In my Retail Management class, we learnt that beauty products are often placed near the entrances of departmental stores / on their ground floors, precisely because they are impulse products. How many of us can attest to that? I know I can.
Recently, I stumbled across an article that might help explain why women all over the world spend good money for beauty products. The article “Flattery Will Get an Ad Nowhere” by Pamela Paul, is based on the paper “The Self-Activation Effect of Advertisements: Ads Can Affect Whether and How Consumers Think About the Self,” by Debra Trampe, Diederik A. Stapel and Frans W. Siero, The Journal of Consumer Research.
I thought it was too interesting not to share.
APPARENTLY it doesn’t take much to make a girl feel plain. Just looking at an object intended to enhance beauty makes women feel worse about themselves, according to a study from the April 2011 issue of The Journal of Consumer Research.
The study looked at how women responded to an image of something (say, a high-heeled shoe) depicted in an advertisement and as a simple photograph with no advertising context. According to the authors — led by Debra Trampe, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands — advertised products, unlike unadvertised products, affect both whether and how the viewer thinks of herself afterward. In other words, an image of the high-heeled shoe in a stylish advertisement is likely to trigger a sense of inadequacy.
Of course, you’d anticipate ads featuring Lara Stone and Chanel Iman would make most women feel less than lovely. But here’s an interesting catch: the ads in the study did not feature human beings, or the model approximation thereof. While social-comparison theory holds that people gain information about themselves by looking at other people, according to this study at least, they also gain information about themselves by comparing themselves to objects.
In four different experiments with female undergraduates, beauty products were divided into two categories: beauty enhancing, such as mascara and perfume, and problem solving, such as acne cream and deodorant. One group of students was shown ads for both types of products; another group was shown simple images of both, without advertising.
Those who were shown advertised beauty-enhancing products were likely to think about themselves more afterward than other women would. Perhaps not such a big deal. But the thoughts they had about themselves (when asked questions such as “How attractive do you find yourself?” and “How satisfied are you with your body?”) were decidedly gloomier.
In advertising, implicature refers to the implicit message carried out by an image in an ad. The presence of a cashmere scarf next to a lipstick, for example, can imply luxury and softness. This is established Madison Avenue thinking.
But, the authors suggest, the very fact of the ad itself also conveys meaning to consumers. According to the study, “advertisements displaying beauty-enhancing (rather than problem-solving) products are likely to remind consumers of their own shortcomings.” This, in turn, makes them view themselves more negatively. The authors quote Christopher Lasch, who back in the 1970s said “modern” advertising “seeks to create needs, not to fulfill them; it generates new anxieties instead of allaying old ones.”
What does this mean, other than a plummeting sense of self-esteem after putting down a fashion magazine? “You might expect that a deflated sense of self could lead to lower buying intentions,” said Dr. Trampe, a question she plans to explore further. Or, perhaps, the true basis for “shopping therapy.”
So the next time you (and I) think we should buy that new miracle product, maybe we should think twice.
Side Note: You know what else makes you buy more? Facials. Suddenly (or maybe not so suddenly), you have all sorts of skin problems that must be remedied immediately, like dark eye-circles, etc. But then again, maybe they just highlight what problems you had, that you were previously blind to. Whatever it is, I think I need me some eye-gel, pronto.