Psychology & Marketing

There are many psychological studies and theories that can be applied to your marketing. In this post I’ll be going through a few of them, giving you an overview of the study and how you can apply it to your marketing efforts.


Conformity in psychological terms is a change in behaviour or belief in order to fit in with a group.

Asch conducted an experiment in 1951 to see if peer pressure would lead to conformity. He used college students and placed one them into group with what they thought were other college students. The ‘other students’ were in fact actors, who knew the true aims of the study. The groups were then shown a card with a single line on iasch_conformity-1t and then a card with three lines labelled A, B and C. They were then asked which of the three lines was the same length as the first line they were shown. (An example of the card they were shown is on the right.) As you can see the answer is clearly A. However, the actors in the group were all told beforehand to give the wrong answer. Asch conducted several trials and found that on average, around a third of the real participants went along with the rest of the group and gave an incorrect answer so therefore changed a belief in order to fit in with the group.

So, how does this apply to marketing? Well, it shows that social influence can have a great effect on individuals. Using influencers in your marketing and having lots of feedback from previous customers on your products/services will give social proof that your products/services are of value and people will be more likely to make a purchase.

Ben Franklin Effect

The Ben Franklin effect states that when we do someone a favour, we tend to like them more as a result as we like to believe that we did them a favour because we liked them.

Jerker and Landy tested the effect in 1969. Students were used and told they were in a contest where they could win a significant amount of money. After the competition had ended, three conditions were tested on the groups of students:

A: 1/3 were approached by the researcher and asked to return the money as the money used was his own and he was running short.

B: 1/3 were approached by a secretary and asked to return the money as it was from the psychology department and funds were low.

C: 1/3 were not approached.

All participants were than surveyed and asked how much they liked the researcher. Group B rated the researcher lower than Group C and Group A rated the researcher higher than group C.

So, how does this apply to marketing? Do not be afraid to ask your customers to help you out. Asking them to fill out a survey, give feedback on a product, getting their opinion on a new product idea will make them feel like they are helping your company and so according to the Ben Franklin effect they will like your company more. Also asking them for feedback will make them feel valued by your business personally.

Decoy Effect

This is also known as ‘asymmetrically dominated choice’ and usually happens when a person’s preferred choice between two options changes with the addition of a third option that is similar but less attractive. An example of the decoy effect in action comes from the print and digital subscription pricing for The Economist magazine. The pricing is as follows:

Web subscription: $59

Print subscription: $125

Web and Print subscription: $125

Dan Ariely asked a group of students to choose one of the subscriptions. 16 students chose the web subscription, 0 students chose the print subscription and 84 students chose the web and print subscription. If the students had actually purchased the subscriptions it would have generated $11,444. He then performed the same test with the decoy price removed, 68 students chose the web subscription and 32 students chose the web and print subscription, which would have generated $8,012. From the results you can see that having the third decoy option would have gained (hypothetically) an extra $3,432.

How does this apply to marketing? well, its obvious really, add a decoy to your pricing strategy and make the other options look more appealing. Just try it out and see if it makes a difference.

Framing Effect

The framing effect states that we react to a situation based on whether we see it as a loss or a gain. An example of the framing effect in action is shown in a study by Tversky and Kahneman where they tested how phrasing could effect responses when participants were asked about a hypothetical life and death situation. They were asked to choose between two treatments for a deadly disease for 600 people. The two treatments were framed positively and then the same two treatments were framed negatively.

Positive framing:

Treatment A would save 200 lives

Treatment B had a 33% chance of saving all 600 and a 66% chance of saving no one.

Negative framing:

Treatment A 400 people will die

Treatment B has a 33% chance that no one will die and a 66%chance that all 600 will die.

72% chose A when it was presented positively and 22% chose A when it was presented negatively.

How does this apply to marketing? The study shows that how you framing your content will have an impact on how customers react to it. Make sure that you are framing your content in a positive way in order to get the best response from customers.

The Endowment Effect

When a person owns something they tend to value it more highly than they would be willing to initially pay for it. This is shown in a study by Thaler, Kahneman and Knetsch, they used a class of students and gave half of them coffee cups. Those with the cups were told to decide on a price at which they would sell them, those without cups were told to decide on a price at which they would buy them.

Those with cups said that they would be unwilling to sell for less than $5.25.

Those without cups said that they would be unwilling to pay more than $2.25-$2.75.

As you can clearly see, those with the cups valued them higher simply because it was their cup.

So, how can this be apply to marketing? You could offer free trials of a product as if the customer finds it useful to them during the trial period they will be more likely to buy it. Offering money back guarantees are also an option as they make people more comfortable about buying an item as they could just bring it back if they don’t like it. However due to the endowment effect once at home, a person is less likely to bring the item back as they own it and so value it higher than the price they originally paid for it. Getting people involved in your business either through asking for feedback personally or on social media will make them feel like they are part of the business and so may value the brand more.

There are many psychological studies that can be applied to marketing situations and we’ve just given you a few of them. Here at Black Rebel Group, we’re always looking for your feedback and input. So, if you know of a study you think could be included, comment below and we’ll add it to the post.







4 Comments Add yours

  1. jsebastian says:

    Very good post, would you be interested in sharing this with our audiences on by any chance?


    1. Thanks, and yes, you’re welcome to share it 🙂


      1. jsebastian says:

        Would you actually be interested in creating a profile for Black Rebel Group and sharing it yourself? I couldn’t actually do it on your behalf.


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