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Hearing aid: A brief look at ‘the world’s most addictive sounds’

Throughout my career I’ve carried out quite a lot of research into the marketing and advertising of gambling and the way in which some gambling operators use psychology to exploit our senses to maximize profit. Connected to this, I’ve also published a number of papers that have examined the role of sound (and particularly music) can influence the way in which individuals gamble (see my previous blog on this and ‘Further reading’ below).

The reason I mention this was that I recently came across an online article by Fast Company entitled ‘The 10 most addictive sounds in the world’ based on some market research carried out by Martin Lindstrom, the Danish ‘neuromarketeer’, author of the book Buyology – Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (I do love a good pun). Lindstrom is known for using neuroscientific techniques to help commercial operators better understand their clientele. One of his collaborations was with Elias Arts (a sound and music design company) who joined forces to examine the world’s most ‘addictive sounds’ in what an article in The Village Voice dubbed a “neuromarketing experiment”.

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Obviously, my interest was piqued when I saw the use of the word ‘addictive’ but their working definition of ‘addictive’ had nothing to do with individuals being addicted to sounds but simply referred to an individual’s response to specific sounds. (Even with this explanation, I still can’t see why the word ‘addictive’ was used but its’ use probably guarantees more people – like myself – will want to read about the study). Lindstrom told the media that:

“We have all those top 10s of everything, but most top 10s are based on the visual sense. What we realized in another study is the most prominent sense we have [when we see a commercial] is not the sense of sight or smell, but the sense of sound”.

As far as I can tell, the study Lindstrom carried out has not been formally published in a peer reviewed journal (although he has published academic papers). The study was described in the international media as involving 50 participants and the research team monitored their brainwave, pupil, and facial muscle activity while listening to 50 different everyday sounds (both man-made ‘branded’ sounds and those ‘non-branded’ sounds that occur naturally). Lindstrom concluded that the most ‘addictive sounds’ weren’t necessarily the non-branded sounds of nature because some of the commercial man-made branded sounds (described as “beeps, jingles and ditties”) were more ‘addictive’ than a number of familiar sounds found in everyday life.

Overall, sound of a baby giggling was ranked as the most ‘addictive sound’ (although I’ve not seen the specific methodology employed to ascertain how being the top ‘addictive sound’ was actually assessed. Apparently Lindstrom examined the “dimension of the responses” and the “contrast and balance of all three [brainwave, pupil and muscle] factors” – although he did admit that such factors can lead to both positive and negative reactions). The second and third spots were Intel’s computer startup chime and the sound of a vibrating mobile phone. Other top non-branded sounds were the sound of a sizzling steak and the lighting of a cigarette being inhaled. Lindstrom claimed that the participants “weren’t responding to the structures of the sounds, but what they mean in a greater social context”. In relation to what makes a sound ‘addictive’, Lindstrom did at least make one reference to a classic sign of addiction (i.e., craving):

“It’s not the sound itself, but the consequence of the sound. A laughing (or crying) baby elicits a maternal protection mechanism, a buzzing cell phone prompts a pick-up, a sizzling steak means a solid meal is on the way. For advertisers and consumers, the research indicates a whole new battleground of multi-sensory advertising. Sometimes the sound from one category generates a craving in another category. For example, given the links between tobacco and beverages, the sound of a cigarette being lit could be used in an ad for alcohol. Although sound is more intuitive for people, the field is still quite young. It will be a long time before it will be so prominent”.

In a story for ABC News, other academics were asked for their thoughts on Lindstrom’s study. One American ‘auditory neuroscientist, Professor Barbara Shinn-Cunningham (actually Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University) said that:

“Although the sounds identified by the study are extremely meaningful, with the exception of the giggling baby, most are not inherently addictive. They’re identifiable. They brain responds to repetition. Our brains are good at picking out patterns that repeat. We’ve evolved to do that. If I chose an arbitrary sound, as long as it was clear and distinctive, and then played it 50 times a day for the next five years (as many of the branded sounds have been), it would become attention-grabbing. I don’t think [the sounds on the list are] so much addictive because of their acoustic properties, but because of their ubiquity. There is neurophysiological evidence showing that brain is hardwired to notice certain kinds of sounds. For example, the abrupt, jarring sound of a slamming door could prompt cells in a person’s brain stem to fire even before that person was conscious of it. For early humans, that kind of sound could have meant it’s time to run for the hills. [Also] studies have demonstrated the existence of a so-called ‘cocktail party effect’. At a party, if you hear your name in the background, even if you’re not paying attention, that’s something that will draw your attention involuntarily. Your brain is so exposed to your name and it’s tremendously important to you, so it encodes that so you respond to it”

According to Lindstrom’s research, the most ‘addictive sounds’ in the world (although they are arguably US-centric to say the least) are: (1) baby giggle, (2) Intel chime, (3) vibrating phone, (4) ATM/cash register, (5) National Geographic theme tune, (6) MTV theme tune, (7) T-Mobile ringtone, (8) McDonald’s jingle, (9) ‘Star Spangled Banner’ (tune), and (10) State Farm jingle.

