The Power of Habit: The Craving Brain

The second chapter in The Power of Habit starts out talking about Pepsodent toothpaste, and how Claude Hopkins was credited as a genius marketer for making the product a staple at a time when very few Americans brushed their teeth at all. Hopkins created ads that said “run your tongue across your teeth – you’ll feel a film that makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay.” This created a simple and obvious cue, and provided a simple routine that people could follow with a reward that they valued (beauty). Duhigg then stops and says that while this two-step process of finding a cue and promising a reward seems to be a simple, effective recipe, Hopkins did not know that there was a third step that was really driving consumer behavior.

Duhigg then brings up a discussion of how Proctor and Gamble struggled in its initial attempts to market Febreze. While testing showed that consumers loved the product and its results, after some time it ended up sitting in the back of their closets. Consumers who had obvious pet odors in their house were not using it, because they had become habituated to the smells and did not notice them. There was a struggle for the marketers of Febreze – how do you build a habit when there is no cue to trigger use of the product, and those who need it most don’t appreciate the reward?

The solution is, of course, that missing third step that Duhigg mentioned earlier – creating a craving. Duhigg shares studies on the brainwaves of monkeys that show that once a routine becomes habit, the brain starts anticipating the reward even before it comes. Going back and looking at consumers who used Febreze, the marketers found that those who used it at the end of the cleaning cycle were basically using the spritz as a signal of accomplishment for having made a bed, cleaned a room, etc. The marketers further noted that making things scentless was not most people’s desire – instead they wanted a nice clean fresh scent. So they went back and added some scent to the product, marketed Febreze as the final step in the cleaning process, and watched as Febreze finally started selling. Consumers felt like their house wasn’t really clean without that fresh scent at the end.

Duhigg then returns to the Pepsodent example and explains that the difference between Pepsodent and other toothpastes wasn’t the ability to remove the natural film that develops on the teeth, but a citrus ingredient that made the mouth tingle. It was that tingle that consumers respond to, and even though it has nothing to do with cleaning the teeth, you will find it in all toothpastes on the market today because consumers unconsciously associate that feeling with an idea that the product is working.

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