#MacWarped — The Apple Marketing Machine


Originally featured on the Huffington Post.

At a recent high school reunion in Orange County, we went out shopping. Because honestly, in Orange County, what’s a group of friends to do after 6 p.m.? After passing both the Apple and Microsoft Store my annoyingly Apple-only friend stated, “The employees in the Apple stores all look like hip nerds and the employees in the Miscrosoft stores all look like boring geeks. That really shows you something.”

My other friends and I looked at each other and shook our heads, because the employees in the two stores looked exactly the same: Microsoft is, after all, just trying to copy the Apple image.

If you’ve ever wondered how the “Apple is cool” narrative persists so strongly in our society, it’s because Apple users’ visions of reality have become totally warped — they simply see everything that Apple does as cool and everything else as uncool.

Apple users have literally and figuratively bought into Apple’s story of rebellious coolness. Why do Apple users buy into this narrative so much? Quite possibly, just because they want to.

Recently, consumer psychologist Liad Weiss, of the Columbia Business School, found thatwhen people own a product with a certain identity (e.g. “it’s cool”), people feel like they are part of the identity (e.g. “I am cool.”). This implies that the more Apple users view Apple as cool, the more cool they will feel.

Praising one’s products is a sneaky way to praise oneself. It’s often hard for people to directly praise themselves, as it violates humbleness norms that even the most self-assured of us follow to some degree. Accordingly, Apple users may seize upon the opportunity to get a little self-boost by boosting Apple.

When viewing the Microsoft store, Apple-only users, like my friend, may focus on the one unhip Microsoft employee and the clunkiest desktop. They end up engaging in a motivated confirmation bias so they can maintain their desired worldview in which Mac is cool and PC is that stuffy loser from those old PC v. Mac commercials.

Yet, that’s not the whole story of the Apple marketing machine.

Apple users want not only to view Apple as cool, but also to remind the world they are part of the coolness. Apple users accordingly publically demonstrate their love. Apple even provides bumper stickers with many of their products to encourage this. But Apple consumers also pay for items to highlight their Appleness, such as purchasing the gaudy yet extremely popular iPhone case that protects the entire phone while still leaving space for the Apple logo. To truly complete the narrative that one is an authentic Apple user and thus deserving of the Apple identity, one must not only own and display Apple products, but also go a step further and buy the latest upgrades, stay on top of Apple news, and Instagram photos of themselves waiting in line outside the store on Apple product release days.

The last piece of the Apple mind warp is the price. It’s no secret: Apple products cost a lot and Apple makes a huge profit on many of their items. However, these high prices might not deter customers but tempt them. The high prices make the product seem better and more luxurious. Research from marketing and neuroscience shows that expensive winestaste better, expensive medicine works better, and expensive sports drinks make people feel more capable than the lower priced identical products.

Paying the high prices also makes people feel the need to justify their purchase. Apple users must believe that their Macbook Pro is truly worth the price. In contrast, PC users who buy cheaper Microsoft alternatives don’t need to believe in its quality as much to feel good about buying it: they can always say, “I got a fairly good laptop for a great price.” High prices are not just high prices: they are part of the mindwarping machine.

Apple indeed makes great products, there is no doubt. However, the way Apple-users view Apple products as nearly divine and their insane devotion to Apple is something beyond rationality. In the end, the greatest strength of Apple may not be in its technology but in its ability to package, price, and market the technology. Apple is not an only a powerful technological innovator, it’s a marketing juggernaut.

Taco Bell: The Best Marketed Brand in Recent History?

dorritosOriginally featured on the Huffington Post.

The commercial begins and the man brings a box of tacos and immediately the party is on. In less than 30 seconds, Taco Bell establishes a product story — Taco Bell is the party food.

Whether you believe the story or think the story is simply ridiculous, you and nearly everyone in America knows this story. This means if you bring Taco Bell (especially the Locos Tacos) to the next party, everyone will get the reference. You can then all enjoy taking part in that commercial’s party story — even if it is completely ironic.

Taco Bell’s products like the Doritos Locos Tacos are a phenomenon and they are a phenomenon not only because Taco Bell created a relatively good fast-food product, but also because they created a ridiculously successful product story.