The Fast Company article also noted that:

“Sound is immensely powerful. And yet 83% of all the advertising communication we’re exposed to daily (bearing in mind that we will see two million TV commercials in a single lifetime) focuses, almost exclusively, on the sense of sight. That leaves just 17% for the remaining four senses. Think about how much we rely on sound. It confirms a connection when dialing or texting on cell phones and alerts us to emergencies. When the sound was removed from slot machines in Las Vegas, revenue fell by 24%. Experiments undertaken in restaurants show that when slow music (slower than the rhythm of a heartbeat) is played, we eat slower–and we eat more!”.

These types of findings suggest that ‘audio branding’ is likely to be an increasing topic of academic research given that every company wants an edge in selling their product. While I am totally unconvinced that the word ‘addictive’ should be used in this type of research, that’s not to say that sound doesn’t have an influence in the development of addictive behaviour more generally. It looks like a case of watch (or should that be listen?) to this space.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK 

Further reading

Bark Soho (2016). 3 of the most addictive sounds in the world. October 16. Located at: http://www.barksoho.co.uk/blog/3-of-the-most-addictive-sounds-in-the-world/

Dixon, L., Trigg, R. & Griffiths, M. (2007). An empirical investigation of music and gambling behaviour. International Gambling Studies, 7, (3), 315-326.

Edroso, R. (2010). “Most addictive” sounds mostly jingles, machine noises. The Village Voice, February 22. located at: https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/02/22/most-addictive-sounds-mostly-jingles-machine-noises/

Fast Company (2010). The 10 most addictive sounds in the world. February 22. Located at: https://www.fastcompany.com/1555211/10-most-addictive-sounds-world

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed), Gambling: Who wins? Who loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2005). The psychology of music in gambling environments: an observational research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13.

Heussner, K.M. (2010). The world’s 10 most addictive sounds. ABC News, February 24. Located at: https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/worlds-10-addictive-sounds/story?id=9923506

Lindstrom, M. (2008). Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. New York: Doubleday

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics re-visited.  International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.

Word up: The phonetics of branding in marketing

Although I have published a number of papers on the psychology of gambling advertising, branding, and marketing, I cannot claim to be in expert in the more general area of branding psychology. However, I feel more knowledgeable about the area having just read a fascinating paper by Sascha Topolinski, Michael Zürn and Iris Schneider recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Their paper examines the biomechanical connection between articulation and ingestion-related mouth movements to introduce a novel psychological principle of brand name design”. Now I’m sure a lot of you will be none-the-wiser from that description but keep with me because I think what they have done is ingenious. Before I get to the heart of their research findings, I ought to add that I also learned a lot in their paper’s introduction. For instance:

  • Repeated exposure to brands increase positive attitudes and the likelihood of eventual brand choice, and also increases the fluency of a brand name.
  • Repetition-induced high fluency due to advertising depends upon subtle mouth exercises. Activities that stop this happening (such as eating popcorn while watching an advert in the cinema) inhibit the effect of the advertising.
  • Easier to pronounce brand names (unsurprisingly) increases fluency. The easier the brand name is to pronounce, the more positive individual’s attitudes are towards the brand.
  • Consumer responses to brands can be influenced by how the name of brand sounds (so-called ‘phonetic symbolism’). In these instances “the sound of a word conveys certain characteristics of the denoted object or product, such as size, color, or touch. For instance, some vowels sound high (for instance [i] as in SWEET), and other vowels sound low, (for instance [u] as in LOOP). High vowels are associated with little, fast, or light objects, while low vowels are associated with large, steady, or heavy objects”. Research has shown that fictitious brand names for hammers (that are heavy items) are preferred by consumers when they contain low vowels whereas fictitious brand names for knives (that are light items) are preferred by consumers when they contain high vowels.

Based on these research findings, Dr. Topolinski and colleagues reached the conclusion that in relation to brand names, consumer choice can be influenced by word sounds and articulation fluency. However, their new research studies (seven studies in one paper) went beyond this by examining consumer behaviour towards brands based on the muscle movements while saying the name of the brand. The studies constructed brand names for diverse products that are spoken inwardly (from the front to the rear of the mouth, such as the fictitious brand name ‘BODIKA’), or are spoken outwardly (from the rear to the front, such as the brand name ‘KODIBA’). Here is the authors’ easy-to-understand explanation:

‘[It] is possible to construe words that feature consonant sequences that wander either from the front to the rear (inward) or from the rear to the front (outward) of the mouth. Take, for instance, the three consonants K, D, and P. Arranged in the word KADAP, first the rear back of the tongue is pressed against the soft palate to generate K, then the tip of the tongue is pressed against the soft palate to generate D, and then the lips are pressed together to generate P. These muscle tensions thus wander from the rear to the front of the mouth, this is, outward. Reversely, arranged in the word PADAK, first the lips are pressed together, then the tip of the tongue touches the soft palate, and then the rear back of the tongue touches the soft palate. These muscle tensions wander from the front to the rear, of the mouth, that is, inward. Combining such articulatory patterns with the muscle patterns of ingestion and expectoration, it is obvious that inward consonantal wanderings (PADAK) resemble the muscular dynamics during ingestion, and outward consonantal wanderings (KADAP) resemble the muscular dynamics during expectoration…Since ingestion is positively associated, and expectoration is negatively associated…consonantal wanderings may feel positive and outward wanderings may feel negative”.

