It is true that most consumers desire interaction with each other. We generally like being associated with friends, families, loved ones, and the like. As marketing professionals, we try to use those relationships to our advantage. We portray relationships in advertisements, brochures, videos, pictures, and many other creative pieces in order to capture the imagination and influence consumers. We want the consumer to picture having their own relationship interacting with the brand or product that we are displaying.
But could we be leveraging that strategy to a fault? A recent study suggests that we are.
Dr. Lisa Cavanaugh of the USC Marshall School of Business conducted a study that is being published in the Journal of Market Research. It took a look at how marketers are positioning brands and products, and how it affects the consumer's perception of deservingness.
The study, which was conducted on both student and adult populations, suggested findings that contradict the industry's standard way of doing things.
Yes, the study suggests that showing romantic relationships to single consumers actually drives down the single consumer's perception of deservingness, causing them to think less about indulging on mid- to upper-end products, and actually submitting to lower-end, less expensive materials. Yes, instead of the usual buying spree to make oneself feel deserving, the opposite result happened.
Another interesting finding is that when single consumers are shown creative pieces that feature platonic relationships, the single consumer is projected to buy just as much as any couple. Dr. Cavanaugh suggests that because single consumers have those kinds of relationships, their perceived deservingness remains at a similar level as coupled consumers.
Perhaps the slumps in sales during the holidays and wedding seasons now have a better explanation: we're turning off our audiences.
Yes, the American landscape in marriage and relationships has been rapidly changing since the early 1980s. Fewer people are marrying, and if they do marry, they are marrying later and later in their lives. There are more female heads of households than ever before. The "nuclear family" is now more of a societal dream than reality.
None of those facts above, mind you, is necessarily bad. But they do show that our marketing industry is behind the curve in showcasing what American consumers look like.
Cavanaugh suggests multiple ways marketers can use these revelations. First, marketers can stop assuming that everyone wants to be married, have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or is looking for the next hot fling. Sorry, marketers, you actually have to do more research to stay relevant. Second, when knowing your audience, marketers could use technology to switch ads according to the relationship status of the consumer. For example: a fitness company showing a couple working out to married people, versus showing a pickup game of guys to single men.
This research points to the concept we discussed some time ago — how consumers are becoming more interested in the “now” versus “what’s to come." No longer are inspirational or dreamy creative pieces as effective as they once were. It is a fascinating and hopefully not discouraging trend in our society.
And so it goes.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.