INTRODUCTION People are bombarded everyday with millions of advertisements, endorsements, and product suggestions. All of these efforts attempt to convince the individual to buy a particular product because it will bring some satisfaction to their life. The task of the marketer is to establish a marketing strategy that will be successful in this goal. Many of the ads on television and in magazines place emphasis on beautiful people and fun settings and associate them with the benefits that one product offers over another. Many companies spend millions of dollars hiring marketing research firms to collect data and determine which method of persuasion works better to sell their products. In 2002, United States companies spent more than $5.9 billion on marketing/advertising/opinion research services (Honomichl, 2003). Another approach to advertising may be to first determine a better understanding of why certain methods are more successful in convincing people to purchase products. This understanding may give marketing researchers clearer insight into what products will work with each persuasion method. Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) correctly stated that the effect of others helps provide an explanation for many marketing applications. The majority of marketing strategies focus on showing beautiful and happy people using certain products, therefore, we are to assume that we should use those products in order to be more like the beautiful, happy people. Another form of endorsement method seen on television is having average people appear to give testimonies about the quality of a product by either verbal or non-verbal expressions. Both of these advertising methods build off of a willingness to conform, but just appeal to different markets. Younger adults and teens are often more drawn to the ads with beautiful people due to their efforts to be “cool.” However, older adults who are more settled in their self-image are more likely to be drawn to an “average Joe” which they can relate to. Many psychological studies have focused on this idea of conformity as a marketing tool. In one study on adolescents, conformity was found to be a motivating factor in their clothing purchases (Chen-Yu & Seock, 2002). Studies conducted by Meyer and Anderson (2000) showed that conformity even effected children as young as eight years old and that as children grow older, conformity effected more of the purchasing decisions they made. The present study concentrated on college consumers’ response to conformity pressure. Solomon E. Asch completed one of the first studies on the willingness of people to conform. Asch (1955) understood the effect that social influence could have on a person’s life. In his experiments, he used methods based on visual perceptions of line lengths and found that people were often willing to state opinions contrary to the obvious answer in a setting in which all others in the room were doing the same. It was also determined that the amount of people necessary to illicit such a response was as few as three. At this point, the willingness to conform would with decrease or plateau (Asch, 1955). People are susceptible to conformity in most areas of their lives. In fact, if an individual is willing to conform in one area, they are usually willing to conform in many areas (Bearden, Netemeyer, & Teel, 1989). This extends into the realm of purchasing decisions, especially when the individuals are highly concerned with how others view their behavior (Bearden & Rose, 1990). Typically, conformity is more likely to occur if the individual identifies with those who are giving their opinion, or those in an advertisement (Lascu & Zinkhan, 1999). Peer influences affect individuals throughout their lifetime. As previously mentioned, conforming behavior can start as early as eight years old. Pre-adolescents indicated that peer influences were “somewhat or fairly important” in their purchasing decisions. Furthermore, the pre-adolescents tended to buy and act in a way that agreed with the groups they identified themselves with (Meyer & Anderson, 2000). This socialization process developed even further in adolescents. It has been found that more often adolescents rely on their peers’ opinions in purchases over their parents. In a study by Chen-Yu and Seock (2002), both males and females were asked to complete a survey by answering questions about how they shop for clothing. For both male and female adolescents, conformity was found to be a significant motivation to purchase certain clothing (Chen-Yu & Seock, 2002). Lascu and Zinkhan (1999) discussed the importance of conformity by noting that if this phenomena is true in a large target market, marketers can search for more ways to mass market these ideas of interpersonal peer influences and increase the success of their product dramatically. However, they also noted that it appeared a conformity approach had less effect on older more educated adults such as professionals and that different marketing approaches may need to be used with those target markets. The reasons for the