The seven studies that were carried out (comprising a total of 1,261 participants) compared the fictitious inward speaking brand name (e.g., ‘BODIKA’) with the fictitious outward speaking brand name (e.g., ‘KODIBA’). The results of the seven studies (using a variety of different methodologies including laboratory experiments and surveys, and including participants that spoke different languages [German and English]) were very revealing. In summary, the participants (i) preferred the inward name product to the outward name, and (ii) reported higher likelihood to purchase the inward named product, and (iii) reported higher willingness-to-pay for the inward named brand (participants said they would pay 4-13% more for the inward name brand). The same effects were found in both English and German language. The authors concluded:

“[The] present approach exploits the biomechanical connection between articulation and ingestion to introduce a novel psychological principle for brand name design. Brands for which the consonantal articulation spots wander inwards in the mouth compared to outwards are preferred, elicit higher purchase intentions, and even trigger higher willingness-to-pay with a substantial possible monetary gain”.

The paper did make me wonder about implications for brand names in the gambling industry. All things being equal, it suggests that gamblers may prefer to spend their money with companies such as PKR and Bet 365 than Corals and 888.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Baker, W. E. (1999). When can affective conditioning and mere exposure directly influence brand choice. Journal of Advertising, 28, 31–46.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Children and gambling: The effect of television coverage and advertising. Media Education Journal, 22, 25-27.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3(2), 15-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Responsible marketing and advertising of gambling. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 50.

Hanss, D., Mentzoni, R.A., Griffiths, M.D., & Pallesen, S. (2015). The impact of gambling advertising: Problem gamblers report stronger impacts on involvement, knowledge, and awareness than recreational gamblers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 483-491.

Janiszewski, C. & Meyvis, T. (2001). Effects of brand logo complexity, repetition, and spacing on processing fluency and judgment. Journal of Consumer Research, 28, 18–32.

Laham, S.M., Koval, P., & Alter, A. L. (2012). The name-pronunciation effect: why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun. Journal of Experimantal Social Psychology, 48, 752–756.

Lodish, L. M., Abraham, M., Kalmenson, S., Livelsberger, J., Lubetkin, B., Richardson, B., et al. (1995). How TV advertising works: a meta-analysis of 389 real world split cable TV advertising experiments. Journal of Marketing Research, 32, 125–139.

Lowrey, T. M., and Shrum, L. J. (2007). Phonetic symbolism and brand name preference. Journal of Consumer Research, 34, 406–414.

Rozin, P. (1999). Preadaptation and the puzzles and properties of pleasure. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology (pp.109-133). New York, NY: Russell-Sage).

Song, H. & Schwarz, N. (2009). If it’s difficult-to-pronounce, it must be risky: fluency, familiarity, and risk perception. Psychological Science, 20, 135–138.

Topolinski, S., Lindner, S. & Freudenberg, A. (2014a). Popcorn in the cinema: oral interference sabotages advertising effects. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24, 169–176.

Topolinski, S., Zürn, M. & Schneider, I.K. (2015) What’s in and what’s out in branding? A novel articulation effect for brand names. Frontiers in Psychology 6, 585. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00585

Sell division: The use of technology in commercial marketing

Today’s blog is only loosely connected to the types of behaviour that I usually cover but relates to the issue of excessive technological use. However, rather than focusing on the individual, my article today focuses on corporate technological excess, and more specifically the seemingly excessive use of technological marketing. Technology continues to invade almost every area of our lives. Although the advantages of these technologies significantly outweigh the disadvantages, technology is increasingly being used in commercial settings that some citizen’s rights groups claim are exploitative, unethical, and border on the criminal.

Shopping loyalty cards are now an every day part of consumer behaviour. Most people probably don’t stop to think about the reasons behind their introduction but they have the potential to be exploitative. In short, loyalty cards track every purchase a consumer makes over a long period (often years) including the store shopped at, the date and time, and the price paid. The long tracking period allows for monitoring of trends in purchasing. Stores may also record the method of payment, whether the card was swiped or keyed into the till, and the checkout that was used. The supermarkets use these data to categorize customers. In addition to the data provided when the loyalty card was issued, commercial operators can draw conclusions from the address using sophisticated categorization systems. Many companies now use customer relationship marketing software to help make sense and synthesize the information gathered. Ever since they were introduced, underhand uses of loyalty cards have been mooted. As long ago as 1999, the UK Ministry of Agriculture suggested cross checking purchases of genetically modified food with health records, effectively making the cards part of a huge medical experiment. However, the supermarkets declined to take part.

It’s probably a fair assumption to make that the online population views the Internet as much a tool for information gathering and communication as for commercial transactions. The most powerful impacts are social rather than commercial. Just like the companies that run loyalty card schemes, Internet service providers can record when you logged on and off, how many seconds the connection lasted, and the Internet protocol address allocated during the session. They can also compile a detailed e-mail history. This can contain the header information from every e-mail received by the account in the period, the return address provided by the sender, the ISP from which the e-mail originated, the date and the time of the sending, an ID code, and the title of the e-mail. Most people have no idea how much potential there is for invasion of privacy.

