Academic journal article Behavior and Social Issues

Consumer Behavior Analysis and Social Marketing: The Case of Environmental Conservation1

Academic journal article Behavior and Social Issues

Consumer Behavior Analysis and Social Marketing: The Case of Environmental Conservation1

Article excerpt


Consumer behavior analysis represents one development within the behavior-analytic tradition of interpreting complex behavior, in which a specific conceptual framework has been proposed (i.e., the Behavioral Perspective Model). According to this model, consumer behavior occurs at the intersection of a consumer-behavior setting and an individual's learning history of consumption and is a function of utilitarian (mediated by the product) and informational (mediated by other persons) consequences. The model has been useful in analyses of consumers' brand choice and reactions to different settings. In the present paper, the model was applied to the interpretation of environmental deleterious behaviors (use of private transportation, consumption of domestic energy, waste disposal, and domestic consumption of water). This application pointed to specific marketing strategies that should be adopted to modify each of these operant classes.

KEYWORDS: consumer behavior, environmental conservation, social marketing, behavioral interpretation

Radical behaviorist interpretation of complex behavior-that which is not amenable directly to an experimental analysis-has taken two forms. The first, which we may call "top-down," is perhaps the more frequently encountered, and is the mainstay of Skinner's (1953) interpretations of economic, political and religious life-among other areas of application. It consists in suggesting surrogates of the elements of the three- or four-term contingency that might comprise responses of the kind controlled in the laboratory and the stimuli that would control them in such a closed setting. The behavior under interpretation, which typically occurs in a much more open setting, is then described as though it was predictable and controllable from a knowledge of the elements of the situation that have been labeled establishing operations, discriminative stimuli, reinforcers and punishers.

This broad-brush mode of interpretation lacks the detailed knowledge of the world that is to be interpreted, which is shown in the second kind of interpretive approach, "bottom-up." This is the mode of interpretation more likely be devised by persons whose initial training and expertise lies not in behavior analysis but in another sphere to which the concepts and, to some degree, the methods of behavioral science are subsequently applied. Economists, political scientists, philosophers and-for the purposes of this paper-marketing scientists might all look to behavior analysis to provide a plausible interpretation of their subject matter after they have mastered it, perhaps in terms of a theory quite distinct from that of radical behaviorism. We do not know for sure how common this mode is compared with top-down interpretation, but it is the method that brought consumer behavior analysis into being and that which we describe in this paper.

The aim must often be, through sensitivity to the realities of the subject matter, to introduce complexities of interpretation which could not have been anticipated by an experimentally-based analysis of behavior. The categories and definitions of variables used in experimental research may be insufficient to account for the complexities of real-world behavior; this is a world the practitioners of the disciplines who study it centrally know better than the experimentalists whose focus is entirely to be found within the lab. The extension of behavioral science concepts in this way is neither a deviation from nor a corruption of behavior analysis; it is a means of enhancing both it and its relevance to the world of social issues.

In this paper, we show a conceptual framework that can be used to interpret consumer behavior that harms the environment and discuss its empirical confirmation in the sphere of consumer behavior generally. We will also indicate how it may be applied to and actively employed in social marketing programs aimed at the conservation of natural resources. …

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