This is a completely different idea of what a company should do. Instead of creating just products, they can create a shared cultural narrative for people to communicate through, participate in, and share through pictures and twitter.

It appears that Taco Bell has been reading a little marketing psychology. Here’s the breakdown of why Locos Tocos and Taco Bell in general may be one of the best marketed brand in recent history.

#1 The Story: The Ridiculous (Almost Ironic) Story

Bringing Locos Tacos to a party for many groups may seem clever. It’s a physical way to make a funny pop culture reference.

Since everyone has seen the commercials, everyone knows how to respond when someone shows up with Locos Tacos. The commercials provide social facilitation which reduces awkwardness and can even provide an ice-breaker as everyone references funny (or ridiculously overstated) lines from the ad campaigns like, “cool ranch homie” or “before I die”.

#2 The Purchase Trigger

What people buy is based in large part on what comes to their mind. When people consider a party, Taco Bell may come to one’s mind easier than any other fast food.

In his book ContagionJonah Berger talks about the importance of associations and what he calls triggers. For instance, Cadbury has done a good job at associating their Cadbury eggs with spring. Triggers and associations, not just quality of products, are important to purchase decisions. If people don’t think about the product they won’t buy it.

#3 The Expectation Bias

When we expect something to taste good, it will actually taste good. For instance, experiments show that wine tastes better when people think it is expensive.

As long as a food product is at least somewhat good to begin with, advertising can make it taste better. A taco that would normally taste okay, may taste amazing if we see a lot of ads that tell us it will be amazing.

With Locos Tacos, we may expect and even want to enjoy it. So when we have that first taco at a party we might think to ourselves, “Hey wow this is really good.” And because the commercials have given us an idea of what Locos Tacos fandom looks like, we may begin to immediately imitate that crazy fandom through words and behaviors. For instance we may say, “It’s like a fiesta party in my mouth” and nod our head to imaginary beat like the people in the commercials. We might even tweet (ironically), “Cool Ranch Tacos! Best idea ever! Duh! #LiveMas.”


In 14 months Taco Bell sold 500 million Locos Tacos. They accomplished this because they did not just simply create a product. They created a fun story, triggers to remind people to purchase, the expectation that the product would be good, and the vocabulary to describe enjoyment of the first bite and begin fandom.

When people think of marketing, they often think of lies, tricks, and deceptive sales. Modern marketing is so much more than that.

Taco Bell has created an enjoyable story. A story that almost mocks itself in how ridiculous it is, but a story we love buying into, even if only ironically. Instead of lying to us, Taco Bell invites us into the lie, where we participate in exaggeration of how amazing the tacos are, in service of our own enjoyment.


Dan Ariely Interview on Indecision Blog

dan-arielyphotoRecently, I interviewed Professor Dan Ariely for the Research Heroes series on Indecision Blog. You can read the full interview here. Below are my favorite lines from the interview.


On what academia has been missing.

“We have been ignoring culture too much.”


Advice to graduate students

“Love first – suitable with the profession second.”


On Data

“I think of analyzing data as almost a religious experience. Sadly, I don’t do it as much as I use to, but on that day I took a glass of wine.”


What he’d be in another life.

“I would have loved to been architect as I think of them as designers of human interaction. Granted, not all architects but many are: they create the environment in which people live, and in that perspective I think they are like social scientist but in a particular domain. I would have loved to try that and have an impact on how people live.”


How Pacific Rim Made Me Feel Like a Child — But Reminded Me I Am an Adult

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 8.56.52 AMThe day before Pacific Rim opened, I walked by the film’s dramatic poster hanging in my local mall. I felt a prickle of excitement, believing the film would transport me to same wonder, magic, and joy I felt when I watched Godzilla films in my youth.

And then out of a toy story bounced an exhilarated nine-year-old boy holding a Pacific Rim action figure and speaking at hyper-speed to his dad about the differences between all the monsters and robots.

He pointed to the different pictures on the back of the box and explained at length about each Kaiju and Jaeger — the names, the pilots, the weapons, the weaknesses, and more. The movie had not even came out and he already loved it.

He was a boy in bliss.

And I knew then, that no matter how good Pacific Rim would be, it was not going to take me back to same wonder and magic of my childhood. I am not a kid anymore. I just don’t experience movies the same way.

