The Psychology of Marketing – Do you know why you buy?

The Psychology of Marketing – Do you know why you buy?

Marcia Forbes PhD


This presentation was made at the one day marketing seminar hosted by final year marketing students from the University of Technology at the Jamaica Conference Centre.  Hundreds of students, staff and supporters attended.  I was quite impressed with the quality of the discussions which followed each presentation.  Other speakers included former Minister of Energy and Telecommunications, Member of Parliament Phillip Paulwell, Mr. Wayne Chen, Businessman and Chairman of the Jamaica Employers' Federation and the Urban Development Corp and Professor Ross, Department of Marketing, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec.


The Old Men & Old Ways

There are several approaches I could use to discuss why we buy, that is, what drives us to purchase decisions. How does the brain work to aid and abet purchase decisions? I could start by focussing on psychology and highlight the variables which motivate consumer behaviours. Delving into Maslow and his hierarchy of needs and the ways in which conspicuous consumption may lead us to feel as if we are being actualized could take me along a path of Morphological Marketing. I could discuss Freud with his focus on our irrational drive, the id, and the ‘I want it now’ malady we sometimes suffer and how some purchases are really simply security blankets.

Or, abandoning the old men and their theories, as relevant as aspects of them continue to be, I could focus on the new; discussing the ways in which social media are changing consumer behaviours and those variables which drive us to select certain products and services, and increasingly, to crave certain experiences. Sprouting statistics perhaps irrelevant to Jamaica, such as, that 58% of users begin their journey to purchase with search; I could try to dazzle you with figures. But, I will not use that approach.

Then, perhaps, I could start by defining marketing, arm you with marketing 101 information regarding the importance of the marketing mix—those Ps of Product, Price, Placement and Promotion, which even in today’s virtual world are still relevant. I could talk about demographic versus psychographic or lifestyle profiles of consumers/customers and how important it is to understand your target group’s lifestyle, since demographic data conceal so much, even as we studiously categorize generations into Boomers, X and Y and now Millennials. And how millennials (those under 30 years of age) resent hard sell and how easily turned off they are when they spot this, instead needing to be engaged and sent more subliminal rather than overt messages.

Then we could delve into identity issues and how the concept of identity is now seen as fluid and flexible, therefore driving marketers to rethink how they approach customers. Perhaps you may appreciate hearing about marketing via traditional versus new media, in particular social media, with me discussing differences pertaining to each medium and how this impacts level of engagement and consumer behaviours. Then there is good old, controversial Marshall McLuhan and his views about hot versus cold media.

Then to WOW and delight you or bombard you, depending on your perspective, there could be insertions of the latest marketing jargon such as SMM (Social Media Marketing), B2B (Business to Business), B2C (Business to Customers), CRM (Customer Relations Management) and Inbound versus outbound marketing -- these lovely buzz terms and acronyms that so many marketers love to throw around because they think it makes them sound cool and current. All of that would be fine and good since there are so many marketing students in this room. However, I would only be treading within the safe confines of my comfort zone.

Being Brave

What if I am a little bit brave and push beyond this comfort zone approach and instead to pick up on a few controversial and contentious issues in Jamaica and explore them within the context of why we buy? What if these issues include gender and generational divides as well as matters of colour and class in this Jamaica, land we say we love? And what if I use what our DJs have to say as my launching pad for this exploration into why we buy?

This more adventurous path will be my approach today. The road less travelled as it were, because I want you to make the links and connections as to why we buy to some real life experiences of Jamaica today. I want you to apply the theories, concepts, constructs and relevant names which I will judiciously continue to sneak in, to apply them to how our DJs cleverly and consistently get us to buy into their products, namely their music, music videos and lifestyle; Although ‘buy’ may not always involve cash exchange, importantly, we need to recognize that mind-share is a valuable purchase!! And goodwill counts for a great deal!!

Using DJs to Promote MMASJ
Having recently launched my first book, Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica, I worked through Hertha Beckmann and Anthony Miller, both of TVJ’s Entertainment Report (ER) fame to get the four DJs who were most frequently mentioned in this book to respond to some of the issues raised in it. This is a part of the promotional activities for this book. All the DJs understood that the video created was for this purpose.

Let me highlight that a part of the psychology of marketing must be to first create awareness of your product. Market Sensitization it’s called. If you do not know that a product exists how can you develop a desire for it? So in marketing we create awareness as a first step toward generating desire or buying mind share, getting the customer to choose our product. We do this by promoting that product and positively positioning it in their minds.