effectiveness of conformity on purchasing decisions are not certain. Once a person has conformed to group pressure and agreed that they are interested in a product, they will often agree to purchase that product. According to Spangenberg, Sprott, Grohmann, and Smith (2003) once a person stated they would purchase a product they were extremely likely to do so. This is an example of the direct effect conformity can have on purchasing decisions. A leading argument for this occurrence is that consumers will later purchase a product that they previously stated they would in order to avoid cognitive dissonance (Spangenberg et al, 2003). This suggests that a self-prophecy effect exists and that another effective marketing campaign would be to lead people to make self-predications about their willingness to purchase something because it will increase the likeliness that they will purchase it (Spangenberg et al (2003). The present study described the effect of conformity on purchasing decisions; however, it did not focus on the reasons for the effect, but only to noted if existed or not. In the present study, we attempted to describe the effect of conformity and its relationship with purchasing decisions among college consumers. Conformity was noted as an individual’s verbal agreement with a group. Purchasing decisions were measured by answers on a questionnaire about willingness to purchase. Participants were placed into settings where they believed they were being asked to rate products and their decisions would then be compared to demographics and family background questions to discover trends. The true situation involved three confederates who would all give the same answer about a product’s quality that was actually contrary to its true quality in order to determine is participants would conform to group pressure. Later, participants were asked to rate the products and their willingness to purchase the products in order to examine how often conformity related to purchasing decision. Similar studies have proven that consumers would agree one product was better than another in accordance with group opinions (Bearden & Rose, 1990). Often times the difference was minimal and the participants were asked to select one product over another. The present study only focused on the quality of each product individually and extreme differences existed between the true quality and the quality stated by the confederates. We also know that much study has been conducted about conformity and consumer behavior for young adults; however, this study focused singly on college students’ purchasing motivations. A significant way that this study differed from others is that products were placed in identical cups and no reference was given to what type of drink they were or their brand. Most previous research focused on determining consumers’ willingness to purchase certain brands in order to establish their identity in reference groups (Lascu & Zinkham, 1999). Furthermore, in studies conducted by Bearden and Rose (1990), all participants were asked to compare products that were similar in nature. In this study, participants were comparing drinks that were not similar to each other in an effort to establish their individual quality with no comparison available. The present study examined the idea of conformity from a new standpoint by focusing on consumer reactions to individual products. In addition, it measured willingness to purchase immediately after conformity results were taken, in hope of finding a relationship between the two. It was expected that in group settings of three individuals, participants will verbally conform to the group response even if it was contrary to their own opinion. Furthermore, we expected participants’ to hold that opinion on private questionnaires by rating quality and willingness to purchase in accordance with their verbal answer.
Thirty-two Loyola University New Orleans undergraduate students voluntarily participated in this study. Both male and female students were used to approximately an equal amount of males and females. All participants were over 18 years of age. Participants were recruited using the psychology subject pool at Loyola University New Orleans. Particpants were also recruited by attending Introduction to Psychology classes to enlist students.
Conformity was manipulated in the current study by having all confederates state the same response. The verbal responses of participants were recorded to measure conformity. A filler questionnaire was administered to each participant in order to conceal the true nature of the study. The only relevant questions administered asked about the quality of each product tested and the participants’ willingness to purchase the product. All of the relevant questions were yes or no questions. The first question asked the participant if they thought the first product was high quality. The second questions asked if they would purchase the first product. Questions three and four asked the same about the second product. These questions measured the variable of purchasing decisions.