The next night I saw the fantastic Pacific Rim, the scenes (especially the Hong Kong battle) reminded me of what I felt as a child. But the reminder was only a shadow of a former feeling. When the Gipsy Danger used a rock-propelled punch to smash a Kaiju’s face, I felt excitement. But the excitement came only with a smirk, not a childish cheer.

As a child I would have been ecstatically thrilled by this movie. The movie’s end would have been a new beginning into years of immersion into the fictional world. I would have talked nonstop about the movie with my friends and parents. I would get the toys and play for hours, expanding on the stories. At a Barnes and Noble, I’d find myself sprawl out in an aisle with the encyclopedia guide to the film and the comic book origin story.

Yet, on this Friday night, when Pacific Rim ended, it pretty much ended for me. My three friends and I who had consumed Kaiju and Jaeger stories throughout our youth went to a lovely outdoor bar after the film, talked about it for a few minutes and then the conversation strayed to our careers, families, and the next films we would see. I came home and read a few short blogs about the film, but that was it. That was the extent of my experience with Pacific Rim, a two-hour movie with about 20 minutes of discussion after, and no more.

Losing the Magic

As a social psychologist and consumer researcher, I study how people consume and think about products. One thing that us researchers find over and over again, is that adults tend to say things like, “Movies were so much more magical and wonderful in my childhood.”

Adults seem to believe that modern movies have lost the magical feeling, when the truth is: Adults have lost the magical feeling.

In many ways, the world of entertainment stays the same. Hollywood continues to make a few monster movies and Hasbro continues to make toys about them. However, though the world stays the same, we don’t.

We get old, we get busy, we get analytical, and today, we don’t consume products the same way we use to. It’s impossible to think that any movie could ever come out today that the nerds brought up in the 70s and 80s would enjoy as much as the original Star Wars.

Can movies like Pacific Rim or The Avengers still make us feel strong emotions? Of course they can. But those emotions don’t even begin to approximate the strength and duration of the emotions of a blissful child. Like it or not, the bliss clock has a timer on it, and for us adults, it might be up.

Turning Back the Clock

Is there hope though? Can we turn back the clock to childhood bliss? Maybe.

If we think about how kids enjoy movies, such as uncritical play, talk, and exploration of the movie outside of the movie itself, we can copy that “how.” So if you liked Pacific Rim, go find a friend who also did and talk passionately and at length about the film, post online about, watch a behind the scenes video, buy a Jaeger model and display it proudly on your office desk.

Pacific Rim may make you feel like a child for a moment, but it’s your job to keep that wonder alive. The film is an invitation for you to return to a childhood state, but you need to fully accept that invitation with enthusiasm and actions if you are going to have any chance to feel that category 5 level sense of wonder and magic.

Originally posted on The Huffington Post.

AOPO Presentation

apop lab

Today, I gave a talk about using social science to help improve organ donation at the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations annual conference. To all those at AOPO, it has wonderful meeting you, talking to you, and learning from you.

If you want to know more …

My Slides: Click here for slides.

Watch: What is Behavioral Economics (4 Minutes)

Still interested then watch: Dan Ariely Ted Talk (17 Minutes)

Still interested then read: Predictably Irrational.

About my website PeopleScienceBlog…

I also write about a lot of topics related to behavioral economics  here at PeopleScienceBlog.com where I collate things I write for the Huffington Post, Indecision Blog, Center for Advanced Hindsight, a few other outlets, and also include some of my favorite recent social science findings from others.

So check back here if you are looking for a steady but not overwhelming stream of information. You can also follower me on twitter @TroyHCampbell where I tweet but not too much.

Please feel free to contact me at troy.campbell@duke.edu

What book to read?

If you are interested in the medical world start with Peter Ubel’s Critical Decisions.

If you are a manager start with  Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s Switch.

Otherwise start with Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.

A Main Finding in Behavioral Sciences: We Forget

No matter how smart we think we are, we tend to forget things.  We forget not to project our emotions on others. We forget the statistical rules about how useless small sample sizes are and instead use intuitive feelings about only a few observations. We forget things we were taught in a training session three years ago.

So follow the Three R’s to keep yourself on track.

