Love Imagery Can Hurt Sales, Shows Study

Marketing & Advertising

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Just one month ago stores, magazines, and television were filled with images of perfect couples celebrating Valentine's Day with the perfect compliment of expensive flowers, jewelry, and chocolates. In the midst of the season, however, it is easy to forget that a large segment of the population is not in a committed relationship. This can lead love marketing to be viewed in very different ways, and possibly damage sales.

A new study to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research has shown that highlighting relationships in advertising correlates to lower sales. The paper found that this type of marketing can have the opposite of the intended effect on those not in relationships.

"Marketers may need to rethink the prevalent practice of using images of idealized relationships to sell everything from cookies to cameras because many consumers don't have those relationships," said Lisa Cavanaugh, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the University of Southern California. "By reminding people of relationships they don't have, marketers inadvertently make consumers feel undeserving - less worthy of treating and rewarding themselves."

The study found that consumers not in relationships often react to love-centered marketing reminders of that fact by seeing themselves as less deserving of things. This can lead those consumers to spend less money overall, choose low-end products, and even eat less high-calorie foods.

"By reminding consumers of relationships they do not have, marketers may not be simply mis-targeting but also self-handicapping," said Cavanaugh. "Marketers may think of these relationship reminders as aspirational, that is, suggesting that their brand or product will be able to help you achieve the type of life you've always wanted. But in fact, the reactions of consumers I've observed in my research tell a very different story - relationship reminders often cause consumers to feel undeserving and restrict indulgence. Singles need to get some love from marketers, too."