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Research Insight | When You Don’t “Want It All”: Highlighting a Product’s Benefits to Consumers’ Personal and Professional Lives Can Backfire

Many companies, including Lululemon, Microsoft, and Ann Taylor, position their products according to their ability to address consumers’ professional and personal needs together. However, a work–life positioning strategy can backfire by unintentionally causing consumers to think of work–life conflict, thereby lowering their product interest.

From a communications perspective, companies can leverage work–life content in their ads if the product they sell demands relatively few resources. If promoting resource-demanding products, companies might instead want to focus on work or life, but not both. From a targeting perspective, each strategy is likely to work best among consumer segments who experience relatively more work–life conflict, a point that can be applied due to the very fine targeting that is possible with social media ads.

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What You Need to Know

  • Highlighting that a product addresses work and life needs together can cause consumers to lose interest, as the messaging can inadvertently evoke a sense of work–life conflict that distracts consumers from the advertising.
  • Work–life marketing is less effective for resource-demanding products (education, cosmetic surgery, travel, computers) but more effective for simpler products (personal care, daily planners, apparel).
  • Consumer segments who experience more work–life conflict, such as executives, conservative working women, and working mothers, react more strongly to work–life marketing.


In realizing that consumers regularly straddle the work–life interface, some companies position their products according to their ability to address work and life needs together, then communicate this offering to consumers. Whether using a work–life positioning strategy is effective remains unclear, however. If this strategy signals work–life enrichment, it should increase consumers’ interest, but only if the product demands few resources from consumers. If the product instead demands substantial resources, a work–life positioning might inadvertently trigger perceptions of work–life conflict and lower consumers’ interest. To test these predictions, the authors partnered with three businesses to advertise their products, which impose varying resource demands, on social media using content that highlights the work–life interface or not. Analyses of ad click data support the predictions: Work–life ads are less effective than single-domain (work or life) ads if the advertising involves resource-demanding products, but they are more effective if it pertains to resource-undemanding products. Furthermore, the effects are stronger among consumer segments that experience more work–life conflict in general. With this initial application of work–life theory to a marketing context, this article offers relevant insights for both research and practice.

Nita Umashankar, Dhruv Grewal, Abhijit Guha, and Timothy R. Bohling (2023), “Testing Work–Life Theory in Marketing: Evidence from Field Experiments on Social Media,” Journal of Marketing Research (published online January 10), doi:10.1177/00222437231152894.