The Bandwagon Effect
Hello everybody. Now, you’re probably familiar with the expression “jumping on the bandwagon” and you may have a pretty good idea of what it means, but what you might not know is that this expression actually describes a behavioural phenomenon commonly known among psychologists as the Bandwagon Effect, which is what we will be looking at today. It is a fascinating psychological phenomenon that is particularly interesting for marketing and sales and we will be taking a look at how the bandwagon effect can be used to get people interested in your services and products on a very large-scale.
Now, we all like winning. We like to be on the winning team and its never nice to feel excluded or to feel like an outsider. As human beings, we all have this innate desire to feel included and be part of the group. We naturally fear social isolation or even missing out on the experiences and pleasures that others are enjoying. We also like to signal our social identity by means of positive associations. This natural social desire has a tremendous impact in terms of shaping our behaviour, of course.
As individuals, we are highly susceptible to the pressures and norms exerted by groups. As an idea or belief increases in popularity, we tend to become increasingly keen to adopt it. When seemingly everyone is doing something, there is enormous pressure to conform, since conformity ensures some level of social inclusion and acceptance.
Many people therefore often adopt the behaviours and ideas of others in order to avoid becoming a social pariah or missing out on things that the majority of people may be doing or experiencing. Fashion trends largely rely upon the bandwagon effect, as more and more people start to wear certain brands of clothing just because they see others doing the same. The successes of social networks are also largely dependent upon the bandwagon effect, of course; and if someone starts supporting a sports team once it achieves success despite never having shown any interest in that team beforehand, that person is often known as a “bandwagon fan.”
One of the spheres of life in which the bandwagon effect is most evident is of course politics. Many people will vote for a person who appears to have more popular support precisely because they desire to belong or feel at home in the society they live in.
The bandwagon effect is essentially a form of groupthink: a psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group, even to the point of setting aside their personal convictions for the sake of conforming.
The term “bandwagon” literally refers to a wagon that carries a band through a parade. Back in the 19th century, a household name in the entertainment business, Dan Rice used to ride across the country on their circus bandwagon with his circus entourage. As Rice campaigned for Zachary Taylor during his run for president during 1848, he invited Taylor to join them on their bandwagon. During parades he would then encourage those who supported Taylor to express that support by literally jumping on the bandwagon. And this is of course where the famous expression “to jump on the bandwagon” originated. Interestingly, in what actually ended up being somewhat of a bandwagon effect in and of itself, the trend caught on to the extent that by the turn of the twentieth century, bandwagons had become a standard feature during US Presidential campaigns.
Social media platforms often rely on the bandwagon effect for their own market domination — take TikTok as an example: as increasing numbers of people started using this network, other individuals jumped on the bandwagon and started using it too. Tiktok’s entire premise is based on the bandwagon effect. Other examples of the bandwagon effect include the ALS ice bucket challenge, where a cultural trend was set to be imitated by thousands around the world, seemingly for the sole reason that it was a popular thing to do. More recently, when some people started bulk-buying toilet paper at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resultant empty shelves led to a bandwagon effect where more and more people started hoarding toilet paper as they believed it to be scarce. As we will see in a few moments, this example of the phenomenon can prove most vital when it comes to improving your sales strategies.
When it comes to buying, customers often rely upon the knowledge, advice and purchasing behaviour of others in order to make their decisions. We are naturally inclined to believe that if something is desirable because of the fact that it is desired by others. In many regards, this is actually a very productive or useful tendency, since having to think through every single idea or proposal yourself before making a decision would take an enormous amount of time. Relying on other people to do this of course saves time. Online reviews as well as those by people we trust is one of the ways in which we can acquire information quickly and accurately. This is effectively a way to outsource the cost of gathering information to someone else.
One of the best ways to utilize the bandwagon effect when it comes to marketing is by means of deliberately making your product appear more popular by limiting availability. Think, for example of when you walk into a supermarket and see a product that is in limited supply: this immediately gives the impression that it is more popular and hence superior to competitors. Or, for example when you make an online hotel booking and see “only 1 room left!” on the reservation site. Not only does the urgency make you want to make that booking as soon as possible, but the perceived popularity itself makes you believe it must be a good choice.
Also, you can give shoppers and consumers reasons to “jump on the bandwagon” by involving your brand in their wider conversation, such as on social media. The bandwagon effect is in full force on social media platforms, with influencers making millions by simply becoming trendsetters and getting others to follow suit. Many brands have also achieved tremendous success by offering free samples to influencers who then post online reviews to their millions of social media followers. This marketing strategy can go an exceptionally long way to building your brand’s credibility and gaining customers’ trust.
The bandwagon effect just goes to show what in immense impact psychological phenomena have on sales performance. Therefore, understanding the psychological impact of the bandwagon effect on masses of potential customers is a vital strategy to ensure your brand grows.