When I visited the supermarket last week, I was very impressed by the way marketers confuse consumers with new products that look like the leading competitor. According to Schiffman et al, (2011, p. 205) stimulus generalisation, a marketing application of classical conditioning, is making the same response to slightly different stimuli. It demonstrates why manufacturers of private brands make their packaging so similar to national brand leaders. If a product and brand has positive connotations and associations with the general public, private brands will aim to use stimulus generalisation to imitate their product and get the same connotations and associations.
For example, Aldi’s ‘Herbals’ imitating ‘Herbal Essences’ packaging with the same shape, logo, placement text and colour to attract customers who want quality shampoo and conditioner (or the smell!), but might not want to pay the price. Being such an established hair care product in the market for many years, ‘Herbals’ hopes that consumers confuse themselves and purchase their brand. You won’t fool me ‘Herbals’!
This underpins a lot of Aldi’s marketing strategy. Instead of having Rice ‘Bubbles’ they sell Rice ‘Pops’, with a similar look and feel to the category leader. It has the same kind of packaging, colour and so consumers will respond similarly and have the same associations to their pack design.
To explain stimulus generalisation within classical conditioning, a good anecdotal example is when John Watson and Rosalie conditioned a 9-month old baby Albert to be afraid of a white rat by pairing the rat with a loud and erratic noise. After conditioning this to Albert, he was not only just afraid of the rat but of a range of similar stimuli, including Watson’s hair, fur coats, rabbits and cotton balls (Domjan, 1993). According to the Psychology and Marketing Journal, (Till, B.D & Priluck R.N, 2000) researchers in the area of marketing believe that classical conditioning is an easy, non cognitive method of low-involvement learning or low-involvement ad message processing. It is applied to marketing through the product line, form and category extensions, family branding, licensing and generalizing usage situations. It also includes me-too brands- such as the Aldi examples above.
I think these brands using stimulus generalisation are encouraged by the short term benefits of such easy success, and these, blind them from the possible legal implications which may include lawsuits, forced re-branding, or corporate embarrassment. How do you guys feel about buying these brands? I personally tend to steer clear — I think it is a trust thing!
Domjan, M, 1993, The Principles of learning and behavior. Brooks/Cole, Pacific Grove, CA. n.a, 2013, How do they get away with this?, Image, WordPress, viewed 19th May 2015 <https://thedancingduck.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/copycats-and-representativeness/>
Schiffman L, O’Cass A, Paladino, A, Carlson, J, 2013, Consumer Behaviour, 6thedn, Pearson Australia Group, NSW.
Till, B.D, Priluck, R.L, 2000, ‘Stimulus Generalization in classical conditioning: An Initial Investigation and Extension’, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 55-72.
I did a little recon at Aldi and look what I found!