The concept of beauty has been an integral part of all cultures throughout time. People tend to act differently when interacting with beautiful things such as landscapes, houses, products, and even other people. However, this concept of beauty is inherently subjective; thus, philosophers and researchers have synchronously concluded that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Prior research has studied how attractive people are perceived and evaluated by others and how self-perceived beauty influences consumers’ decisions related to the beauty domain. However, there is very little understanding of how self-perceived beauty affects decisions unrelated to beauty. In a recent Journal of Marketing Research article, Zixi Jiang, Jing Xu, Margaret Gorlin, and Ravi Dhar examine how an individuals’ self-perceived beauty influences their subsequent choices irrelevant to beauty.
Through five controlled experiments and one field study, the authors demonstrate that boosting consumers’ self-perceived attractiveness contributes to greater levels of general self-confidence, thereby reducing their preference uncertainty. This allows consumers to make more deliberate product choices, thus reducing the amount of choices of compromise or where default product options are chosen. They further show that the effect attenuates when consumers attribute the source of increased self-confidence to the boost in their self-perceived attractiveness. The research was also validated in a field study, where participants had a lower tendency to compromise in their decisions when their self-perceived attractiveness was boosted.
The research findings have significant insights for marketers. Knowing that perceived self-attractiveness matters, marketers are advised to make their customers feel attractive by using various strategies, such as complimenting their physical appearance either directly or indirectly (by using in-store banner messages or online pop-ups) or by exposing them to unattractive faces, as a form of downward social comparison.
We reached out to the authors with a few follow-up questions to gain deeper insights into their paper and research process.
Q: It is interesting to see that when consumers feel attractive, it influences their choices in an unrelated domain. What was your motivation for this research?
A: Making consumers feel attractive is a widespread marketing phenomenon, such as selling them good-looking clothes and skin care products, and even encouraging cosmetic surgeries. We acknowledge that feeling beautiful may influence the desire to seek beauty-enhancing products, but might these effects carry into domains beyond the world of beauty products? This interesting research question drives us to do this research.
Q: Do you expect that the effect of self-perceived attractiveness on decisions would last long? For example, if a consumer feels attractive on a certain day, would this feeling affect decisions on the next day?
A: This is a good question. Our current experiment data show that feeling attractive can influence subsequent judgements and decisions in a short time span. Thus, our current data do not have direct evidence that this effect can last for days. However, feeling attractive can influence their upcoming product judgments, and these product judgments can be retrieved days later when consumers make purchase decisions. For example, I feel attractive after receiving compliments from a salesperson, and this feeling makes me form a preference towards a new product. I do not buy this new product as I am not interested on the day. However, this favorable preference can be retrieved later when I am ready to buy days later. We also acknowledge that there are various factors influencing purchase decisions, and feeling attractivve can be overriden by other factors, such as budget or convenience.
Q: Can you tell us more about the field study (Study 4) you conducted? What were some challenges you faced when conducting it? Is there any reason for not directly observing actual consumer behavior, such as purchasing additional items at a store when finding oneself attractive? Why didn’t you perform the same study via online panel platforms, such as Prolific or Mturk, which might take less time and money?
A: The purpose of the field study we conducted for Study 4 is to test a practical way of making customers feel attractive, namely to compliment customers’ physical appearances. This practice is mentioned by the marketing managers that we interviewed. However, this practice is not rigourously tested by prior studies. Directly observing actual consumer behavior can provide correlational evidence for this practice and our effect. However, direct observations usually lack matched control groups, making it difficult to claim evidence of causality.
Q: Now that we know from your research that self-perceived attractiveness affects subsequent choices unrelated to beauty, we are curious whether and how self-perceived unattractiveness (or negative body image) affects consumers’ choices irrelevant to beauty. Do you have any thoughts on this possibility?
A: This is a very good question. According to our theorizing, self-perceived attractiveness improves self-confidence and reduces preference uncertainty in choices. Thus, our theorizing predicts that self-perceived unattractiveness could reduce self-confidence and increase preference uncertainty in choices. Increased preference uncertainty can lead consumers to choose to compromise on their options, choose default options, or all-average options.
Q: On a practical level, a managerial strategy to make consumers feel attractive can raise ethical concerns. Although you advise companies and retailers to inform customers of the methods being used (e.g., the Skinny Mirror, lighting combinations), aren’t you concerned that it might be interpreted as a blatant attempt to fool consumers? If so, do you have any other suggestions?
A: Marketing of any kind has some aspects of persuasion. Thus, one needs to be careful and consider the ethical implications of any persuasion technique. Consumers are often not aware of how various incidental factors (e.g., music, weather, displays) may influence their purchase decision. Like many of these factors, we believe transparency is the key here.
Q: What are the implications of your research for marketers in an online context? Do you have any specific recommendations for online marketers?
A: Online marketers can compliment customers via written messages to make them feel attractive. For example, marketers can compliment customers via a banner on the webpage or targeted email, stating, “As someone with exceptional taste in clothes, your dress sense is not only classy but also chic” (adopted from Chan and Sengupta ). Online pop-up messages reading “You are fantastic” can make customers feel attractive as well (Grewal et al. 2019).
Read the full article:
Zixi Jiang, Jing Xu, Margaret Gorlin, and Ravi Dhar (2021), “Beautiful and Confident: How Boosting Self-Perceived Attractiveness Reduces Preference Uncertainty in Context-Dependent Choices,” Journal of Marketing Research, 908–24. DOI:10.1177/00222437211033179.