Social relevance as a motive

“So you say we are dressed monkeys?” The journalist asked three times during an interview about the development of consumer decisions. And three times I managed to circumvent this difficult question. A little later my partner Professor Lamme joined the conversation. The journalist promptly asked him the same question. “No,” the professor said, “Dressed rats, that’s what we are.” The journalist was so shocked that he never used the quote.  And let’s assume that science is right: there is little difference between mammals and especially herd animals in ‘how’ we decide. Obviously there is a very big difference in ‘what’ we decide. In that aspect our consciousness plays an important role.


Our behavior is guided by three basic emotions: fear, greed and solidarity. The first two emotions work directly on our decision-making system, the latter seems to feed the first two. In the neuro-economy there are wonderful studies and many examples of these decision-making mechanisms. An experiment by De Martino et al from 2006 shows that people would rather directly have $250 than having the chance of getting $1,000 in the future. The fear of missing out (FOMO), which is now also known by marketers, is a good example. Hundreds of thousands of people have a lottery ticket for the ‘Postcode Loterij’ because they fear that they are literally and figuratively the ‘loser’ of the street when the jackpot falls in their street. Or what about consumer confidence that always only rises after consumer spending has increased. Also in marketing there are beautiful examples of fear. We prefer a product that has been renewed (so better) over a product that is new (so unknown). Women, and more and more men, buy ointments and creams that make you look ‘years younger’.  And then we don’t even speak about the 30 billion of food supplements that Westerners and a handful of Asians consume every year. Fear marketing is therefore a strong tool.

GreedGreed works differently. It activates our reward system and raises the dopamine rush. An example from the neuro-economy is the corporate greed of the CEOs and the managers in the layers just below. It is not about ‘if’ they are going to grab, or when, but how much. That 50% of the boss of ING is nothing compared to 500% that the bankers offered each other in the nineties. And do not get angry about it, because you and I will do exactly the same in that position. Over the years, pyramid schemes like business models have emerged in the economy, with the craziness of the crypto coins as a temporary highlight.  When the first crypto millionaires are reported, the FOMO will also take part. Yes.., greed and fear is in our genes. Bigger, higher, faster, more beautiful, further, more often. It has brought us where we are. Greed in Marketing is used more often than fear. The old adage “what’s in it for me” can better be translated into: “I want it too”. The rewarding kiss of the beautiful woman when you shave with Gilette. The great sex you get when you use Axe, even though you are a teenager. The homely cosiness when you eat Unox sausage, the self-confidence that has been embroidered in a lingerie set, the decisiveness of a tailor-made suit, the jealous glances from a privium-account at Schiphol, or vice versa; the discount on your tax liability if you buy a ‘Metsubsidie ​​Foutlander’. All greed.


Solidarity, social context, is the third factor in our decision-making system. We use to do what others do. So that’s the opposite of FOMO. NOBI: the Need Of Being In. We want to belong to the group and preferably in the middle, because ‘if the plague breaks out they will start on the outside’. We only parrot. Especially in The Hague with the nonsensical pension and mortgage discussions among 150 ‘experts’. We like to parrot and do exactly the same as others. Unilever and Nestlé have known for years that seeing other people eating makes you want to eat too. What the one does, the other wants too. So it can happen that entire tribes are suddenly wearing UGGs, or jeans with holes. This week I saw a pair of jeans with such a big hole in both pipes, so that there was a sort of lace curtain stretched to keep the jeans together. Can it get any crazier? The beard has been back in for about five years. The number of women who find it attractive can be counted on one hand. According to behavioral scientist Tamsin Saxton it is mainly that men find a man with beard more dominant. And of course we guys cannot have that in the hunt for a woman. So we also want a beard. And even fuller and bigger. Interest on the internet in beard-related articles has quadrupled over the last three years. Which brings me to social media. Read and be read, see and be seen. Fake news, bullshit. Two ‘middle of the road girls’ who become health gurus. A famous person who knows how to explain the difference between bad and good sugars. Social Media, the information channel of Gen-Z. In which they tell each other that we have to live more sustainably. That we must become transparent. They ‘prime’ each other and ‘nudge’ themselves to thousands of followers to Utopia.

HopeBut perhaps it is not delusion. Perhaps that the parroting, doing, and sharing can make a new movement. Perhaps the late millennial, early Gen-Z, really gets a different view of consumption compared to the Baby Boomer or the Generation X. Maybe fear and greed were the driving forces of the generation ‘much’ and ‘too much’.  Maybe it’s NOBI that makes the Ys and Zs the generation of ‘enough’. I sincerely hope so, although I am afraid that the evolution of our brain is slower than greed is powerful.


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