This study was a descriptive study. Two variables were observed in the present study. The first was conformity, which we noted in both positive and negative situations. Conformity was measured by a subjects’ willingness to verbally agree with the group about the opinion of the second product. The second variable that was studied was purchasing decisions. We measured this variable according to the response a participant gave on the survey about their willingness to purchase. Since the study was descriptive, we had no independent, dependent or subject variables.Testing occurred in individual sessions on seven days in a four-week period. Each session consisted of two researchers, three confederates, and one participant. In the classroom, the products tested were (A) Coca-Cola, (B1) pickle juice mixed with Sprite, and (B2) Gatorade. Every participant was given Product A. Each participant was also randomly assigned either Product B1 or Product B2. Participants arrived to the study location in the psychology department of Loyola University. They were then seated in the classroom with three confederates whom they believed were other participants. They were provided a basic introduction to the study and told that the purpose of the study was to determine how family background and demographics affected product decisions. They were then handed two copies of the consent form, both of which they signed, keeping one for their records and turning in the other to the researchers. The consent forms asked about food or drink allergies and if any participants had allergies to the products being tested, the researcher thanked them for their time and allowed them to leave the study. The first product administered to both groups was Coca-cola. The confederates were instructed to give differing opinions on the quality of the product. This part of the experiment was simply to set up the façade for the remainder of the experiment. In room one, the participant and confederates were then given the Sprite and pickle juice mixture, a foul-testing mixture. The confederates were instructed to uniformly state that they really liked the product and thought it was of high quality. It was then observed whether or not the participant agreed that the foul-testing product was excellent. The researcher noted verbal conformity in the group setting and later marked it on the participants’ questionnaires. In room two, participant and confederates were given Gatorade, a sweet-tasting power drink. The confederates were instructed to uniformly state their distaste for the product and its poor quality. It was then observed whether or not the participant agreed that the sweet-tasting drink was of low quality. Next, a survey was administered to the participant and each of the confederates (see Appendix). In order to keep the guise of the study, the first set of questions were filler questions regarding demographics and family background. The next set of questions asked each individual’s opinion about the quality of both products previously tested and if the consumer was or was not willing to purchase the products. The participants were given as much time as necessary to complete the survey. The participants were asked not to put their names anywhere on the survey. When the survey was collected, the researcher noted whether or not the subject conformed verbally prior to filling out the study. Once the survey was completed or a participant decided not to complete it, the participant was debriefed and encouraged to ask questions. We explained why deception was necessary, and we also asked they not discuss the study with anyone to allow us to collect data without our true purpose being discovered. Any questions raised were addressed and participants were thanked and allowed to leave.
RESULTS The research results findings showed that the majority of participants did not conform. It was hypothesized that participants would verbally conform to a group about product evaluation. Only 34.4 percent (n = 32) of total participants conformed. This does not support the hypothesis that the participants would conform in group settings since only 11 participants conformed. It was furthered hypothesized that of those that conformed, they would be consistent in that decision by noting a willingness to purchase on a written questionnaire. Of that 34.4 percent who conformed, 54.5 percent or 6 participants (n = 32) were consistent in their purchasing decisions answer. This is not a large enough rate to support our second hypothesis because the sample size was small leading to a loss of power. For the pickle juice group, only 4 (n = 16) participants conformed. In the Gatorade group, 43.8 percent (n = 16) conformed. By coding the data according to whether or not participants conformed, we were able to run an independent samples t-test to see if conformity differed across conditions. This showed that even though the amount of people who conformed in the Gatorade group was larger, it was not a significant difference (t(32) = -1.103, p < .279).
