Does anyone of us remember how exactly Goa became the hub of bachelor trips? When did K-pop become so huge and discovered its fan base outside of Korea? How do the weirdest of things suddenly become the meme everyone’s talking about? All these processes are driven by a psychological and economic phenomenon named the Bandwagon Effect.
A layman would call it herd mentality. To briefly explain it, the Bandwagon Effect is the tendency of people to take certain actions or draw a particular conclusion primarily because other people are doing so. When you start doing or believing in something because everybody else does, it’s the results of the Bandwagon Effect. The name comes from the popular phrase ‘jump into the bandwagon’, which means doing something fashionable.
The psychological rationale behind this effect is that no person wants to be left out. It’s only normal for people to believe that victory lies in the majority. The masses know what is right, therefore popularized ideas are deemed to be correct. This effect also simplifies the most important aspect of a human being’s life, i.e. decision making. We tend to believe that the others must have thought this through and are, therefore, correct. We allow ourselves to follow the lead without having to exercise our brain cells.
In the present age of media, spreading information is not the biggest task. The ease with which news can reach the masses and influence their thoughts has helped in widening the application of this effect. A very popular testimony to this effect is the political elections. In May 2019, the whopping majority which brought Narendra Modi to power is a product of this effect. Their supporters were large in number and converted the neutral section of the population to join the majority.
Another important application of the Bandwagon Effect is observed in marketing. It is used to increase the conversion rate of consumer products specifically. The conversion rate implies the percentage of visitors at a store/website that eventually makes a purchase. It not only influences people’s willingness to use an item but also to pay more for the same.
There are many ways in which it is leveraged by marketers. The foundation of influencer marketing is the Bandwagon Effect. The fact that the celebrities are using a product convinces the commoners to do the same. Customer testimonials and reviews are publicly displayed for people to know the popularity of their product. Stating the readership or consumer base quantitatively can also help gain the trust of the public.
The fashion industry, around the world, thrives on the bandwagon effect. The moment we come across some character in a movie wearing sneakers, we instantly redefine the word fashion altogether. Heels are wiped off the face of the earth as if they never existed. This, ultimately, forces the consumer to buy new footwear to replace the old ones that were doing the job just fine.
The psychological impact of the Bandwagon Effect is perceived to be negative. To put it in plain terms, the Bandwagon Effect is manipulation. We are constantly being nudged to act in a certain manner, and our choices are influenced by strangers. It’s similar to how we behave in a friend circle where we pick up each other’s habits and lingo.
Quite often, we find ourselves pretending to like a particular movie or a show just because everyone else around us loved it. Here, we are disrespecting our own opinion to regard others. The downside of this will become visible when human beings start to lose their individuality. We’ll all become a herd of sheep with the same skin. However, we are not there yet. While all of this is happening in the background, a person likes to think they are unique. While being manipulated unconsciously, a person is always trying to steer away from the mundane.
We must strive to counteract our tendency to use social cues as a driving factor while making influential decisions. This can easily be achieved by slowing down our decision-making process. One must try to make decisions in an environment free of prejudice. This helps a person gain an unbiased perspective. These methods can help one mitigate the impact of the external environment.
This phenomenon has also found wide application in the financial markets. A lot of new investors enter the market as a result of this. For example, during the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s, hundreds of tech startups emerged every day with no viable business plan, product, or service to bring to the market. All they needed was a name with a ‘.com’ at the end. Despite the multiple red flags, these companies attracted millions of investors due to the Bandwagon Effect.
This effect results in creating extremes in the market. It either causes the demand and price to rise infinitely, creating a bubble or sucks liquidity out of the market as all investors collectively start to lose faith.
Regardless of these speed bumps, the Bandwagon Effect drives the economy. It is the reason why multiple companies are innovating their way out of slumps. I would not call it unethical per se. However, the consumer needs to give due credit to their cogitations and not ride the tide blindly.