So there I was inviting DJs to talk about issues raised in my book as a promotional exercise. And here I am featuring the front and back covers of this book, just so that you know, so that you are aware of it.

Now, the inclusion of these DJs in Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica was based entirely on what the teenagers had to say about them and not because I wanted to single them out for attention. They were highlighted in the book because the young people in the research project on which the book is based singled them out.

Three of the four DJs invited accepted the invitation and arrived at Phase 3 to respond to the questions I had sent Anthony. I wanted to hear their views on slackness, on gender portrayals in their songs, on male dominance and the system of patriarchy that is so evident in many of their songs. I wanted them to talk about their views regarding role modelling and art versus reality.

I stayed away from the video recording session so that they would feel free to speak openly to Anthony Miller. No Marcia Forbes, Author, breathing down their necks. Gosh!! I find it so gross when people speak of themselves in the third person but there, I just did it. I must be becoming a DJ or a Politician since they are most infamous for this horrible practise.

Why We Buy?
In their videos responses every single one of the three DJs, Beenie Man, Macka Diamond and Vybz Kartel addressed issues pertaining to why we buy. They displayed knowledge of their market and an understanding of their consumers. Even though their responses were not couched in marketing terms, they were right on the button. They each understood their target audience and catered to them. This is essential to marketing. They clearly understood why so many Jamaicans listen to their songs and worked this knowledge to maximum benefit. They know that we love slackness!

Beenie spoke about the importance of buying mind-share, about the value of attracting consumers to your products from an early age and retaining them. In the five minute video which I will show at the end, listen keenly to how he talks about the importance of females as fans and their role in child-rearing. Beenie understands that by cultivating female fans, the child-rearers, the nurturers, they will influence the desire for his music among the coming generation. While he may not know about social cognitive theory and the ways in which social learning through modelling works, Beenie’s remarks tapped right into the vein of this theory.

Macka quite candidly noted that DJs work for a forward, to be acknowledged and loved. She is clear in her recognition of Jamaican’s attraction to money and material things. She knows her songs, like Money O, will resonate with her consumers, even if, as she points out in the video, they may initially deny this. She knows the kinds of messages that are relevant to and will resonate with her consumers.

We buy products and services which we believe are relevant to us and our lives, even if the extent of that relevance is to show-off in a display of ostentatious consumption. Macka also talks about the value of her female fans and the importance of satisfying them with her lyrics. Customer satisfaction is integral to repeat purchase. Macka knows this!

In the video I have juxtaposed each DJs comments on various issues and used graphics to pull the issue to the viewer’s attention. Kartel, acknowledged by many as a master marketer, is the most eloquent of the three. As he says in the video, whatever he does is precise and concise. This alludes to the importance of planning and strategizing.

With marketing, things don’t usually just happen. Usually a certain amount of planning and preparation are needed. It is this video that you will see later which led Mel Cooke to write in the Star a few weeks ago, an article captioned, “Kartel Moves His Puppets”. So locked in and connected is Kartel with his consumers that he is brave and audacious enough to refer to them as ‘puppets’ and ‘sheep’. I wouldn’t advise any marketer to go that far!!

All three DJs highlighted the role of women, females, in support of Dancehall music. They each knew their primary target market—women and girls!! In Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica Kartel’s lyrics are variously described as ‘disgusting, degrading, derogatory’ by female teenagers themselves, not by me as Kartel so cleverly commented in the video by way on his response to the book. Yet these very teens as well as nearly all females I’ve spoken to, whether through my research or just in everyday life, they love Kartel. What is it about his lyrics and rhythms that females find so attractive, even while they use such negative adjectives to describe them?

Kartel puts it down to women liking to have their dark side revealed. Beenie says as much when he offers that women like to have others talk about the things that they themselves may not feel free to talk about. Knowing your consumers and listening to them are critical components of marketing and the three DJs recognized and highlighted this. They know that sex, money and material trappings are powerful portrayals and until they stop being supported, these DJs will continue to sing about things that some may see as slack, disgusting or degrading.

Yet, as I noted in the book, many females see these lyrics and portrayals as purely for entertainment. They do not feel insulted by them nor do they believe that they internalize the messages in the lyrics. We can argue as to whether or not this is really so, but as consumers they believe it to be so and continue to enjoy and gyrate to their choice of Dancehall music. The DJs know this and continue to deliver.

