Classical conditioning is essentially a
learning development that transpires when two potentially random and unconnected
stimuli are continually paired. An occurrence that is caused by a second
stimulus can eventually be caused by the first stimulus alone. This is because
the two get ‘mixed up’ and intrinsically connected. Pavlov showed us this, and thus
created a powerful branch of psychology, by pairing a bell, the first stimuli,
with meat powder, the second stimuli, to arouse saliva from dogs. Eventually
the sound of a bell would cause drooling.
We see this method of classical conditioning in
advertising every day. The most obvious example is the use of models and
celebrities with a product. Even though beauty is often not related to the
product being sold, the association of beauty with a product leads the buyer to
reason that the product will make them attractive as well.
This sort of advertising can have both positive
or negative effects, so marketers need to be very careful with what sort of
stimulus they use. For example, I have seen a lot of vegan celebrities on People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA) campaigns. Peta is an animal rights organisation
that often causes a lot of controversy, both for their use of nudity and
exploitation of women but also because of the issue at hand, animal cruelty.
If PETA were to show images, videos
or audio of animal cruelty it would most likely cause a negative reaction with
the viewer which via classic conditioning could cause a negative view on PETA. Even
though PETA want to show what really goes on in the fur industry, zoos, dairy
industry, the wool industry, etc. showing graphic images and the negative
feelings associated with them would be detrimental to what they are trying to
do. So, the campaigners have had to get creative, or maybe not so, and use
beautiful people to sell their cause.
Celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, P!nk, Eva
Mendes, Alicia Silverstone have all stripped off to either promote a
more ethical way of eating or for the wildly popular ‘I’d rather go naked than
wear fur’ campaign. The classic conditioning is obvious and the same as
most advertising companies use, beautiful and famous people associated with a product.
The problem is that negative associations can still be drawn, men and women often
react negatively when ethical causes ‘exploit’ women in this way, it can lead
to the audience questioning the integrity of the charity.
Another example of when classic conditioning
resulted in a negative effect was PETA’s ad featuring a woman with a lot of
pubic hair wearing a bikini. The ad was using classic condition to associated pubic
hair with fur. The negative emotional connection of the pubic hair stimuli was supposed
to be transferred to the second stimuli, fur. However, with no fur, besides the
copy words, being featured in the ad the second stimuli and disgust could transfer
to the PETA brand.
Advertisements have either positive or negative
effects, they either inflate our egos and make us want to be more like the
person in the ad or serve as a metaphorical slap leaving us sour at a brand.
In short, classical conditioning is an easy and
powerful tool, but one that needs to be used repeatedly to take effect. If it is
not immediately obvious what the two stimuli are, the subconscious connections being
made can transfer to the most obvious
stimuli, which may not be the desired. As Pavlov showed us, classical
conditioning as not as easy to undo as operant conditioning