According to enterprising scientists, people buy last minute Valentine’s Day gifts to avoid a fight, rather than to express love—as any lazy lover can attest. The marketing researchers devised three experiments to prove that our susceptibility to negative advertising is directly impacted by how long we wait to whip out the wallet.
For example, one experiment had participants consider a trip to Europe (the experiment was conducted one month before the end of summer). Some were asked to consider a last-minute summer vacation, while others were asked to consider a vacation over winter break, several months away. They were then presented with ads from a fictitious Web site, PriceAlerts.com. Some ads were framed positively: “Give yourself a memorable vacation!” and “Get the best deal!” Others were framed negatively: “Don’t get stuck at home!” and “Don’t get ripped off.”
Consumers who were planning a last minute trip were willing to pay $178 more for a vacation, on average, when presented with a “negative” ad as opposed to a “positive” ad. Conversely, those who were planning a trip that was still a ways off responded to the positive ads and were willing to pay $165 more for a promotion-framed vacation than a prevention-framed vacation.
Advertisers can muck with our sense of time to increase the attractiveness of “prevention-oriented” products like insurance or dental care.
Faced with an imminent purchase, consumers are confronted with the possibility that they may not fulfill their purchasing goal. Prevention frames note this possibility of a negative outcome and offer the product as a means to avoid it. Thus, under a time constraint, consumers are more motivated to purchase a product that helps achieve the minimal goal of preventing a negative outcome than they are to purchase a product that helps achieve the maximal goal of promoting a positive outcome. When a purchase is temporally proximal, a product that is “not bad” might, therefore, appeal more than a product that is “good.”
The lesson: think about your Valentine’s Day gift now so you don’t end up buying a kitschy battery operated doohickey at the last minute on the subway.
Valentine’s Day: At the last minute we buy not for pleasure, but to avoid pain [SciGuy]
Time Will Tell: The Distant Appeal of Promotion and Imminent Appeal of Prevention [The Journal of Consumer Research via SSRN]