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Washington, March 13: Researchers have revealed how the prevalent marketing practice of highlighting relationships in advertising and promotions can have substantial negative consequences for sales and consumers' willingness to indulge.

Consumer psychologist Lisa Cavanaugh, assistant professor at the USC Marshall School of Business, found that reminding consumers of relationships they don't have reduces their perceptions of deservingness and triggers them to restrict their own indulgent consumption, which means they spend less money, choose lower-end brands of products and opt for lower-calorie foods. Those effects may be particularly profound during certain times of year, such as holidays and wedding season, when the portrayal of relationships is especially prominent in advertisements.

Cavanaugh said that marketers may need to rethink the prevalent practice of using images of idealized relationships to sell everything from cookies to cameras, asserting that because many consumers don't have those relationships.

In seven experiments, Cavanaugh used different study designs and types of relationship reminders (advertisements, greeting cards, magazine articles and scenarios), measured multiple indulgent choices (personal care products, clothing and accessories) and tested the hypotheses with student and adult populations. Her findings demonstrate the robustness of the effect of deservingness on indulgence.

In one study conducted during the week before Valentine's Day, each consumer viewed electronic greeting cards that emphasized one of two close relationship types, either romantic or platonic. Next, the participants were presented with a shopping task, choosing from economy, mid-range or higher-end brands of lip balm, shampoo, hand cream and fragrance. Finally, they indicated their current relationship status.

The results surprisingly revealed that reminders of romantic relationships caused single consumers to choose fewer high-end personal care products than their coupled counterparts.

The study is set t be published in the Journal of Marketing Research. (ANI)

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