
So far in this six-part article, we’ve covered five of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six “weapons of influence”: Reciprocity, Commitment/Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, and Authority. Now for the sixth and final weapon, the one that may have the most viscerally powerful effect on us:
Weapon number six: “Scarcity: The Rule Of The Few”
Scarcity is the reason why someone who’s breaking up with you seems much more desirable than she did when you were thinking about breaking up with her.
The Scarcity Rule is the sales tool that is most obvious to us when we see advertising: “Sale ends June 30th”; “The First Hundred People Receive…”; “Limited Time Only”; “Offer Expires”; et cetera ad nauseum.
Remember this one well: the only thing more motivating than a limited supply of something is a rapidly diminishing supply of that same thing. It creates a hell of an itch. Now, we not only want an item for its utility, but we want to possess it simply to possess it.
When I was first learning the principles of direct response marketing, my mentor taught me early on that no promotion ever went out without a very explicit expiration. Sometimes promotional prices (set not by us but by our vendors) would be steady for months at a time. So month after month we would announce that prices would expire at the end of the month (factually true; we didn’t know for sure what prices would do in the coming month), but the month after that we would announce a similar promotion at the exact same price. This would go on for months.
But those promotions unfailingly encouraged end-of-month sales, even though the prices never changed. Why? Because the prices were expiring at the end of the month. They never actually expired, but that didn’t matter. Read more…
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