Brands can be helpers not heroes

10 September 2014

PHILADELPHIA, PENN: Brands need to take consumer mood into account in their marketing as new research shows people who feel they lack control over parts of their lives prefer a brand that can work with them to achieve their goals.

A paper in in the Journal of Consumer Research – Doing It the Hard Way: How Low Control Drives Preferences for High-Effort Products and Services – argued that it was not always the case that consumers wanted easy, high-tech routes to success.

Wharton marketing professor Keisha Cutright explained to Knowledge@Wharton that she her colleague, Adriana Samper of Arizona University, had sought to understand what types of products people liked to buy when they were pursuing different aims. They were particularly interested in whether consumers chose the brand that claimed to make things easy for them or the one that promised to help but expected hard work from the purchaser as well.

"We find when people feel low control over different aspects of their lives, they actually want the brand that is more of the helper, not the hero," she said. "People want to feel as if they have to put in the work, because this gives them a sense of empowerment, it makes them feel as if eventually, they can actually control outcomes in their lives again."

Marketers might want to consider this in their advertising, Cutright suggested, putting less emphasis on ease of use and product benefits and more on the consumer's role in achieving the desired outcome, an idea that could apply to everything from sporting goods to cleaning products.

"We all try to reassert control in different ways, ways that we may not expect and ways that don't necessarily always seem logical or rational to others," she noted. "But, it's our way of establishing control in life."

Giving people a prop, such as a brand, could spur them to put in the required effort. "They've got Nike by their side, right? Now they have a chance to say, "Let me put in this hard work; I know I can do it. I have support here, and now I can feel empowered." So, they're not as likely to give up as what we've seen in prior research."

Data sourced from Knowledge@Wharton; additional content by Warc staff