Reminders – Whether it’s a poster on a wall, a comment from a colleague, or meeting where you check up with your fellow employees and remind each other

Read – Always be a student. Keep reading books that you’ve read before or new ones. Spend at least an hour every week immersed in research or opinion pieces. Keep the mind expanding.

Re-Train – Keep up the role playing and the training. Just because people will say “I know this already” doesn’t mean they “know” it when they are on the job, without constant re-training and reminding.


Religion is great at the three R’s. Every week the pastor teaches a few new things, but most importantly the pastor reminds people of the important doctrine.  Pastors know that no matter how good the doctrine is, if people do not consistently focus on religion doctrine they will stray.

Best Articles from Early June Via Twitter


If you have an article you think we should post or read, tweet it to @TroyHCampbell

Why We Ignore the Biggest Problem in Education

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 9.47.54 PM

It is an indisputable fact that if children showed up on day one of first grade smarter, better behaved, and with stable mental health, schools would function better. It would be better for these kids, the other kids in their classroom, and the teachers.

Lifetime success is greatly influenced by the first five years of life. Schools can help children improve themselves, but schools cannot be expected to save children who have poor home lives or lack adequate mental health services.

To improve American education, we need to fix the general social climate. We must not exclusively focus on what happens in schools, but what happens before and outside of school. We must acknowledge that much of the education problem comes from bigger social problems such as poor parenting, and limited, misguided, or recklessly ignored social services.

We won’t solve the education problem till we solve the “Day One Problem” and acknowledge the simple fact: on day one of first grade, we need better kids, not just better teachers.

So why don’t we recognize the Day One Problem?

No matter the issue, people have a tendency to ignore contextual factors and blame focial visible factors. This tendency manifests itself in education when people ignore how important parenting, mental health, and early childhood are to educational success and instead focus on teachers and curriculum.

This tendency to ignore context and instead attribute blame to visible focal factors is such a fundamental human bias that psychologists label it the fundamental attribution bias.

Not only do some parents misguidedly blame schools, some parents may actively want to blame schools. You’ve probably met one of these parents. Blaming schools allows these parents to hide from the reality that A) they are not the best parents or B) something is wrong with their child.

It is very difficult for a parent to admit they need help with parenting, that their home life is problematic, and they personally need social services or therapy. Likewise, it’s very difficult for parents to admit that their children may not be the brightest students or that their children may need help with mental issues. Some parents do admit these problems, but these brave and rational parents are far too rare.

Let me be clear: there are definitely problems with some schools, teachers, and laws. We know these problems well, because these problems get talked about all the time. However, the Day One Problem rarely breaks into daily conversation. It’s almost taboo to talk about because it seems like one is blaming America’s children.

That’s why I say in this article “we need better kids.” It is a direct attempt to break the norm. Children are obviously not to blame. Society, laws, some parents, and a host of other large contextual factors are to blame. We must step up and break political correctness and say that on Day 1, the kids need to be better. They need to be smarter, healthier, and better behaved.

In the end, schools cannot save children. Children must be up to an adequate level on Day One. It’s up to parents and us as a society to make children better prepared for Day One.

Originally posted at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/troy-campbell/kids-parents-education_b_3381936.html

Google Glass: The Next Segway or Next Revolution?

glassDo you remember Segway, that odd, upright, (and sometimes dangerous) electric scooter?  Pundits once predicted the Segway would revolutionize personal transportation and reduce American oil dependency. As it turns out, these days, it is used either by corny tour groups in large cities or it’s been relegated to the object of sight gags and physical comedy, from “Arrested Development” to “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”

After examining Google’s latest product, Google Glass, it is hard not to question whether it is ready for the market. With a design reminiscent of the “Terminator” films and a preliminary price tag of $1,500, Glass risks being the biggest flop since Segway if Google doesn’t learn from Segway’s mistakes.

The Segway failed, not because of poor engineering, but because of poor attention to consumer psychology. Similarly, Google Glass might be functional from an engineering point of view, but does it have the form necessary to generating mass-market appeal? To this point, it looks like the tech giant is trying to avoid these “Segway barriers,” but as consumer psychologists, we have few suggestions for Google.

Psychological principles that suggest why Google may succeed

1. Form and function combined create positive feelings for consumers.

Segway had functionality, but its form lacked elegance. As a result, Segway was unable to shed its awkward image. In its current form, Glass is more like the nerdy Segway than the sleek iPhone. Google seems to be making efforts to streamline, or “de-geek,” its new product by hiring experts to redesign it.

