Anthropological evidence suggests cosmetics have been in use for at least 30,000 years, beginning with the Neanderthals. Now, a new study proves what many have deduced — that people use cosmetics primarily for emotional reasons.
Researchers studied facial creams (hydrating and nutritive ones, colored or non-colored, and anti-wrinkle creams) and body creams (firming and anti-cellulite creams).
“The study shows that both the emotional and utility aspect of cosmetic brands have a significant impact on consumer satisfaction, but that the emotional component has a greater effect,” said Vanessa Apaolaza, Ph.D., lead author of the study.
The report was published in the African Journal of Business Management.
Some of the main positive emotions aroused by beauty products include “the sensation of well-being gained from eliminating or reducing feelings of worry and guilt, which is the factor with the greatest impact,” Apaolaza said.
Researchers asked 355 women between the ages 18 and 50, on various aspects of their perceptions of the functional and emotional factors of the cosmetics they used, as well as their degree of satisfaction with them.
The results showed that “consumer satisfaction is greatest when the cosmetics brand helps to strengthen positive emotions through the perception of ‘caring for oneself’ and removing feelings of worry and guilt about not taking care of one’s appearance,” said Apaolaza.
Ironically, in order for the brand to provide this positive emotional experience, it must first cause consumers to have negative feelings about themselves, such as concern about and dissatisfaction with their appearance.
“One way of achieving this is by subtly telling them they are ugly – something that many cosmetics adverts achieve implicitly and very effectively by showing images of unusually beautiful women,” the study points out.
“The theory of social comparison has been used in various research studies to explain how using very attractive models in advertising can affect consumers,” said Apaolaza.
The basic premise of these studies, she said, is that consumers compare their own level of physical attractiveness with that of the models used in ads, and that these comparisons give rise to negative effects in the way they perceive their own physical attractiveness and on their self-esteem. These effects are most heightened among people with the greatest awareness of their public image,
Accordingly, researchers believe the study shows that current marketing methods that play off women’s negative emotions should be eliminated. Moreover, strategies need to be put in action to soothe women’s worries about looking good – removing one of the main psychological motivations for buying cosmetics.
Nevertheless, emotions often rule, especially when emotions are tied to sex.
“Our emotions often dictate our decisions. In our buying behavior, we make emotional decisions and justify them rationally. These emotions are in part learned and in part instinctive,” said Apaolaza.
For example, one thing that could explain the importance assigned to the unconscious emotional desire “to be attractive to the opposite sex, to be sexually attractive,” can be explained in Darwinist terms – beautiful faces and well-formed bodies are important biological indicators of a person’s value as a sexual partner.
Researchers determined “the positive feeling gained from experiencing greater success in social interactions” has the greatest impact on pleasure, among cosmetic purchasers.
From a utility perspective, the researchers found that the design of the bottles or containers (attractive, making the product or brand seem technically superior, exceptional and unique) also has an impact on purchasing decisions.
“These results serve as a recommendation to the market to use persuasive strategies focused more on emotional aspects than functional ones,” the researcher concludes.