How the Golf Industry tricks their consumers into doing what they want (or don’t want)

The season is rolling on and the golf courses start getting busy again. Nothing better than starting that season right with getting your hands on that brand new driver that will lift your game to the level you have been trying to reach for years, right?

Well, if you know this feeling or have actually bought some new equipment recently, you have probably been tricked without really knowing it. How? Let us show you! This article uncovers how the Golf industry influences the actions of their consumers and how you might have been involved yourself.

The Golfing Industry: A lucrative branch

When it comes to profit opportunities, golf is one of the most lucrative sports. The profit potential in the field of clothing & equipment is nearly endless. In 1996, one of the most dominant Golfers of all time, Tiger Woods, entered professional Golf. Before he even played his first PGA Tour Event, he was signed by a Multi Million $ Deal from Nike Golf. With the blink of an eye, golfing became younger, more athletic, more fashionable – reaching out to a whole new target group of Golf Athletes.

In addition to the established older generations of Golfers, the new consumer segment of young, passionate and athletic players was established.

The trend continued Tiger Woods appeared in Men’s Fitness magazine in 2007 and shirtless on the cover of Vanity Fair. 7 years later, the new world no. 1 Rory McIlroy would be the first golfer to land on the cover of the Men’s Health. Signed by whom? Nike Golf – what a surprise.

A closer look: classical conditioning in Golf

And this is nothing else than a perfect example for what we call classical conditioning. I am sure some of you have heard of Pavlov and his dog experiment (if not – check this out: Pavlov), and what the golf industry is doing with us is nothing else than that.

But how does it work? Let‘s take it easy. An unconditioned Stimulus which leads to an unconditioned response is linked with a conditioned stimulus. To be more concrete, once you see Tiger Woods, you have an unconditioned response, in other words a natural response, which might be the desire to play Golf.

If we now take Tiger Woods and pair him with the Nike swoosh again and again, you will link those to images to each other. And if you do it often enough, only by seeing the Nike swoosh, you will create the desire to play golf. At this stage, the conditioned stimulus (Nike) creates a conditioned response (desire to playing golf). And next time you are in the store, guess what you will be tempted to purchase….

But this is only one of the examples how we as the consumers are tricked into showing certain behaviour. By the way – this works across all industries and not only golf. This progress essentially turns professional athletes into walking billboards that are constantly influencing you. And with golf being an individuals sport, this is probably the prime example of how athletes are branded. The company’s logo is always shown prominently every time the golfer hits a shot.

Going further: Operant conditioning

Besides the classical conditioning, there is also something called operant conditioning which is very popular in the golf industry. As opposed to the classical method, in operant conditioning, the stimuli appear after the behaviour has been made. It uses the means of reinforcement and punishment. Therefore, an association between certain behaviour and a reward (to increase the behaviour) or punishment (to decrease the behaviour) is made.

Both can be either positive (you add something) or negative (you take something away). Here are some examples of how operant conditioning is used in golf to influence our behaviour:

  • Positive reinforcement: Increasing behaviour through adding something. A classic example is that you are offered a dozen golf balls for free if you purchase a set of clubs. Furthermore, golf clubs use this method with loyalty cards, e.g. you buy 5 green fees and the 6th is for free.
  • Negative reinforcement: Increasing behaviour through taking something away. This can be seen with golf carts. Some golf courses offer the complimentary use of a golf cart, removing the need of you having to carry your clubs. Other examples are extended warranties on golf clubs, which remove the risk of being disappointed with your latest purchase.
  • Positive punishment: Decreasing the behaviour through adding something. This can be found a lot in the rulebooks of any golf course. You hit the ball in the water – 1 penalty stroke. You hit it out of bounds – 1 penalty stroke. You hit your tee shot short of the ladies tee – buy a round of beer in the club house for your flight partners. Besides the rulebooks, golf courses can charge you extra for a delay in game, holding back other players behind you because you are playing too slow.
  • Negative punishment: Decreasing the behaviour through taking something away. This is rarely the case in the golf industry, but there have been some cases of members being thrown out of their golf clubs due to rude behaviour. You can also be banned from the course if you don’t dress appropriately.

So there you go. I am sure by reading the above, you have found yourself in any of the situations. So next time you happen to be smart enough to notice, try not to get caught up in the system!

If you want to check out Pavlov now; here he comes again: Pavlov


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