DISCUSSION The results above do not support the hypotheses proposed at the beginning of this study. Participants did not conform in group settings. In addition, of those participants that did conform, only about half were consistent on the questionnaire. However, since the amount of people who conformed was so small it was not possible to determine if this would hold true for the entire population. It lacked external validity. The participants who did not conform were consistent in their willingness to not purchase on a private questionnaire. The results of this study are contrary to previous studies. Studies by researchers such as Meyer and Anderson (2000) and Chen-Yu and Seock (2002) found that both pre-adolescents and adolescents were willing to conform about products. One factor that may have made this study different is that the students were of an older age. This may have affected their willingness to conform. As previously mentioned, the consistency of willingness to purchase for those who conformed is difficult to measure due to the small amount of people who conformed. For a larger amount of participants who conformed, consistency may have been more noticeable. Bearden, Netemeyer, and Teel (1989) suggested that participants would be consistent because they found that if a person conformed in one area of their life, they were usually willing to conform in other areas. This would suggest that the participants would also conform on the purchasing decisions question. There were many reasons why this study may not have agreed with previous research. As the study was carried out, many mistakes were noticed. The consent form mentioned that conformity was being studied and this mistake was not caught until it was too late to correct. Another problem was that the study was set up so a non-conforming model was present. By having the confederates give differing answers about the Coca-Cola, participants were subjected to non-conformity, making it easier for them to not conform when they were expected to. Once non-conformity enters a situation, it makes it easier to not conform. Since this non-conformity was the first situation they experienced, it may not have been difficult to continue not conforming to the group. Another possible explanation for the unexpected results is the environment the subjects were drawn from. They were in their late teens and early twenties, which is sometimes believed to be an age where people are beginning to think for themselves and rely less on the opinions of others. Also, Loyola is a school with what appears to be a fairly independent student body. The number of different organizations and rallies on campus may be indicators that Loyola students are not likely to conform to norms. There are also some basic limitations on the study. The sample size was too small to get a significant analysis; it lacked power. More subjects would have been useful; however, it is likely that they would not have changed the outcome of the experiment due to the other factors affecting the validity of the experiment. In addition, the questionnaire was made up by the researchers and may not have been very valid. For example, one of the questions referred to the product as “high quality.” People may purchase products they do not view as high quality, such as fast food, so the wording may have been inappropriate. Furthermore, the drinks were choose by the researchers and may not have been good selections. For example, pickle juice is not liked by many people and has an obvious sour taste; therefore, the drink may have been too much of an extreme.Implications for this study are not many because of its lack of validity. Marketers could use this study to aid them in planning advertising slogans. If the results of this study are true and conformity is not a strong factor in purchasing, marketers may want to consider using slogans that focus on individuality. They may also use the study as a guide for mistakes to avoid when forming another study to determine how conformity really affects product selection.Future research could focus on areas of marketing and psychology. One idea is to study if conformity decreases with age. Since college students in this study were not willing to conform, but previous studies showed adolescents and younger were, it would be interesting to see how conformity levels change with age. Another possible study would be to do one similar to this one but focus on products that are more mediocre than good or bad. Examining this idea from the opposite angle could also help marketers. Research could focus on the effect of individuality advertising on product success. Any of the studies just mentioned could be significant for marketers forming product campaigns by examining the effect of different factors on different consumers’ product decisions.
REFERENCESAsch, S.E. (1955). Opinions and social pressure. Scientific American, 193(5), 31-35.
Bearden, W.O., Netemeyer, R.G., & Teel, J.E. (1989). Measurement of consumer susceptibility to interpersonal influence. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, 473-481.
Bearden, W.O., & Rose, R.L. (1990). Attention to social comparison information: An individual difference factor affecting consumer conformity. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 461-471.
Chen-Yu, J. H., & Seock, Y.K. (2002). Adolescents` clothing purchase motivations, information sources, and store selection criteria: A comparison of male/female and impulse/nonimpulse shoppers. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 31(1), 50-77.
Honomichl, J. (2003). Revenues up, but little real growth. Marketing News, 37(12), 3.
Lascu, D.N., & Zinkhan, G. (1999). Consumer conformity: Review and applications for marketing theory and practice. Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice, 7(3), 1-12.
Meyer, D.J., & Anderson, H.C. (2000). Preadolescents and apparel purchasing: Conformity to parents and peers in the consumer socialization process. Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, 15, 243-257.
Spangenberg, E.R., Sprott, D.E., Grohmann, B., & Ronn, J. (2003). Mass-communicated prediction requests: Practical application and a cognitive dissonance explanation for self-prophecy. Journal of Marketing, 67(3), 47-63.
Gender: M F
Ethnic Background: ____________________
What state were you raised in? _______________________
How many siblings do you have? _________
Parent’s marital status: Single Married Divorced Widowed
Comparing the products you have just tested to similar products currently on the market, please answer the following questions.
Do you think this is a Would you purchase high-quality product? this product?
Product A Yes No Yes No
Product B Yes No Yes No