It is probably more than coincidence that the United States is both the world's wealthiest country and the fattest. This country is headed for a public health crisis of direst proportions with nearly 40 million Americans certifiably obese. The nation's obesity rate stood at 19.8 percent in 2000, up from a 12 percent rate in 1991. Obesity, defined as a body-mass index of 30 or more, is linked to diabetes. Further, obesity-related diseases are second only to smoking as the leading cause of premature deaths. Today more than one-half of Americans (56.4 percent) are overweight (body-mass index of at least 25), compared with 45 percent in 1991. That leaves a "slim" minority of Americans who have a healthy weight, eat a moderate diet, and get adequate exercise.
In some consumer circles, immoderation in spending is linked to immoderation in eating. After all, the same emotional needs drive many consumers to both spend too much and eat too much. There is a reason that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, and some American consumers are as guilty of voracious shopping as they are of gluttonous eating.
There already is enough literature available about American consumers' propensity to overspend. John De Graaf's Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, presented as a PBS special along with a published companion book, is one of the best and most damning. A warning: As marketers, we who want to capture a greater share of consumer spending, even overspending, need to be aware of the negative side of emotional spending and how some consumers gluttonously shop and buy.
As a "consumer in training" under the tutelage of my mother, I learned that it was better to spend money on one very-good-quality item that would last than to spend the same amount on many items of lesser quality. Thus, I have a propensity to buy classic-tailored clothes in neutral colors that I can wear for at least several seasons. However, when consumers buy indulgences, those early lessons about putting quality above quantity just don't apply. Because people buy indulgences primarily for immediate emotional gratification, fineness and high quality are not an essential issue. An indulgence isn't to be enjoyed for long or forever. Its satisfactions are transitory. Indulgences need only provide satisfaction for the moment.
Because indulgences are for the here and now, the more you buy, the better.
Because indulgences are for the here and now, the more you buy, the better, or so the thinking goes among some consumers. That is one reason why "buy two, get one free" and "buy one get the next for half-price" offers are so incredibly compelling for indulgence-type items. Because indulgences are often spur-of-the-moment purchases, a dynamite sale or special offer is overwhelmingly compelling to get consumers to open their wallets and buy. One focus group respondent explains it this way: "I buy clothes all the time and shoes. I love shoes and buy shoes I don't need. I am in Payless twice a week buying shoes I don't need. I spend $30 a month on shoes. I can buy more shoes at Payless than anywhere. If I see a sale—buy one, get one half off—I HAVE to go in. I'm a real bargain shopper."
The cosmetic companies have learned the drawing power of sampling as a marketing strategy that gives more to the consumer. Twice a year, cosmetic companies package their samples into gift cases and make a big deal out of their gift-with-purchase sales. How many of these cosmetic companies' regular, dedicated shoppers hold off buying until the gift-with-purchase sale? The shoppers don't need the gifts that are offered. Many times they don't even use the colors and products included. But that special free gift makes them feel like a "winner." They got something extra. They got more than they paid for. That is marketing magic and a promotional strategy that should be borrowed by many indulgence product marketers.
In other words, in marketing indulgence-type products, quality takes a back seat to quantity, given the fleeting nature of emotional enjoyment. Further, for many of these products, such as flowers, candles, bath-and-body lotions and potions, greeting cards, and collectibles, it may be hard to discern differences in quality between one product and another. That may be why some marketers that have attempted to move certain indulgence products up-market to the luxury realm have been less than successful in their attempts. For example, in today's market, while there are premium brands, no brand of true luxury candles exists. Perhaps there never will be because of the consumable nature of the product and consumers' inability to distinguish quality differences between brands.