While those were the old days when companies made products which satisfied the need of the customer, we are today in a modern world, where corporates indulge in scientific study designed to create new habits which will help in selling their new products. While this article per se is about how it can be used to improve the public health, I am very skeptical about the altruistic nature of modern day corporates.
Some highlights from the article -
- Many of the products we use every day — chewing gums, skin moisturizers, disinfecting wipes, air fresheners, water purifiers, health snacks, antiperspirants, colognes, teeth whiteners, fabric softeners, vitamins — are results of manufactured habits. A century ago, few people regularly brushed their teeth multiple times a day. Today, because of canny advertising and public health campaigns, many Americans habitually give their pearly whites a cavity-preventing scrub twice a day, often with Colgate, Crest or one of the other brands advertising that no morning is complete without a minty-fresh mouth.
- A few decades ago, many people didn’t drink water outside of a meal. Then beverage companies started bottling the production of far-off springs, and now office workers unthinkingly sip bottled water all day long. Chewing gum, once bought primarily by adolescent boys, is now featured in commercials as a breath freshener and teeth cleanser for use after a meal. Skin moisturizers — which are effective even if applied at high noon — are advertised as part of morning beauty rituals, slipped in between hair brushing and putting on makeup.
- Not everyone is comfortable with the arrangements. Some critics complain that public health professionals are becoming too cozy with companies ultimately focused on their bottom lines. Others worry that these advertising techniques may be manipulative.
- “OUR products succeed when they become part of daily or weekly patterns,” said Carol Berning, a consumer psychologist who recently retired from Procter & Gamble, the company that sold $76 billion of Tide, Crest and other products last year. “Creating positive habits is a huge part of improving our consumers’ lives, and it’s essential to making new products commercially viable.” Through experiments and observation, social scientists like Dr. Berning have learned that there is power in tying certain behaviors to habitual cues through relentless advertising. “For most of our history, we’ve sold newer and better products for habits that already existed,” said Dr. Berning, the P.& G. psychologist. “But about a decade ago, we realized we needed to create new products. So we began thinking about how to create habits for products that had never existed before.”
- Academics were also beginning to focus on habit formation. Researchers like Wendy Wood at Duke University and Brian Wansink at Cornell were examining how often smokers quit while vacationing and how much people eat when their plates are deceptively large or small.
- Those and other studies revealed that as much as 45 percent of what we do every day is habitual — that is, performed almost without thinking in the same location or at the same time each day, usually because of subtle cues.
- For example, the urge to check e-mail or to grab a cookie is likely a habit with a specific prompt. Researchers found that most cues fall into four broad categories: a specific location or time of day, a certain series of actions, particular moods, or the company of specific people. The e-mail urge, for instance, probably occurs after you’ve finished reading a document or completed a certain kind of task. The cookie grab probably occurs when you’re walking out of the cafeteria, or feeling sluggish or blue.
- Our capacity to develop such habits is an invaluable evolutionary advantage. But when they run amok, things can become tricky.
- “Habits are formed when the memory associates specific actions with specific places or moods,” said Dr. Wood, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. “If you regularly eat chips while sitting on the couch, after a while, seeing the couch will automatically prompt you to reach for the Doritos. These associations are sometimes so strong that you have to replace the couch with a wooden chair for a diet to succeed.”