In 2008, when many companies reported record declines in sales amidst a global economic recession, L’Oréal, one of the world’s largest cosmetic manufacturers, was somehow immune to the downturn. In fact, L’Oréal enjoyed a sales growth of 5.3% that year—why? Why was L’Oréal the apparent beneficiary of a worldwide economic crisis?
Dating back to the Great Depression, times of recession have consistently yielded anomalous gains for the beauty products industry, even while consumers reign in spending on household goods and recreational products. Journalists have dubbed this curiosity the “lipstick effect.” I recently sought to test the lipstick effect in a series of studies, the results of which were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Our findings confirmed that the lipstick effect is not only real, but deeply rooted in women’s mating psychology...
Four separate experiments, along with real-world data... consistently supported the lipstick effect, as college-age women, when primed with news of economic instability, reported an increased desire to buy attractiveness-enhancing goods, along with a decreased desire to purchase goods that do not enhance one’s physical appearance. Our experiments also found that this increased desire for beauty products, clothing and accessories was fully mediated by a heightened preference for mates with resources.
While many journalists who have written about the lipstick effect have theorized that it represents women’s therapeutic spending on cheap indulgences, we found that the lipstick effect applies specifically to products that enhance beauty, even when those products are more expensive. Recession cues increased women’s desire to buy high-end cosmetics and designer clothing, but not to buy budget-line beauty products, which were rated less effective at improving one’s appearance.
Furthermore, we discovered that the lipstick effect and a woman’s desire to attract a mate with resources are unrelated to her independent resource access. Women of both higher and lower socioeconomic status expressed an increased desire to buy luxury beauty products when primed with recession cues. This suggests that an uncertain economic climate leads women to heighten mate attraction effort irrespective of their own resource need.This cracks me up. What's funny about these studies is that I'm absolutely certain that what's going on is completely subconscious--the women probably don't even realize what they're doing, but do it anyway. Such is the wonder of our amazing brains, and the strange cross-wirings that generations of evolution have created.
As much as we all like to think that we are agents of our own destiny, making rational decisions based on complete information, consumer psychology studies consistently find the opposite. We are in fact subject to and guided by a strange mix of psychological motivations, many of which we don't even realize or recognize. Intelligent marketers take advantage of these psychological neuroses, consistently advertising to us in ways that we don't even notice. Good stuff.
(h/t Marginal Revolution)