When we buy a morning paper, we bypass the one directly on top of the stack. Instead we pull out the one directly underneath it. Why? Because we imagine that the second one hasn’t been manhandled by fingertips with germs and is cleaner. When women visit the ladies room at a restaurant or store, only 5 percent enter the first stall. Why? Because they believe it’s less clean than the second or third one.
The point is that the illusion of cleanliness or freshness is a subtle but powerful persuader and marketers know it. It is tied to our universal fear of germs, which ties into our innate fear of disease and illness.
Does any of this make us healthier? No, not really. But it does make us less afraid of getting sick.
It all goes back to dopamine.
So how does a shopping addiction start? It all goes back to dopamine, that feel-good neurotransmitter our brain’s limbic system spurts our to give us a “high” or “rush” so pleasurable that we can’t help but repeat the behavior as soon as dopamine drops back to normal levels. The more we experience the object or behavior, of our addition, the greater the tolerance we build up, meaning we need more and more of the substance or the behavior to get back that dopamine high.
We have become addicted to our smartphones. When we receive a new e-mail or text, our brains release a shot of dopamine, and thus we learn to associate that pleasurable feeling with the act of checking our phones.
Hooked on Brands
How do we get hooked on brands? It happens in two stages. The first is known as the routine stage. This is when we use certain brands or products as part of our daily habits or rituals. The second stage is known as the dream stage, where we buy things not because we need them but because we allowed emotional signals about them to penetrate our brains. It’s usually when we have let our guard down, over the weekend, on a vacation. When the weekend approaches, we shed our routines like an unwanted skin and become more susceptible to the dream stage.
A habit formed in the dream stage, and then the habit is reinforced and permanently embedded in the routine stage, at which time we are unconsciously longing for the dream stage feelings we left behind at the beach or at the spa.
We all know a person that has to have her Starbucks in the morning before she can function. Not just any coffee, it has to be Starbucks. Or maybe you are the person!
We as consumers act in much the same way as birds and termites. We are wired with a collective consciousness in that we size up what those around us are doing and modify our own actions and behaviors accordingly.