Star signs may hold the key to shopping behaviour, according to a survey of 30,000 people. Katrina Wishart reports
Are you a person who spends hours shopping and ends up buying nothing? Are you horrified when your friends buy the first item they see? Have you ever turned to astrology to explain your reactions? Imagine the implications for the marketing industry if there were scientific evidence that starsigns influence what people buy, how they shop and what leisure activities they pursue. Two years ago marketing lecturer Vince Mitchell suggested to fellow academics at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology that the notion might be worth researching. His remark was greeted with "incredulity, sheer incredulity," but then again he says, "that made it more of a challenge".
Dr Mitchell's attempt to "take well-established scientific principles and apply them to an ascientific concept" resulted in some extraordinary findings. According to his analysis of an independent government survey of 30,000 people, solitary Sagittarians really are less likely to spend time with other people, cautious Capricorns like the comfort that brand names offer and the top three leisure activities of people born under Aquarius are all water sports. Mitchell's research also revealed that Scorpios are less likely to be heavy drinkers because of "ambition and career concerns" and active Virgoans spend less time on leisure because "they spend most of their time busy at work".
No one was more surprised than Mitchell at the patterns that emerged. "We were astounded to be getting anything, let alone results which were so predictable in terms of starsigns," he says. Yet, even presented with research that adheres to the strictest of scientific methods, producing figures which are "beyond statistical significance", many are disbelieving. This may be because people feel they are being asked to believe in astrology, to believe that the month in which a person is born really influences how they behave. But even if there is no truth in astrology per se, Mitchell's report still has significance for marketing and advertising. The effect of starsigns may be explicable in terms of psychological conditioning. If I know I am a Scorpio and I know I am supposed to be ambitious and self-assured I may actually behave in these ways. As Mitchell points out, "the whys and wherefores are not necessarily as important as the end result".
For if it can be proved that a person born under the sign Aries does indeed exhibit traits thought typical of the star sign, advertisers are armed with very useful information. Mitchell says: "As Aries are the babies of the Zodiacs they are more prone to impulse purchasing - items such as chocolate." All advertisers have to do is encourage Arians to identify with the person they use to promote their chocolate bar. If, for instance, he is portrayed as an independent, assertive muncher the campaign could be very successful.
Mitchell insists that his report is not "the definitive study". Research has only focused on shopping and leisure. Already banks such as the Halifax believe there could be links between people's starsigns and their investment habits. Taureans, being the most thrifty of the starsigns, may be a target for high-interest investment while generous Sagittarians may be better advised to apply for a credit card. There is just one question to ask Mitchell, what star sign is he? "Aries". And are you an impulse buyer? "Terrible!"
This research featured in The Way We Are by Palace Radio Productions, broadcast on the World Service every Friday at 07.45 until September 19.
How signs of the Zodiac affect our character
Self-confident, independent, enthusiastic, assertive, determined, concealer of emotions, gregarious, selfish
Patient, calm, stubborn, home-loving, affectionate, thoughtful, security conscious, possessive
Versatile, imaginative, inquisitive, communicative, rational, variety-seeking, sociable, witty
Sensitive, emotional, pessimistic, insecure, given to worry, solitary, intuitive
Proud, strong-minded, authority-seeking, trusting, calculating, ambitious
Methodical, logical, careful, health-conscious, active, dutiful, given to worry
Diplomatic, fair-minded, sympathetic, negotiator, indecisive Scorpio Ambitious, self-assured, obstinate, vindictive, passionate, non-gregarious
Tactless, creative, impulsive, generous, enjoys outdoors, needs diversity
Practical, cautious, persevering, organised, serious, respectful of authority, exacting, risk-averse, unemotional, proud
Humanitarian, inventive, intelligent, academic, eccentric, honest, private, stubborn, unpredictable
Sympathetic, emotional, unconfident, temperamental, indecisive, unstable, flexible, creative
Compiled by Dr V. Mitchell