There are some areas that are potentially more worrying than others. Take the case of online gambling (that I have covered in previous blogs relating to behavioural tracking). When it comes to gambling, there is a very fine line between providing what the customer wants and exploitation. The gaming industry now sells gambling in much the same way that any other business sells things. On joining Internet gambling sites, players supply lots of information including name, address, telephone number, date of birth, and gender. Internet gambling operators will know the player’s favourite game and the amounts they have wagered. Basically they can track the playing patterns of any gambler. They will know more about the gambler’s playing behaviour than the gamblers themselves. They will be able to send the gambler offers and redemption vouchers, complimentary accounts, etc. All of these things are introduced to supposedly enhance customer experience. Benefits and rewards to the customer include cash, food and beverages, entertainment and general retail. However, more unscrupulous operators are able to entice high spending gamblers (some of which will be problem gamblers) back onto their sites with tailored freebies (such as the inducement of ‘free’ bets and bonuses).

The Internet also appears to be a rapidly growing medium for child-oriented marketing with sites ranging from Pokemon and Barbie to Lego. These sites provide what appears to be a safe environment for children to play in online (and something my own children used to do). Today’s children are computer literate and the Internet empowers them to influence what they want for Christmas or their birthday. However, how ethical is it for businesses to use advertising to pitch to children – individuals who in most other spheres (e.g., voting, sex, legal documents) are treated as incapable of making decisions. Many claim the adverts carry a similar message (i.e., “If you haven’t got this product, you are abnormal”). The aim of most marketing is to sell goods, but adverts aimed at children are designed to get them to pressurize their peers and parents.

A number of years ago, the US Center for Media Education (CME) claimed that advertisers and marketeers exploit children by advertising products on the Internet in ways that manipulate children and violate their privacy. They urged the US Federal Trade Commission to develop safeguards for children and claimed that these advertisements would infringe American regulations that put safeguards on broadcast media like the television. They recommend that there should be no children’s content directly linked to advertising and that direct interaction between children, and that product spokescharacters (such as Kellogs ‘Tony the Tiger’) should not be allowed.

The CME claimed advertisers used a variety of online methods (such as ‘infomercials’) to collect detailed data and compile individual child profiles. This information they claimed, was used to establish direct and intimate relationships with children online. The CME claimed children’s privacy is routinely threatened to encourage children to disclose personal information about themselves and their families with some sites offering gifts and prizes. This technology makes it possible to monitor every interaction between the child and the advertisement allowing firms to create personalized marketing for a child. Again, questions need to be asked about how far advertisers can go and what protection vulnerable groups should have.

Other new technologies are also making an impact – often without the person’s knowledge. For instance, television set top boxes can monitor viewer activities. Those who operate set top boxes say they are doing it in order to develop personalized advertising. However, many claim that Internet video providers should not be able to track and sell information about what you viewers are watching in the privacy of your own home. Companies who use these systems claim they only keep anonymous viewing information. They also stress that their viewers can opt out of the data collection but the reality is that very few do. Perhaps the best way forward is to see the introduction of ‘opt-in’ rather than opt-out clauses.

Given the increasingly sophisticated technology on offer, companies have to do a lot of planning to get most out of their databases. There are two main sorts of database. The first type is a ‘flat file’ databases with information on them, set one after the other. The second type is a ‘relational database’ that can build relationships between different fields of information. For instance, if a company wanted to find a number of customers who had bought a particular product from them in the last month or sort their customers by their address, a flat file database could do those tasks individually whereas relational databases would do it simultaneously. The really creative part (and some might say potentially exploitative and unethical part) in database use starts when companies begin to look seriously at what the information can do for them. This is the stage when companies start to ask intelligent questions about the actual purpose of the information they have gathered.

Over the two decades, customer relationship management (CRM) has become integrated with database management. Companies offer insight into CRM processes that become available when information is managed electronically. Analytical CRM is geared towards understanding a series of interactions with customers over time in activity-based terms, with a view to understanding whether a given customer is profitable to the company and satisfied with the quality of that relationship. For this to work, the company needs in-depth detail on finance, human resources, distribution, and manufacturing so that they know exactly what a customer is costing them. Companies then know whether the customer is worth hanging on to. While the majority of companies may be using CRM for genuine customer enhancement, there are always those who are less scrupulous and may use such information to exploit.

Even a brief examination of how technology is being used in commercial situations demonstrates that the potential for exploitation of the customer is ever present and that such technologies should be monitored closely. Whether any of these practices will be seen as in some way criminal in the future remains to be seen.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Delfabbro, P.H., King, D.L & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Behavioural profiling of problem gamblers: A critical review. International Gambling Studies, 12, 349-366.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Exploitation and fraud on the Internet: Some common practices, The Criminal Lawyer, 132, 5-7.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Dot cons: Exploitation and Fraud on the Internet (Part 2). The Criminal Lawyer, 134, 3-5.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005).  Exploitative, unethical, criminal? The use of technology in commercial marketing. Justice of the Peace, 169, 916-917.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Digital impact, crossover technologies and gambling practices. Casino and Gaming International, 4(3), 37-42.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Social responsibility in gambling: The implications of real-time behavioural tracking. Casino and Gaming International, 5(3), 99-104.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Social responsibility in marketing for online gaming affiliates. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, p.32.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Online behavioural tracking: Identifying problem gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 10(5), 10-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Responsible marketing and advertising of gambling. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 50.

