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Conformity and Anti-Conformity in Advertising

Research Paper- Conformity and Anti-Conformity in Advertising

It seems that every day someone tries something new because it was the recommendation by their peers. It’s obvious right, if others like this service or product it must have its merits? The reviews and opinions you received from your peers help you make your decision. This is a common every day practice that happens and is encouraged by the advertisement industry. Advertisers promote this in many ways and use conformity and anti-conformity to increase sales.

You may think that advertising agencies do not greatly influence the way you act or use your money, but you are misguided. Advertising agencies not only heavily influence purchasing decisions, but they influence consumers’ opinions on products also. For example, to explain anti-conformity or individuality let’s say that all of a young man’s friends own entry level cars which are nothing special. He will try to differentiate himself from the crowd and buy something completely different, such as a BMW convertible. This appeals to him because it makes him different; he is not conforming. Many advertisers appeal to this by adopting a style of advertising that makes you seem cooler, and more unique if you have their product. Their tactic is to make you feel as if you are in a special group that is much cooler or better than your peers.

On the other hand, another tactic used by advertisers is conformity. Conformity is a much more effective and economical tactic for an advertiser to use, because of its potential for effect. A conformist advertising tactic uses a technique called the “bandwagon effect”. A bandwagon effect is when people make purchasing decisions similar to that of their peers. This sometimes comes from an urge to “fit in” with their social groups. For example, if all of a young teen’s friends have new IPods the kid will desire to fit in and have one of their own. If he gets one he will feel as if he belongs in the group. Marketers have a huge advantage if they can penetrate any social group, because if they can persuade a group to think that their product is the new “in” thing then they can quickly saturate the whole group with their product because as soon as a few have it the rest will want it, so that they can fit in and be like their peers. As shown by a November 2009 Synovate survey over 53 percent of people polled said that they help others decide in making product purchasing decisions. (eMarketer) This data also revealed that almost 58 percent of men polled help others with their decisions on what products to purchase, and 50 percent of women polled do also (eMarketer). What this data points out is that over half of your peers will attempt to assist you in your decision making process when you decide to make a purchase.

Marketers revere this word-of-mouth marketing, it is one of the most influential and effective forms of advertising. As stated as the introduction to a web-based seminar for WOMMA also known as The Word of Mouth Marketing Association, titled “The Power of Consumer to Consumer Recommendations,”

“There’s no question that today’s consumer takes a remarkably different path to making a purchase decision than consumers did even 10 years ago. Today’s consumer puts great stock in the opinion of friends, family and other influential individuals – more so than any form of brand-sponsored advertising. One of the hottest topics facing marketers today is how to engage consumers in conversation about their brands, products and services.”

This comes as no surprise, verified by a 2009 Neilson Company study that came to the conclusion that 90 percent of their surveyed audience, which was 25,000 people from 50 different countries, has trust in their peers’ opinions as advertising. This means that 90 percent of these people trust their peers’ opinions as a viable form of reliable advertising. Comparatively only 69 percent of people from this same poll had confidence in editorials as a way to convince them about a product. This is a definite indicator that peer influence is prevalent in our society.

The average American experiences heavy media influence on purchasing decisions on a daily basis. Advertisers use both appeals to conformity and to individuality in their strategies to usher in higher sales volume. These tactics are detrimental to the public economic well-being because they encourage poor economic choices such as wasteful spending. Consumers should seek education to help realize when advertisers are attempting to coerce the public into making poorly educated economic decisions.

Now, after hearing about what the current situation is like you may wonder why it is important or why it affects you. As reported in the BBC news story “Peer Pressure ‘To Blame’ for Debt”, “National Savings & Investments asked 3,000 people whether the influence of friends was a cause of overspending. Of those aged between 16 and 24, 44 percent said it was.” This is an alarming trend because this shows that nearly half of our youngest generation is easily influenced by their friends and peers into overspending. As shown by Julie Sturgeon’s article “Younger Americans Going Deeper into Debt”, adults aged 18-24 saw an increase in credit card debt by 104 percent from 1992 to 2001. So our credit cards are being stretched to the limit because we are mere sheep in marketers’ game as to how, what, and how much to sell to us.

Another study shows our natural tendency to flow with the crowd. “Peer influence on young adults’ products purchase decisions” written by R Makgosa and K Mohube is a very interesting study that examined many different facets of the consumer atmosphere in Botswana. They used 4 products. Sunglasses were chosen to represent public luxuries, cell phone to represent private luxuries, shoes to represent public necessities, and toothpaste to represent private necessities. Makgosa and Mohube were studying peer influence and its effect on purchasing. They used a collective group of college students to research their opinions on which of the goods they would decide to purchase and how public image and the individuals will to conform would affect these purchasing decisions. The results had a tendency to show that a teenaged college student would choose a public item (i.e. sunglasses or shoes) over a private item (I.e. cell phone or toothpaste). This was due to the fact that under high visibility a person is more apt to want products that are better for the public appearance of an individual. Their study also presented that an individual is more likely to choose a public luxury (sunglasses) over a private necessity (toothpaste). It then goes on to explain that in some cases public perception of a group on an individual is as important to an individual as personal needs. The same conclusion is drawn from a person’s tendency to gravitate towards buying shoes (a public necessity) over toothpaste ( a private necessity). In almost every case this study showed that a person will try to be as visually affluent as possible and therefore will be convinced by the crowd to make more expensive purchases to fit in with the group. (Makgosa, Mohube)

Some may argue that consumers do have the final call in making their economic decisions. While this is true, take into account that throughout history that many times an individual will cave into a group opinion and lose all sense of individuality. This is especially true in cults and extremist groups because they are controlled by someone of perceived authority. The most obvious flaw of thinking this way is that this argument does not take into account the strength and effectiveness of the immense pressure brought on by an individual’s peer group. The following excerpt from Dr. James Dobson’s “A Case Study on Peer Pressure”, explains some of the powers of peer pressure,

“When you feel worthless and foolish – when you don’t like yourself – then you are more frightened by the threat of ridicule or rejection by your friends. You become more sensitive about being laughed at. You lack the confidence to be different. Your problems seem bad enough without making them any worse by defying the wishes of the majority. So you dress the way they tell you to dress, and you talk the way they tell you to talk, and your ideas are the group’s ideas.”