Until Google is ready to launch a redesigned Glass, the company’s ad campaigns center on attractive models. This technique invites consumers to associate Glass with the positive feelings evoked when we look at attractive people.

2. The more effort we put into acquiring a product, the more we tend to value and enjoy that product.

To determine who would test the first version of Glass, Google held the “Glass Explorer” competition, in which applicants submitted Twitter entries with the hashtag, “#ifihadglass”. Winners were given the “privilege” to buy Glass for $1,500. By participating in the contest, consumers became mentally and emotionally invested in Glass. This led to “effort justification,” meaning that those who expend more effort to get the product and then pay for it come to value it more.

As a bonus for Google, all this effort demonstrates to interested observers that Glass is valuable.  This type of user exclusivity plays on scarcity, a psychological hot button that ultimately makes Glass more desirable.

How Google can improve its marketing strategy for Glass

Even with the efforts Google has already undertaken to ensure that Glass won’t flop, we offer a few further suggestions to help guarantee a successful launch.

1. Create advertising campaigns that appeal broadly to normal people.

So far, marketing for Glass seems to center on young hipster techies in urban environments, but if Glass is going to succeed, Google needs to make ads that depict average people doing normal things. Granted, Google may be working to develop Glass’s “cool factor” before proving its functionality, but they will need to focus on the average consumer if Glass is going to sell big.

2. Get people to try on Glass.

If people see themselves using a product, they are more likely to buy it. There are also lingering questions about Glass that Google must address. How should consumers use the product? Is Glass something we wear all the time? What if we already wear glasses? Glass doesn’t make immediate sense in most of our lives: do we really need another gadget, given the proliferation of tablet computers and smartphones? To help consumers understand its functions and purposes, Google should have people try on Glass. Past research shows that consumers are more likely to buy products when they have theopportunity to test them. Testing a product may not improve its “cool factor,” but it certainly helps us imagine using the product in real life.


Google may be playing a long-term game with Glass, focusing on engineering first, followed by coolness, before setting their sights on breaking into other markets – something Apple did before it exploded. Even if this is their strategy, Google should make sure to foreground the psychology of design. Otherwise Glass will go the way of the Segway, at medium speed into closet of cobwebs or, worse yet, end up used primarily by groups of ironic hipsters going on “urban tours.”

~Rachel Anderson and Troy Campbell~

Originally posed at: http://advanced-hindsight.com/2013/05/22/google-glass-the-next-segway-or-next-revolution/

Ikea’s New Free Food Deal — and the Powerful Psychology Behind It

troy receiptThis summer, Ikea lets customers eat completely free on certain days. Here’s exactly what the deal looks like for the Charlotte Ikea (deals vary slightly by location).

Charlotte, NC
Eat for FREE — EVERY Thursday and Saturday in June.
Eat for Free in our restaurant by spending $150 in the store and then deducting the cost of your meal from your store receipt upon checking out.

That means customers can get the meatballs, the smoked salmon, the lingonberries, the chicken fingers, and the hazelnut chocolate — and as long as they eat it on the premises, it’s all free.

Ikea seems to understand consumer psychology as this deal hits all the psychological buttons people like me go to graduate school to study about. Here’s a rundown.

It’s Free 
Free is not just any low price, it’s a special price. People value it more than they rationally should. Ikea often offers $0.99 mini-breakfasts, but research in consumer psychology shows people put a premium on free. Free has its own value and a warm glow around it. Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely explains the “special price of zero” in his best-selling bookPredictably Irrational.

It’s Freedom
Ikea not only makes the item free, it gives the customer freedom to get as much food as they want. My Ikea cashier even encouraged me to buy more.

Ikea is offering freedom in a genuine way here. That sets Ikea apart.

Also, it makes customers responsible for how much they save. Instead of considering whether Ikea is offering a good enough deal, customers may ask themselves, “Am I taking enough advantage of this offer?” Customers may even be proud of how much they saved by stuffing their faces.