Griffiths, M.D. & Whitty, M.W. (2010). Online behavioural tracking in Internet gambling research: Ethical and methodological issues. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3, 104-117.

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning (pp. 135-153). New York: Springer.

Way up the cost: Will the increased price of National Lottery tickets affect sales?

The following blog is based on a short article that I wrote for Nottingham Trent University’s Expert Opinion column published earlier this year (January 29, 2013) and is a written version of many of the comments I made in national and local  BBC radio interviews yesterday.

This week Camelot Plc increased  the price of a Lotto ticket from £1 to £2 – but will this 100% price increase have any effect on whether people play the bi-weekly game? My own view is that although there may be a dip in overall sales when the price of the tickets first increases, over time, sales are likely to return to pre-price increase levels.

The price of buying a lottery ticket is just one of many inter-connected structural characteristics that help determine whether potential players will play the lottery. Other structural characteristics in gambling activities include the size of the jackpot, the number of smaller prizes, the probability of winning the jackpot and / or smaller prizes, the speed of the game, how quickly players receive their winnings, the ease of playing the game, whether the game is chance-based or requires some skill, the number of chances to gamble on a single event, etc.

The chance of winning the bi-weekly lottery is an incredible one in 14 million. But is playing Lotto a tribute to public innumeracy and totally irrational? Not necessarily. Lotto offers a low-cost chance of winning a very large life-changing amount of money. Many psychologists would argue that playing Lotto is entirely rational behaviour given the small cost involved. Basically, it’s a small cost for millions of people buying hope. More importantly, we know that most players don’t think about the actual probability of winning but concentrate on the amount that could be won (i.e., the jackpot size). Players may also rationalize that the cost of a ticket is still cheaper than buying a pint of lager in a pub or a coffee atStarbucks.

Jackpot size is one of the most important factors in whether people play the lotto. The fact that the ticket price is doubling doesn’t take away the fact that there will still be an enormous jackpot. Additionally, to soften the blow of the increased price, the amount that can be won for matching three numbers will increase from £10 to £25. This again is likely to help sales maintenance. And if people do feel that £2 is too much for a single ticket, there are plenty of other games in the national lottery portfolio to choose from.

Another factor that is important in lottery profitability for the operators is that we tend to overestimate positive outcomes and underestimate negative ones. If someone is told they have a one in 14 million chance of being killed that day they would hardly give it a second thought because the chances are tiny. Given the same probability of winning Lotto people suddenly become over-optimistic (“It could be you!”).

The media also plays a part. By providing widespread coverage for the few huge winners, it helps us forget the millions of people who lost! Finally, for regular players who choose the same numbers every week, they become ‘entrapped’ fearing that the one week they don’t play will be the week their numbers will come up. Players who have picked the same numbers for years are still likely to play despite the price increase for the same reason.

The bottom line is that Camelot will have done lots of market research to determine whether players will be prepared to pay more money to play Lotto. Major decisions about pricing are key to future success and increased profits. If people stop playing Lotto in their masses, a return to a lower price will be inevitable. However, my guess is that most current Lotto players will continue to play a game as the thought of winning millions of pounds outweighs the price increase.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Arkes, H.R. & Blumer, C. (1985). The psychology of sunk cost.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 124-140.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). The National Lottery and instant scratchcards: A psychological perspective. The Psychologist: The Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 10, 26-29.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Selling hope: The psychology of the National Lottery. Psychology Review, 4, 26-30..

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Problem gambling and European lotteries. In M. Viren (Ed.), Gaming in New Market Environment. pp. 126-159. New York: Macmillan Palgrave.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The effect of winning large jackpots on human behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 6(4), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gambling, luck and superstition: A brief psychological overview. Casino and Gaming International, 7(2), 75-80.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207-233.

Langer, E.J. (1975). The illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 311-328.

Langer, E.J. & Roth, J. (1975). The effect of sequence outcome in a chance task on the illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 951-955.

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1971). Belief in the law of small numbers. Psychological Bulletin, 76, 105-110.

Walker, M.B. (1992). The Psychology of Gambling. Pergamon, Oxford.

Wagenaar, W. (1988). Paradoxes of Gambling Behaviour. Erlbaum, London.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Adolescent lottery and scratchcard players: Do their attitudes influence their gambling behaviour? Journal of Adolescence, 27, 467-475.

Blame it on the fame? The role of celebrity endorsement in gambling advertising

Have any of you reading this ever visited an online poker site because of a celebrity endorsement? Would the presence of Ben Affleck or James Woods make you more likely to play poker? Commercial gambling has only relatively recently got in on the celebrity endorsement bandwagon mainly because gambling advertising has always been very restricted. When a poker company uses a celebrity endorser, they are signing up an image that is itself a gamble. At the very least, gaming companies should get what they pay for but it can all go horribly wrong. When a purple-bearded Billy Connolly was used to promote the National Lottery in 2002/2003, sales decreased. The adverts had high recall by the public but were hated by a large proportion of the British public who found Connolly highly irritating.