This passage explains some of the force of peer pressure. This ties in directly into conformity marketing because an individual in a group will follow the wishes of his group and a marketer can target and exploit that aspect. These people are submissive and with the correct marketing techniques can be herded and convinced to purchase anything that the marketer wishes them to. By an individual’s desire to be a member of the group they can be convinced to buy products that will make them better fit in with the group.

Now since this is such a hidden problem, others may argue that there is no easy way to fix this issue. On this aspect, I agree. However, the only way to fix this problem is to start at the base issue. The main issue is that consumers are not educated enough in making their purchasing decisions. They do not research their purchases enough. Uneducated purchasing decisions end up being costly; because they pass up searching for a better deal for the immediate convenience factor, they are losing out on much savings that they could have kept for future purchases. These consumers are significantly minimizing their potential purchasing power. This harms the country’s economy as a whole.

Some companies are already taking strides to educate their consumers. This following excerpt from “Educating Consumers Brings Innovative Solutions To Traditional Marketing” by Kimetha Hill for Wejungo Network explains how Best Buy is taking a new approach to educating customers.

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“Best Buy has launched a sister website to, This website is specifically geared towards the consumer. It provides useful, ground-breaking information on their products and services offered. This website offers a fresh prospective for the consumer to learn about the different products offered in addition to how to use them, the best way in which to use them and specifically how a particular product benefits them. In essence, Best Buy On shows the consumer how to get the most out of their money. Moreover, this site houses online tutorials and present day electronic information from around the globe.”

This explains that Best Buy is taking huge strides to educate consumers in making the most out of their spending power. By doing this Best Buy is creating more loyal and informed customers who are not as helpless.

By breaking out of the selfish trends of marketing retailers could greatly increase sales. More informed consumers make better purchasing decisions and use the money that they have saved to buy even more products. The increased efficiency in purchasing could pay huge dividends for retailers as they would gain loyal consumers who would come back and make more purchases rather than wastefully buying something that they do not need then never coming back. By being fair and honest with customers companies could benefit from brand loyalty. According to Shane Gamble’s article “5 Secondary Benefits of Customer Loyalty”, “Brand advocacy occurs when a customer becomes a brand advocate. Brand advocates are your raving fans, evangelists who are so hopelessly in love with your brand that they will go out of their way to promote it for you, without having to be compensated.” These supporters tend to give direct recommendations to their peers and when their peers start to decide on what to purchase and find such a helpful retailer more sales will be made.

As stated by Solomon Asch, “That social influences shape every person’s practices, judgments, and beliefs is a truism to which anyone will readily assent.” By using social conformity retailers can usher in higher sales and initiate new desires in the minds of their consumers. Conformity in advertisement is a very useful tool that many marketing agencies use to increase sales. Conformity is harmful because it takes away a consumers ability to make educated smart purchasing decisions. By educating their consumers honestly retailers could increase sales and create loyal customers who will even further increase their future sales. Educating consumers is a great way for marketers to honestly increase sales and increase the well-being of society in today’s world. Businesses will make a leap into a more truthful and successful marketplace by emphasizing their sincere interest in giving the customer an amazing purchasing decision and marketing maximum efficiency of their products to their customers to reduce wasteful spending that could affect their future sales. These businesses only need a push, and there is only one force in society that will force these businesses to make this necessary leap for the dual well-being of the customer and retailer and it is you, the consumer.

Works Cited

Asch, Solomon E. Opinions and Social Pressure. British Columbia: Scientific American, 1955. Print.

Dobson, James, Dr. "A Case Study on Peer Pressure." (n.d.): n. pag. Microform.

Gamble, Shane. "5 Secondary Benefits of Customer Loyalty." Sweet Tooth 5 Secondary Benefits of Customer Loyalty Comments. Sweet Tooth, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <>.


"Harnessing Active Brand Advocates." - EMarketer. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <>.

Hill, Kimetha. "Educating Consumers Brings Innovative Solutions To Traditional Marketing." Wejungo Network. N.p., 4 Feb. 2011. Web. 2 Apr. 2013. <>.

Keller, Ed, and Peter Oxley. "WOMMA : WOMMA Non-Member Resource Library." WOMMA : WOMMA Non-Member Resource Library. N.p., 09 July 2012. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <>.

Makgosa, R., and K. Mohube. "Peer Influence on Young Adults’ Products Purchase Decisions." African Journal of Business Management (2007): n. pag. Web.

"Peer Pressure 'to Blame' for Debt." BBC News. BBC, 13 Dec. 2006. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <>.

Sturgeon, Julie. "Younger Americans Going Deeper into Debt." Younger Americans Going Deeper into Debt. N.p., 17 Jan. 2005. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. <>.

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