Understanding consumer behavior: What are the important drivers?

Have you ever wondered why you buy the things you do? Where do you buy them and when? Do you often shop at the same places or at different ones?

Perhaps, as a consumer – like you and me – we don’t actually think hard about these questions, nor do we realize we do things the way we do. But for advertisers, having answers to these questions is nothing but crucial.

Indeed, Zinkhan and colleagues believe, in their work on the “self-concept theory”, this kind of understanding allows advertisers to create effective advertising that lures people into purchasing.

“Understanding why people buy allows advertising managers to bring advertising strategy in line with consumer motivations,” they say.

But the question is: what actually influences consumer behavior?

Well, there is no easy answer to that, I think.

Research on consumer behavior has commonly named four basic factors: cultural, social, personal and psychological factors. Among them all, I think, the psychological factors are the most important ones.

Why so?

According to Kumar, who works on “advertising and consumer behavior”, advertisers consider the psychology of the consumers as the “soft target“. It’s like a gatekeeper, but can be approached via motivations, perceptions, and attitudes of the consumers.

Motivation: all of us have our own desires, wants and needs, some of which are fulfilled, some not. Those unfulfilled yet can create induced tensions, resulting in desires or motivations for buying. Even those already fulfilled can, too, create a motivation for us to remain in the comfort zone; that’s brand value and loyalty to advertisers.

Scott Magids and his colleagues, for example, in their study of “The science of customer emotions”, found 10 emotional motivators that significantly drive consumer behavior. These are what many advertisers try to achieve.

     High-impact motivators

Screenshot 2017-05-02 21.29.33


Perception: Today consumers are flooded with all types of marketing from everywhere — the Internet, radio, television, newspapers. A study on culture jam by Kalle Lasn has estimated that an average consumer is exposed to some 3,000 advertisements per day. Everyday! Some of them may fortunately enough make it to our brains. The majority not.

Advertisers will then try using different types of stimuli to make us more perceptive to their products – whether or not we want them! One of these stimuli is surprising or shock advertising.

Take, as an example, Calvin Klein’s “Erotica” underwear campaign that used sex presentation in ways that shocked viewers.

While Calvin Klein’s shock advertising worked, as was found in Darren W. Dahl and her colleagues’ study on reaction to shocking ads, this kind advertising has always been under fire, as pointed out by Jerome Hudson.

Attitude: As mental positions, attitudes are our emotional feelings we have about products, services, or issues. They’re enduring and hard to change. But nothing can stop advertisers in trying to change these because they want us to feel positive toward their products. They want us to initiate our purchase.

Take a look at this KFC’s TVC, which tried saying that fried chicken is healthy.


Unfortunately, the ad angered the public, saying it was not true. It even triggered the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to step in, banning the company from doing so.

As a student of adverting, given the controversies of CK and KFC’s TVCs, I believe it’s important for us to learn to be more ethical and considerate about producing ads as we march into the advertising market. We shouldn’t seduce others to buy what we believe isn’t good.


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