This is all goes to show that any gaming company wanting to use celebrity endorsement as part of its marketing drive has to carefully evaluate a celebrity’s image and reputation. Steps need to be taken to make sure the celebrity’s image and reputation matches the needs of the company. Sales can take a tumble especially if the celebrity used does something that compromises the company’s image. For instance, Vic Reeves drink-driving conviction wasn’t very good for the car insurance company he was promoting! However, in most situations, the relationship between the company and the celebrity will be mutually beneficial. The company receives all of the perks associated with the celebrity such as publicity, positive connotation, recognition, respect and trust. The celebrity – at the very least – benefits financially.

The advertising industry claims that brand recognition, recall and awareness are the most important outcomes of successful marketing campaigns. This, they believe, will result in greater sales and increased revenue. However, as with the Billy Connolly example above, this isn’t always the case. Celebrity endorsement is perhaps even more important in online commercial activities like playing Internet poker where identity, trust and reliability equate to potential punters. As a consequence, many online commercial enterprises appear to opt for short-term, high impact celebrity endorsement and ‘buzz marketing’ rather than investing for the long term. These types of marketing tend to create an instant image and reputation but may not necessarily be good for the company’s longevity. To be market leaders amid the competition, online gaming operators will need to couple strategic marketing with solid brand management.

Interestingly, a survey carried out by Marketing UK asked marketers from a sample of the top 1000 British companies which techniques they thought were the most successful in increasing sales and at building long-term relationships with customers. It found that celebrity endorsements ranked last, beneath things like loyalty schemes, sales promotions, and general display advertising. However, it doesn’t make sense to isolate celebrity endorsements, because they are just one of many marketing elements that are used in a successful campaign. What’s more, if marketers didn’t believe celebrities help in generating long-term sales and profits, they wouldn’t keep paying the large fees they command.

While the jury is out on whether celebrity endorsement is a sales winner, one question that has yet to be answered through research is, what type of gambler does a celebrity endorsement impress and/or influence in their decision play? Is it the novices, long-standing players, or both? Maybe different types of celebrities appeal to different clientele. For me, the most interesting development of the celebrity endorsement culture is how the big poker tournament winners have now become celebrities in their own right. For instance, the star after-dinner speaker at an academic gambling conference I was at in Lake Tahoe was World Series of Poker veteran Howard Lederer. This type of celebrity endorsement may be more appealing to players. The fact that someone has become a celebrity through skill and talent in an activity that gamblers are already positively predisposed towards suggests they will want to have more of a psychological association with these celebrities than those the celebrities who just happen to play poker as a hobby. Judging by the front covers of magazines like Inside Poker, the editors clearly believe that it is the big poker winners that sell the magazine rather than Hollywood A-listers or scantily dressed women.

Celebrity endorsements also tap into the psychology of ‘intrinsic association’. This is the degree to which the gambling activity is positively associated with other interests, people and/or attractions. Intrinsic association also taps into the psychology of familiarity and help explain why so may UK slot machines feature themes relating to television shows, films, popular board games, video games or celebrities. It makes punters feel they know something about the product before they have even played it.

Gaming companies have to ask themselves how much they are willing to gamble on celebrity endorsement in trying to carve out a niche in the market. Companies have got to be clear that they are targeting the right product with the right celebrity with the right message. It can be a long hard slog to shape an image or reputation but it can take just a few seconds of celebrity madness to destroy it.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Binde, P. (2007). Selling dreams – causing nightmares? On gambling advertising and problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 167-191.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005).  Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3(2), 15-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Celebrity endorsement and online gambling: Ten golden rules. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, p.64.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Media and advertising influences on adolescent risk behaviour. Education and Health, 28(1), 2-5.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292). New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J., Wood, R.T.A. & Rigbye, J. (2010). Online poker gambling in university students: Further findings from an online survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 82-89.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning.  pp. 135-153. New York: Springer.


Carry on comping: Promotional competitions, engagement, and addiction

I’m not sure about anywhere else in the world, but here in the UK we have a section of the adult community who describe themselves as ‘compers’. Compers are people who make a hobby (and sometimes even a living) from entering competitions – particularly the ones that end with a ‘tie-breaker’ question such as: In no more than 25 words, complete the sentence “I like [insert name of brand] because…”. These competitions are typically free to enter (although a few companies charge a small administration fee or make money from the cost of a premium rate telephone call).

Back in the 1990s, I appeared on a number of television programmes along with people like Britain’s most famous comper at the time called “Rita the competer” who had won prizes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds including multiple houses, cars, holidays, and electrical goods. Most of the compers that I met at that time – all women I have to add – spent most (if not all) of their spare time cutting out and filling in competitions from magazines, newspapers and newsletters.

More recently, compers have gone digital and is inextricably linked to the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter. The comping community has many ‘comping’ magazines, newsletters and websites (for instance sites such as Compers Corner, Crazy Compers, Compers Weekly, and Just Comps). There are also loads of blog sites updating compers of all the latest offline and (now mostly) online competitions. Today’s compers appear to spend hours on the main social media websites entering competitions run directly by commercial operators. There also appears to be more men becoming compers which may be due to it becoming an increasingly online activity (I say “appear” because I know of no empirical research that has ever been carried out on the ‘comping’ community). Now compers can enter dozens (even hundreds if you click on some of the comping sites listed above) of competitions every week without spending any of their own money on stamps and envelopes.