It’s Food
2013-06-02-ScreenShot20130601at11.53.05PM.pngIkea wants you to start your trip eating. You need the calories and caffeine to make it all the way through the showroom and marketplace. Customers can become tired out by making constant decisions and potentially just give up or become too frustrated to shop. Glucose consumption can prevent this depletion and keep customers shopping.

Food and chatting over food also makes people happy. Harvard researchers contacted people on their smart phones at random times during the day. They measured people’s momentary happiness and found that people tended to be the happiest when they had just eaten, socialized or had sex. The fact that people are not only eating but feasting on free food may intensify this happiness.

Importantly for Ikea’s profits, when people are happy they tend to be less vigilant in their thoughts, which may lead them to buy more.

It’s Ikea
Additionally, Ikea is not just any store, it’s a special store. People love it, maybe more than they rationally should. Ikea’s trustworthy image allows it to offer deals without seeming manipulative. If another company, e.g. a BP gas station, offered a similar deal, it might make customers stop and worry that they were being tricked.

Certain brands activate what is known as ‘persuasion knowledge‘. This leads customers to be vigilant for persuasion tactics. Ikea tends not to activate ‘persuasion knowledge.’

It’s Going to Make You Spend Money
The $150 price point may lead people to turn their trip into a big furniture trip or at least encourage them to be looser with their money. People may start their shopping trip with a goal to spend money, not necessarily to get specific products. As the shopping continues, a $150 target may become $400 as the positive vibes of a gluttonous free feast carry over into a willingness to spend money.

Final Thoughts
In the end what’s so fascinating is that customers may be completely aware of how Ikea’s deal will manipulate them. But they may be fine with it anyway.

Ikea has taken shopping from something that usually causes a pain of paying and turned it into an event with a feast. Ikea profits because it makes us smile even when that credit card slides. One way to view this is that Ikea is an evil corporation trying to trick us. Another way to view this is that Ikea has made the chore of shopping fun. Luckily for Ikea, their customers prefer this latter view.

troy dead

Originally posted at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/troy-campbell/ikeas-new-free-food-deal-_b_3373368.html

Can People Choose Their Emotions Like Spock?

figuresIn Star Trek Into Darkness, Spock claims he can choose whether or not to feel an emotion. He makes a good case that in certain situations feelings would not functionally help him and that resisting feelings would spare him from suffering. The always emotionally charged Captain Kirk asks Spock how he does it, claiming that he himself cannot.

So the natural question is: Can humans chose how to feel or is this simply a Vulcan thing?

The answer is that people can often act in a Vulcan manner and choose their feelings.

In many cases we do not wish to feel certain emotions. For instance, when watching a commercial about the mass sufferings of others, one may not want to feel compassion and sadness, and instead simply enjoy the comedy program they are watching. ResearcherDaryl Cameron and colleagues find that in these situations, people can “go cold” and turn off their empathy. As Daryl Cameron writes, you “can choose to feel more compassion.”

Additionally, meditation and mindfulness are all practices that can teach people to calm their emotions. People can develop the ability and skills to stop (or reduce) themselves from feeling certain intense emotions. Daryl Cameron also finds that people with higher empathy regulation can turn it off more easily in specific situations.

People can also choose to feel something more intensely, not just less. Sometimes we may want to feel certain emotions. We may want to feel angry before a competition, feel sad before volunteering for a charity, or feel disappointed with ourselves in order to motivate ourselves. People can both psychologically and behaviorally lead themselves to take on these emotions, e.g. by exposing themselves to different warm up music like a violent (or calm) set of songs.

However, emotions cannot always be chosen. People have immediate emotional reactions.These emotions may be consciously re-appraised, but some emotions may be too powerful to overcome. Furthermore, some emotions may operate unconsciously.

Thus, although people have some autonomous control over their emotions, they are not robots. No matter how well humans can control their emotions, like the half-human Spock in the new Star Trek films, nearly all humans can become emotionally compromised.

So is the ability to choose your feelings a good thing? In the end, to live a successful and happy life, a person needs to be both the unfeeling Vulcan and the feeling human. This means knowing when one should choose not to feel and when one should let their emotions run wild. Star Trek Into Darkness provides a good commentary on the difficulty of this balancing act and how it complicates issues of friendship, revenge, and rational action.

Originally Posted at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/troy-campbell/can-people-choose-their-e_b_3307323.html