The Price of Pursuing Perfection

March 5, 2019

Key Takeaways

Body shapes are powerful cues that can influence consumer spending preferences.

When consumers feel less capable, they tend to show lower motivation for control.

Research by Adam Craig found new parallels between idealized body images in advertising and consumer spending. According to his study, “Costly Curves: How Human-like Shapes Can Increase Spending” (Journal of Consumer Research), even subtle reminders of idealized bodies can encourage overweight consumers to overspend.

“In our research, we show that exposure to body cues (i.e., shapes) can have unintended consequences on seemingly unrelated behavior, such as spending,” wrote Craig and his co-author Marisabel Romero. 

“We demonstrate that seeing a thin (vs. wide) human-like shape leads high-body-mass- index (BMI) consumers to make more indulgent spending decisions.”

The study found that mere reminders of the thin-body ideal can cause overweight consumers to feel worse about their own abilities, including feeling less capable of managing their spending impulses. In general, when consumers feel less capable, they tend to show lower motivation for control.

These findings suggest that consumer advocates should be wary of reinforcing the link between weight, self-control, and financial achievement, as doing so can be counterproductive for consumers trying to control their behavior. 

The implications are particularly important given the negative consequences such messages could have on consumer debt and spending.

“Our studies confirm that body shapes are powerful cues that can influence consumer spending preferences,” concluded the authors. “Marketers have long used slender models, forms, and designs to promote economic and social benefits. However, their design decisions might lead overweight consumers, who lack identification with idealized standards, to make more indulgent spending decisions.”

Costly Curves: How Human-like Shapes Can Increase Spending

Authors:

Adam Craig, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky
Marisabel Romero, Colorado State University

Publication:

Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 44, Issue 1, pages 80–98, June 2017

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