So why are there so many competitons out there? In order to remain competitive, commercial retailers need to make use of the wide variety “tools” at their disposal within the marketing management toolkit (e.g., sales promotions, advertising). However, there is growing awareness that non-price-based promotions (e.g., consumer competitions) add value for the consumer while meeting a range of marketing communications objectives (which is where the world of comping has originated).

A recent paper by Philip DesAutels and colleagues at the Luleå University of Technology (Sweden) noted that marketing goals for contests may be external to the contest (e.g., increasing product, service or brand awareness), or they may be internal to a contest (e.g., directly increasing product adoption or sales). More commonly, their goals are a combination of the two. Their research into sales promotion effectiveness introduces two measures of contest performance: in-contest engagement and post-contest product interest. They call on the research community to do further work into effective ways to measure and assess these two goals as they believe they “will serve as an immeasurable aid to practice and research”. They also note that activities that are intrinsically motivating are undertaken because they are interesting, enjoyable or satisfying. The act of doing them is the reward. Activities that are extrinsically motivating are undertaken to achieve rewards that are separate and distinct from the activity itself.

Earlier today I appeared on BBC Breakfast’s television show talking about the psychology of ‘compers’ and to what extent compers are like gamblers and to whether it is possible for compers to become ‘addicted to their hobby. The nearest comparison to comping in the gambling world – at least in terms of motivation to carry out the activity – is lottery gambling. The main motivating factor in both comping and playing the lottery is the chance to potentially win a large (often life changing or life enhancing) prize for very little financial outlay. It’s as simple as that. However, there are other similarities including the activity being fun, and the social interaction with friends who engage in like-minded activities.

In relation to ‘comping addiction’ I have never come across a case either professionally or personally that fulfill my criteria for addiction. However, my view as with any behaviour that offers the potential for constant rewards and reinforcement, it is theoretically possible. I’ve certainly met people (admittedly in the confines of a television studio) who claimed that ‘comping’ had taken over their life and that it was causing conflict in some aspect of their life (usually relationship conflict where husbands complained that their wives were spending all their leisure time doing competitions).

However, I really don’t think any of the excessive compers I have met were addicted to the behaviour because the activity was life affirming and life enhancing. As I never tire of telling my students or the media, the key difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from it. On that criteria alone, the chances of meeting someone addicted to comping is remote.

Finally, it is worth noting that as long ago as 1991, Ward and Hill wrote that “virtually no work has been done in advertising on the psychology of promotional games. Thus, much opportunity exists”. The 2011 paper by Philip DesAutels and colleagues said it “is therefore surprising that in the 20 years since the publication of Ward and Hill’s article, so little research has been undertaken to inform the theory and practice of promotional competitions and contests”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

DesAutels, P., Berthon, P. & Salehi-Sangari, E. (2011). Rising to the challenge: A model of contest performance. Journal of Financial Services Marketing, 16, 263–274

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Instant-win promotions: Part of the gambling environment? Education and Health, 15, 62-63.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Instant-win products and prize draws: Are these forms of gambling? Journal of Gambling Issues, 9. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue9/opinion/griffiths/.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Ward, J.C. and Hill, R.P. (1991) Designing effective promotional games: Opportunities and problems. Journal of Advertising, 20(3), 69-81.

Online gambling, testimonials, and the psychology of persuasion

One of the most interesting psychological ploys used by some online gambling operators is the use of ‘bogus’ players and their testimonials. This appears to be a common practice used by some of the industry to generate hype about their sites. People are ‘disguised’ as unbiased players who then rave about particular online gambling sites in online player forums.

There has been a lot of psychological research under what circumstances information like this is taken on board or disregarded. There is a long established theory that has highlighted the most effective way of getting a message across. Most importantly, the information source needs to be credible (the important features of credibility being expertise and trustworthiness).

Identifying yourself as an “online gambler” means that you are more likely to treat someone else that is part of your ‘in group’ as trustworthy. Psychologists have highlighted that source credibility in this situation can be effective for two reasons. The first is that it leads to the processing of information in a half-mindless state – either because the person is not motivated to think, don’t have the time to consider, or lack the abilities to understand the issues. Secondly, source credibility can stop questioning (“if other punters think it’s a good site, then it must be alright”).

Psychological research has also shown that successful persuasive messages should be short, clear, direct and one-sided for receptive audiences. (Two-sided arguments should be used if the audience is likely to be unsympathetic to the message). The message must be explicit rather than letting the audience draw their own conclusions (although for informed audiences it can be equally, if not more effective, to draw their own conclusions).

Finally, the message should be colourful and vivid rather than full of technical terms and statistics. In short, the use of psychological research on communication to underpin marketing strategies, the online gaming industry generates mass emails and instant messages with typical claims like “I just found the greatest online casino on the Net. You should check it out “. Obviously if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Obviously online gambling companies are operating in a highly competitive market and almost every marketing tactic is employed to increase market share. However, the strategies used should be socially responsible and be fair to players. In the long run, online gamblers will give repeat business to those that they trust, and those companies are likely to be the ones who are the most socially responsible.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and practice (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Cialdini, R. B. (2001). The science of persuasion. Scientific American, 284, 76-81.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). The marketing of Internet lottery gambling, Panorama (European State Lotteries and Toto Association), 10, 6-9.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Social responsibility and trust in online gambling: Six steps to success. i-Gaming Business, 61, 36-37.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

 

 

It could be you – but it probably won’t be! What is acceptable in gambling advertising?