Culture, Hype & Social Acceptance
The important roles of culture and of hype as two of the key drivers of why we buy should not be underestimated. Let me emphasize that , as noted earlier, in this presentation ‘buy’ does not necessarily mean to purchase in the traditional sense of the word as in exchange of cash. I say this because many times we buy into or support things without the exchange of money.

That’s a part of the challenge of Dancehall; it is wildly popular locally but does not always deliver the kinds of financial remuneration that some performers and supporters would like. Neither is it performing financially on the global market by way of record sales, but that’s a whole ‘nother’ presentation.

I will go as far as to say that our history and traditions, now manifested in our culture, have laid down a sort of implicit acceptance of sexual ‘slackness’ in us as Jamaicans. Other people elsewhere may not be as accepting. We are a highly sexual and sexualized society and the DJs know this, so they work with what they know will resonate with many.

Jamaicans in general buy into sex so it is not surprising that Dancehall music is so well loved by us – Uptown and downtown, rich and poor. There’s no real class discrimination against dancehall. As I remark in the book, we skin-up our nose at dancehall but skin-out to the music.

Then there is the business of hype coupled with the human desire to fit in, to be accepted. As social beings we crave social acceptance. We want to be a part of the in-crowd. The ‘in-group’ as opposed to the ‘out-group’ as one theorist describes it. We want to be accepted by our peers. This is all a part of why we buy – Why we want to be seen in fashions by this or by that designer.

Kartel said Clarks and Clarks it is for many. Then it became ‘straight jeans and fitted’ and we see this dress style manifested all around. ‘Benz Punnany’ is Kartel’s latest and I see the chatter around this on Twitter and the images of females with this emblazoned across their pubic area. The hype is evident and nowhere is it more obvious that across the social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Why We Bleach!
Within the context of understanding consumer behaviour, I want to touch the on-going bleaching controversy. I’m happy to see that the newspapers recently highlighted the extent to which bleaching extends across all social divides in Jamaica. It’s not just downtown that is bleaching, it’s uptown and downtown. It’s males and females. It’s young and old. It’s the intelligentsia and the uneducated! There’s a bleaching product for every taste and every pocket it seems.

The point must also be emphasized that bleaching takes place in several societies, for example across Asia. As I learnt while studying in Boston about 15 years ago, people in Taiwan bleach. All around me in Boston there were white-faced Taiwanese girls who looked like white-powered dolls. Then I learnt of their bleaching practises.

Those who sell bleaching products understand the demand for their products. It seems as well that the market has been strategically segmented, with variously priced and packaged products to satisfy different market segments. Without knowing much about the names of the various brands, it seems there are more cost-effective products for downtown and pricier ones for uptown.

Aestheticians, including Jennifer Samuda of Jencare, came out against ladies who bleach. You have to be in a certain income bracket or have access to cash via other sources to be able to afford regular visits to Jencare. In contrast to pricey Jencare, we see the sidewalk bleachers who have been regularly featured by Anthony Miller, so we know more cost-effective bleaching products exist. Market segmentation is an important concept in marketing, so too is pricing strategies for the various segments, even if the product is the same or only slightly modified!

Society endorses certain behaviours and practises by positive reinforcement such as rewards. In Jamaica there is no doubt that having a light complexion is rewarded and looked upon in a favourable light. We continue to use colour to judge and to validate. So why are we surprized that, despite the harmful consequences, so many of our people continue to bleach? From as far back as slavery a system of pigmentocracy was established, complete with related socio-economic privileges.

Buju’s quick response to criticisms of “me love me car, me love me bike, me love me money and ting, but most of all me love me browning”, was to quickly sing, “me can’t stop cry for all Black woman, nuff things aah gwan for oonuh complexion”. Examine Buju’s choice of words. While we hear a lot of love for brownings, we hearing crying for Black women. I rest that case because Buju has enough other challenges right now.

In any event Kartel has made it clear, literally and figuratively, that his beaching is for tattoo hype! So now, bleaching is a fashion trend. No longer the action of a mentally shacked mind but one liberated enough to say to hell with you, I’m doing this for ME!! Unshackled individualism, Awoe!!


In wrapping up I want to highlight the key principle behind the psychology of marketing and why we buy – It’s ALL about the consumer. As you reflect on each of the Ps in the marketing mix reflect back to the consumer.

Ad lib examples given to elucidate this.