How do companies get us to buy their products. Is it magic, or is it just their stellar advertising? Every day we see advertisements on the internet, in the stores, on social media, or on billboards. Advertisers use a tactic called conditioning to get us to give them our money. There are three main types of conditioning that people use to get us to learn to buy their ‘products’. The three main types are: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. Before we dive into the deep end of the ways companies use conditioning in their advertising you will need to know some of the basics.
First, what even is conditioning? Conditioning is a process where a response becomes more frequent or more predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement. Reinforcement is typically a stimulus or reward for desired results. Conditioning is a form of learning in which: A stimulus becomes more effective in evoking a response, or response occurs with more and more regularity in a stable environment. The type of reinforcement that is used typically will determine the outcome.
There are some particular definitions that will come in handy. First, a stimulus, which rouses activity or energy in someone or something; a spur or incentive. An unconditioned stimulus, a stimulus that naturally brings about a particular response without having been learned. An unconditioned response is a response that is natural and needs no training. A conditioned stimulus is when a once-neutral stimulus is paired with an unconditioned response to bring about a response formerly caused only by the unconditioned stimulus. And lastly, a conditioned response is a response after conditioning which follows a previously neutral stimulus. Now that you know all the vocabulary we can continue with the conditioning part.
The most common type of conditioning is classical conditioning, which is when we learn to associate events or stimuli that frequently happen; as a result of this, we learn to anticipate events. Companies who want you to feel something while you are watching or listening to an advertisement use this type of conditioning. This type of conditioning is used to make you have a specific feeling when you see their ‘product’. The advertised ‘product’ is now a conditioned stimulus. The feeling you get when you see the ‘product’ is the conditioned response. (Citation) Some ways that companies use classical conditioning is by using the power of music. The results of an experiment done by Gerald J. Gorn from the University of British Columbia were that hearing liked or disliked music while being exposed to a product can directly affect product preferences. (Citation, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/002224298204600109) An example of this kind of conditioning is the “Drake Sprite: The Spark Commercial” a Sprite commercial starring Drake. In this one minute commercial, we watch Drake not able to rap very well, but when he takes a sip of a Sprite, he instantly is able to make an astonishing new rap. The unconditioned stimulus is Drake and the unconditioned response is admiring how cool Drake is when he drinks a Sprite. The conditioned stimulus is drinking Sprite and the conditioned response is thinking that by drinking Sprite you will be refreshed and cool just like Drake.
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The next kind of conditioning is operant conditioning, which is a learning process in which behaviors are reinforced or punished. There are two different kinds of punishment and two different kinds of reinforcement. Positive punishment’s job is to weaken a response by applying an unpleasant stimulus, like yelling at a teenager when he or she steals a bracelet. Negative punishment consists of the removal of something pleasant, like restricting a teenager’s access to their car due to breaking curfew. Positive reinforcement is a stimulus added to the environment that brings about an increase in a preceding response, like giving an employee a raise for good performance. Negative reinforcement is an unpleasant stimulus whose removal leads to an increase in the probability that a preceding response will be repeated in the future, like having to apply ointment to relieve an itchy rash which leads to a higher future likelihood of applying ointment. (screenshot)
We see operant conditioning in advertising by watching the Friskikies Dear Kitten commercial series. First shown during the 2015 Super Bowl this commercial series uses positive and negative reinforcement. The positive reinforcement is when the cat teaches the kitten about “The Big Game”. The environment that they are in has changed because the attention of the humans is now not on them but on the television. In its effort to gain the attention of the humans the cat sits in front of the television, with the hope of getting attention and food. The behavior of sitting in front of the television while a human is watching will now increase because the cat knows that its human will reinforce it by giving the cat food. The negative reinforcement, on the other hand, the cat’s behavior is the adverse stimuli if you were in the human’s environment. When the cat decides to block the television during “The Big Game” the human picks up the cat to get away from the blocked screen. After they remove the adverse stimulus (the cat), the human can now watch “The Big Game” without being disturbed. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osWshQ4DF30)
The final type of conditioning is called observational learning. This kind of conditioning is used by learning by watching the behavior of others. Children watching television might see a commercial where they see people having fun while shopping and putting things in the cart. Children might then see that it is fun to put things in the cart and want to do it themselves. Learning by observation begins early in life, a fourteen-month child can imitate what an adult is doing in an advertisement. Modeling is the process of observing and imitating specific behavior, like a woman in an advertisement picking out healthy fruit. A person is more likely to model the behavior of someone who they think is attractive, and is being reinforced for something that they are doing that is good. If you look at most advertisements you will start to notice that most everyone is attractive. Advertisers do this in hope that you will belive that choosing your product will make you just like them, attractive (not that you aren’t). (https://www.slideshare.net/jmmmuir/observational-learning-in-advertising)
Do you ever just sit down and watch a show and see the same commercial advertisement over and over again? That is on purpose, advertisers strategically air their advertisements so you never forget what they are trying to make you buy. The interval can have a large effect on conditioning. Classical conditioning is greater if a longer period of time occurs. (screenshot)
Conditioning can be difficult to understand sometimes so here are some differences between them. While classical and operant conditioning are both types of associative learning, there are some significant differences between them. When you see classical conditioning