Over the last few years there has been a great deal of speculation over the role of advertising as a possible stimulus to increased gambling, and as a contributor to problem gambling (including underage gambling). It is not uncommon for casino advertising to use glamorous images and beautiful people to sell gambling, while other advertisements for lottery tickets and slot machines depict ordinary people winning loads of money or millions from a single coin in the slot. Content analyses of gambling adverts have reported that gambling is portrayed as a normal, enjoyable form of entertainment involving fun and excitement. Furthermore, they are often centred on friends and social events.

The likelihood of large financial gain is often central theme (“It could be you”) with gambling also viewed as a way to escape day-to-day pressures. A number of authors claim that gambling advertising plays an important role in “normalizing” gambling, increasing participation and contributing to problem development. Some researchers (such as Peter Adams in New Zealand) also claim that gambling advertising targets high-risk populations (e.g., ethnic minorities).

So does advertising create unrealistic hopes of winning that may later trigger a gambling addiction? Very few people are naive enough to think that removing advertising will stop people gambling. Anyone who wants to find an avenue for gambling will do so – just as smokers continue to buy cigarettes. However, the argument has been put forward that by removing seductive gaming advertising, the vulnerable may be protected. Research has found that there is a large public awareness of gambling advertising, and that problem gamblers often mention advertising as a trigger to gambling.

I published a literature review a few years ago and noted that almost all of the published studies on gambling advertising concerned attitudes in some way. Furthermore, very little of these data provided any insight into the relationship between advertising and problem gambling. Although there is a lack of research in this area, there are precedents that advertisements for the promotion of gambling should perhaps be placed in the same category as alcohol and tobacco promotions because of the potentially addictive nature of gambling and the potential for being a major health problem. Many lobby groups claim it is time to ban gambling advertising with the same vigour as tobacco advertising although there is no evidence that this would work (particularly if the research on alcohol advertising is examined).

An example of good practice is that of Loto-Quebec. They did a thorough review of its advertising code. A brief overview of their measures undertaken are listed below:

  • Their current policy disallows any advertising that is overly aggressive, rejects concepts liable to incite the interest of children, and prohibits the use of spokespeople who are popular among youth, as well as the placement of advertisements within media programs viewed mainly by minors.
  • The odds of winning are highlighted. This is being done in response to the suggestions expressed so frequently by various groups interested in knowing their chances of winning.
  • Television commercials for new products will devote 20% of their airtime to promoting the gambling help line and to presenting warnings about problem gambling.
  • There will no longer be the targeting of any particular group or community for the purposes of promoting its products. For example, an instant lottery used a specific Chinese custom to stimulate interest. However, the Chinese community did not agree with making references to its customs in order to promote the game. Out of respect for this community, the game was immediately suspended.

It perhaps goes without saying but there has to be a strong commitment to socially responsible behavior that applies across all product sectors, including sensitive areas like gambling. As various Advertising Associations have advocated, socially responsible advertising should form one of the elements of protection afforded to ordinary customers and be reflected in the codes of practice. Children and problem gamblers deserve additional shielding from exposure to gambling products and premises, and their advertising. The codes that regulate it should include special provisions on the protection of such groups. I would also advocate the following guidelines:

  • Avoid promoting gambling in non-gambling areas – Players should not be encouraged to gamble whilst they are enjoying other non-gambling services such as restaurants or bars. Non-gambling areas should provide the opportunity for an emotional cool down whereby customers have the opportunity to reflect upon their gambling behavior, and consider whether or not to continue playing.
  • Focus on entertainment rather than gaming – A focus on buying entertainment rather than winning money is recommended. When individuals primarily gamble to win money, and that is their only objective, that is when problems can start. That is when a proportion of vulnerable people can get into difficulty.
  • Advertising and promotion – Quite clearly it is appropriate that gaming industry needs to advertise and promote its facilities. In addition to conforming to each country’s own advertising codes of practice, the most important recommendation would be that advertisements and promotions should not appeal to vulnerable individuals (such as minors, those with severe learning difficulties, problem gamblers, etc.) or be ‘aggressive’ and/or use popular celebrities. Furthermore, broadcast media advertising should be aimed at a adult audience and appear after the 9pm ‘watershed’. Adverts should feature the odds of winning. Ideally, there should also be some ‘counterbalanced’ adverts talking about problem gambling and its prevention.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Adams, P. (2004). Minimising the impact of gambling in the subtle degradation of democratic systems, Journal of Gambling Issues, 11. Available at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue11/jgi_11_adams.html.

Binde, P. (2007). Selling dreams – causing nightmares? On gambling advertising and problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 167-191.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005).  Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3(2), 15-25.

Korn, D, Hurson, T. & Reynolds, J. (2004). Commercial Gambling Advertising: Possible Impact on Youth Knowledge, Attitudes, Beliefs and Behavioural Intentions. Report submitted to the Ontario Gambling Research Centre.