Sunday, 15 December 2013

How Advertisers Take Advantage of the Power of Nature to Make Us Buy (editorial)

  • Cosmetics manufacturers increasingly use images of natural scenery in their advertisements--we discuss why
  • Learn how to avoid one of the most common marketing tricks
  • Discover the effect of natural marketing on brand appeal and memory 

I think nature’s lovely. I first learnt of the power of nature as a child when I tampered with the brakes on my brother’s bike and he flew head first into a holly bush after gaining speed cycling down a valley. Nature —and everything natural—goes hand-in-hand with so many happy memories for me.

There’s just something about beautiful scenery. The appeal of nature is phenomenal and probably ever-increasing since each day there seems to be a little less around than the day before. Marketers and advertisers of natural products know this. But were you aware of the ways in which including natural imagery in marketing and advertising goes to increase sales of products? New research gives us a unique insight into what makes us buy. 

We know, of course, that interacting with nature has many positive results, such as increased feelings of wellbeing, contentment, and happiness. Many people harness this through the uptake of outside sports such as running, climbing, trekking, and mountain climbing. Others enjoy a serene walk in a park, climbing a tree, or feeding the ducks in the park. 

Image © mady70 - fotolia.com 
As if to demonstrate this, one thing that I have missed while I've been on holiday from my day job this week is my lunchtime walk around the lake by the office. It is full of really enthusiastic fishermen who put up tents and use walkie-talkies and wear camouflage to avoid startling the fish. I bet they're delighted I'm not there, waltzing about the park scaring them off with my floral ties and sushi lunches.

This love of nature reflects itself, too, in a fondness for pantings depicting natural scenes, such as Monet’s Water Lillies, or great photography, which for some can be as soothing to the soul as a swim in a lake. 

This love and affinity for nature has been harnessed by advertisers—according to researchers Patrick Hartmann and Vanessa Apaolaza—whose study concluded that advertisements featuring pictures of natural scenes could bring on the same positive emotions that are often felt when one is outside interacting directly with the environment. These good feelings might then be transferred to the product itself in a way which would see the consumer think about it in a more favourable light. 

It is clear, then, the gains to be had by advertisers using natural imagery in their products, and it is a remarkably easy thing to do in the world of cosmetics where plant-based ingredients are more popular than ever. 

Hartmann and Apaolaza didn’t stop there, however. They also found that advertisements featuring natural imagery increased memory recall in both aided and unaided recall tasks. They suggest that one of the reasons for this is because natural imagery focusses and refreshes attention, especially during times of prolonged concentration. In practice, this means that products featuring pictures of natural scenes are more memorable to the consumer. This is important for advertisers who want us to remember their products when we are in the shops so that we pick then over other alternatives. 

Despite the popularity of natural skincare at the moment, other manufacturers are taking things in another direction: They focus not on plant-based extracts but instead on highly processed, researched and scientific formulations. This is often appealing to people who are looking for the strongest-possible results. Since science goes hand-in-hand with innovation, rigour, and research, there is an assumption that these kinds of products might afford the best results. Although this isn’t necessarily so, it is a big money-spinner for the manufacturers.

Hartmann and Apaolaza's findings go some way to explain the techniques used by manufacturers of natural skincare, who rely heavily on natural images, whether they are natural scenes or things such as plants, fruits and flowers.

Brands that take this further and promote their products as good for the environment, whether that’s explicitly, or suggested through clever marketing, find that consumers are more likely to have positive feelings towards their products. This phenomenon could potentially be very powerful in the cosmetics market where products with a few plant-derived extracts added to a base of heavily processed petrochemicals are passed off as green. 

These positive feelings can come about for two reasons. First, the feelings experienced when using the product are similar to those experienced when one is actually in nature. One can easily see how this might be so when using products that have doses of natural-smelling fragrances, like tangerine body moisturisers and tea-tree shampoos. Second, it has been discovered that when one uses products which are good for the environment (and, I expect, products which merely appear to be good for the environment, if the consumer has been mislead) there are further good feelings created through the positive emotions that altruistic behaviour brings about. Simply, when one does something that is good for the environment, one feels a comforting, warm glow (Hartmann and Apaolaza-Ibáñez, 2008) . 

It is therefore apparent that there is a lot to be gained by paying attention to the imagery in cosmetics adverts. We, as consumers, with the knowledge that the advertisers use these tricks, are now better-placed to notice them. Now that we know these methods are used, we can ask ourselves, when we’re in the shops, what, exactly, is pulling us toward a particular brand. Is it efficacy, value, or ecology—or is it the way it was advertised? And that's before we even being to ask—what are natural products, and are they actually better?

References

Hartmann, P., & Apaolaza-Ibáñez, V. (2008) Virtual nature experiences as emotional benefits in green product consumption: the moderating role of environmental attitudes. Environment & Behavior, 40(6), 818–842.
Hartmann, P., Apaolaza, V., & Alija, P. (2013). Nature imagery in advertising. International Journal Of Advertising, 32(2), 183-210.

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