Why do people pay for experiences deliberately marketed as painful?
According to a new study, people will pay big money for extraordinary — even painful — experiences to offset the physical malaise resulting from today’s sedentary lifestyles.
“How do we explain that on the one hand consumers spend billions of dollars every year on analgesics and opioids, while exhausting and painful experiences such as obstacle races and ultra-marathons are gaining in popularity?” asked Drs. Rebecca Scott of Cardiff University in the U.K., Julien Cayla of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and Bernard Cova of KEDGE Business School in France.
The researchers interviewed people who participate in Tough Mudder, a grueling challenge involving about 25 military-style obstacles that “Mudders” must overcome in half a day. Events include running through torrents of mud, plunging into freezing water, and crawling through 10,000 volts of electric wires.
Injuries have included spinal damage, strokes, heart attacks, and even death, the researchers noted.
Through their interviews with Mudders, the researchers discovered that pain helps them deal with the reduced physicality of office life.
Through sensory intensification, pain brings the body into sharp focus, allowing Mudders, who spend much of their time sitting in front of computers, to rediscover their physical body.
The pain also helps these Weekend Warriors escape their daily life, while providing temporary relief from the burdens of self-awareness, the researchers found.
Electric shocks and exposure to icy waters might be painful, but they also allow the participants to escape the demands and anxieties of modern life, they added.
“By leaving marks and wounds, painful experiences help us create the story of a fulfilled life spent exploring the limits of the body,” the researchers concluded. “The proliferation of videos recording painful experiences such as Tough Mudder happens at least partly because a fulfilled life also means exploring the body in its various possibilities.”
The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Source: Journal of Consumer Research