The brave new world of marketing:
Where "Sex and the City" meets Darwin
It’s the oldest cliché in the Western world, and it isn't even wrong: women love sexy clothes. According to a 2007 US consumer spending survey, the average household expenditure for women’s and girl’s clothing amounted to $749, compared with just $435 for men and boys. And, as a survey by the Daily Mail discovered four years ago, women spend a whopping eight and a half years of their lives shopping, much of this time being spent in clothing stores. But why do women devote so many resources to their wardrobe? Is it really a ruse to help them nab Mr. Right or are their motives more subtle?
Ask no more: The answer, it seems, is hormones (what else?). A new study from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management entitled "Ovulation, Female Competition, and Product Choice: Hormonal Influences on Consumer Behavior," to be published soon in the Journal of Consumer Research, suggests that ovulating women are far more likely to spend money on sexy clothes than women at a different point in their monthly cycle. The researchers selected a group of ovulating women and asked them to look at a series of good-looking women living in their immediate area. Then they asked them to choose clothing and accessories that they would like to purchase. A majority of the women chose sexier products than another group of ovulating women who had viewed photographs of plain women or of attractive women who lived more than 1,000 miles away from them. A further group of non-ovulating women remained utterly uninfluenced by the images.
Is shopping a survival strategy?
The implication, according to the researchers, is that the women do not buy sexy clothes – along with shoes, cosmetics, health supplements and a world of other products – to attract men directly, but rather to edge out their female rivals. Kristina Durante, a post-doctoral student at the school, says in a university press release that "if you look more desirable than your competition, you are more likely to stand out" in the competition over desirable male partners. "In order to entice a desirable mate, a woman needs to assess the attractiveness of other women in her local environment to determine how eye-catching she needs to be to snare a good man."
What a brilliant use of modern science! The implications for the fashion and cosmetics industries are enormous, as biological determinism once more becomes the watchword of the future. After all, "for about five to six days every month, normally ovulating women - constituting over a billion consumers - may be especially likely to purchase products and services that enhance physical appearance," Durante says. Clearly, once marketing experts find a way to tap directly into this potential, it will revolutionize the profession. As evolutionary biologists get into the act, look for advertising to go not only viral, but also hormonal.