Psychology of Consumer Behaviour |

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's Slinky! It's Slinky! Making a Want a Need

"What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound?
A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing, everyone knows it’s Slinky!
It’s Slinky, it’s slinky, for fun it’s the best of a toy
It’s Slinky, its Slinky, it’s fun for a girl and boy
Everyone wants a Slinky; you ought to get a Slinky"

Today was take my Slinky to Psychology of Consumer Behaviour class day. Some people take their kids to work on special days, but with me it's my Slinky. Of course there's a story and that's what I want the students to discover. Through this little slinky exercise they learn how much they actually know about Consumer Behaviour.
I start out by playing this old Slinky commercial.

Some students even sing along. The Slinky jingle does that. There's usually more than a few Slinky fans in the class. Showing the students the mini Slinky, the box and contents, I'm usually playing with the Slinky. Now comes the task, they get into groups to try to figure out the answers to the following questions:
  1. Why did Karen buy a Slinky? Did she intend to buy one?
  2. What happened when she saw the slinky?
  3. When did she buy it-What time of year?
  4. Where did she buy it? Where in the store was it located?
  5. Who did she buy it for?
  6. If she bought it for someone else why did she keep it?
  7. If she bought it for someone else how did she resolve her cognitive dissonance?
  8. Is the slinky part of her extended self?
I give them a couple of hints as to location. The place is in walking distance of the college, and a bit west and a bit north. But I tell them to think about what kind of stores I might find myself in.

It isn't long before the groups are engrossed in the task as they pass around the slinky and the box and the little slinky book. Everyone wants to have a turn with the Slinky but the Slinky lovers sometimes want a second try. There's a lot of discussion.

It's amazing that a good number of students get most of the answers correct and they seem almost shocked how they can illustrate many of the concepts we have talked about in class in relation to of all things- a Slinky!

All students decide that I didn't intend to buy a Slinky, but that I was somewhere and it appeared. Most figure out that I was at the Eaton's Centre in Indigo buying a couple of books standing in line before Christmas when the Slinky box with it's retro box caught my eye. It was an impulse buy, they say. The Slinky name made the Slinky song play in your mind! Classical Conditioning! It was nostalgia. It was Christmas. It was under $10. You were buying it for a friend as a stocking stuffer. But you didn't want to give it to your friend after you bought it because you wanted it. He wouldn't really appreciate the gift, they say, and you would. You'd buy him something else.

But how did I resolve my cognitive dissonance? It isn't nice to buy something for someone and then keep it yourself. Usually one of the groups hits on the answer, "You kept it because you needed it to use in class!"

Yes, I changed my frivolous purchase into something I needed. A Want to a Need and now it's part of the extended self. It sits on a shelf on my desk in case I need to play, or use it for class of just have some silly memory of another time.

OK, the mini Slinky is less than $10 but really it's just a wire coil. Why do we pay so much for a wire coil. Let's look at a little slinky history.

In about 1945 Richard James, an engineer was working with tension springs when one fell and appeared to walk along the floor. Could it be a toy? He and his wife Betty experimented with different coils and steel and came up with a design and a name. In 1945, Slinky debuted in time for Christmas in Gimbel's Philadelphia Department Store and then at the 1946 American Toy Fair. In the 60s Richard ran off to South America to join a religious cult. Betty left with 6 kids and a floundering business, moved the company back to her home town and set about revitalizing the company and the brand. The Slinky jingle was born!

In 1990, a national survey revealed that almost 90% of Americans knew the Slinky and the Slinky jingle. Today over 300 million have been sold.In 1985 an Original Slinky was used by NASA in an experiment on board the space shuttle and in 1995 the US Postal office issued a Slinky stamp.

It's a metal coil, simple but made into an icon, a part of our culture thanks to marketing and a memorable jingle. "It's Slinky. It's Slinky. Everyone knows it's Slinky!"

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