Behold: a car advert, featuring an attractive woman
It’s the oldest trick in the book – pairing a desirable babe with a thing you can buy. Classical conditioning at it’s finest – and apparently, it’s very effective at selling cars. Mainly to men, I think. But who actually decided that this particular woman was the right girl for the job? On what basis do car manufacturers decide that one girl, above all others, will sell the most cars, or promote the brand better than any other?
Every Body is Different
Take a look at the following pictures. I understand that we’re not talking super-model sexy here, but think about how attractive you find each of them. If you had to choose, which would you say has the “ideal” body?
Swami and Tovee (2012) showed these pictures, which form the basis of the Photographic Figure Rating Scale (Swami, Salem, Furnham & Tovee, 2008) to two groups of males. One group was put through a 20 minute task called the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which is designed to evoke a stress response, before being asked to evaluate and rate each picture for physical attractiveness; which woman they thought had the “ideal” body; and which were the largest and thinnest figures they found physically attractive. The control group simply had to wait in silence for 20 minutes, at which point they too evaluated the figures on the same dimensions.
The researchers found that participants who were exposed to stress rated figure 5 as the “ideal” body, whereas non-stressed individuals rated figure 4 as the “ideal”. Furthermore, stressed participants rated figures 5, 6, 7 and 8 all higher than non-stressed participants did. The researchers explain this preference in light of the environmental security hypothesis, which suggests that during stressful times humans develop a preference for those with mature physical characteristics.
So what does this have to do with Consumer Psychology?
Picture your typical hard-working city-living young professional. He makes a fair bit of money, but it doesn’t come easy. He works long hours and is under a lot of pressure, and stress is an occurrence.
Outside of office hours he wants to enjoy his time. He wants a good car, nice clothes, maybe an expensive watch, and premium holidays to make the most of the breaks he gets. He has money, and he doesn’t mind spending a bit extra to get exactly what he wants. He would be a great person to try and sell luxury goods to.
Here are the types of adverts that I would say target this demographic:
In terms of celebrities which might embody this idea, an example would be Monica Bellucci – curvy body, eternally youthful (she’s past her forties in this picture), and I would say, not the typical type of woman you might see in your average luxury car advert
Such campaigns could potentially be focussed in inner cities, where the number of people who fall into that demographic would be highest. It would be a bold move, but it could potentially be pretty memorable. Furthermore, the scientific evidence suggests it would appeal to a certain demographic of people who these products are geared towards.
Future research in aid of further segmentation
While this study only tested White British participants, future research could test participants in other countries to evaluate the extent to which stress impacts on sexual preferences in other emerging markets such as China, Japan, Brazil and Russia. This would help companies use the most effective models in their advertising of luxury goods in these countries.
This study also only examined male sexual preferences. Investigating whether females under stress prefer males with more mature features would also be a worthwhile research question. If this does prove to be the case, then this would provide a basis for effective marketing to female workers in similar high stress jobs.
The shape of things to come
This is just one example of how I think Psychological Research should be being used to inform the marketing of products and brands. Over the coming weeks I aim to explore this theme further, and hope to find other innovative ways in which scientific research can inform more effective marketing strategies.