Michael R. Solomon

Archive for April, 2017|Monthly archive page

The Digital Self: Cosplay is Not Just Child’s Play

In Consumer Behavior, Uncategorized on April 27, 2017 at 11:22 am

 

Depositphotos_113631178_l-2015

As I frequently talk about in my keynotes, one of the fundamental changes in consumer behavior today is an erosion of the boundaries between offline and online activity. For millions of people, the distinction is irrelevant. They cross back-and-forth numerous times every day – and many exist simultaneously in both realms as they navigate the physical world while immersed in their phones.

One consequence of this profound shift is that we need to be vigilant about the impression we make in both domains. Identity management is a fundamental social concern in our social and professional lives – both in the physical world and in the online world.  It’s a priority no matter whether we network in an office building or at a virtual trade show, or flirt in a bar or on Facebook.

As consumers effortlessly travel back and forth between their physical and digital environments, this movement creates tremendous new business opportunities – just as a busy highway generates demand for rest areas!

Already we see a cottage industry emerging as consultants offer to customize Facebook profiles and help people generate a photo or avatar to represent their online identity.  That’s one example of what happens when we travel into our online reality, but what happens when we make the return trip back to the real world?

Researchers are just starting to investigate how our experiences in online formats stay with us when we return to our corporeal selves. We know that when we assume an avatar identity, we transfer many of the interaction norms we use in the physical world. Just as in real life, male avatars in Second Life leave more space between them when they talk to other males than when these users talk to virtual females, and they are less likely to maintain eye contact than are females.

Work on so-called “Proteus effects” demonstrates that the social feedback experimental subjects receive when they assume a virtual identity (such as being accepted or rejected by avatars of the opposite sex) lingers when they later interact with people in the real world.  Rejection hurts, whether you receive it in an online format or as your physical self.

On a more optimistic note, the early evidence that our virtual encounters shape our “real world” self-concepts present some promising therapeutic and marketing implications:  Consider for example the potential to elevate the self-esteem of the thousands of disabled people who currently patronize virtual worlds like Second Life gathering spots, where they can easily talk, flirt, and even dance.  Or, think about the virtual branding experiences we accumulate during the course of our cyberjourneys; their lasting impact provides yet another reason to take emerging practices like advergaming very seriously.

In addition, the fantasy identities people create online sometimes travel back with them:  Witness the growing global phenomenon of cosplay, where participants congregate at restaurants, clubs and conventions in full regalia as their avatars or other favorite characters from comic books and movies.  We can expect this activity to influence fashion trends, licensing deals and perhaps the entertainment industry as social gamers and moviegoers increasingly import media characters into their daily lives.

 As these applications proliferate (and they will), the outmoded distinction between a real world and a virtual one will disappear. This process will bring us back full-circle to the task of identity management, regardless of whether the self we project is made of atoms or pixels.

 

The Digital Self: You Are What You POST

In Chapter 6, Consumer Behavior, self-concept digital identity marketing advertising on April 24, 2017 at 9:25 am

Depositphotos_83400794_original

In a recent post, I wrote about the prevalence of “fake news” with regard to the images of men and women we see in advertising:

http://michaelrsolomon.com/2017/04/17/the-photoshopped-self-fake-news-or-the-new-reality/

I noted that people have been manipulating their images for centuries. But the big news today is that mainstream consumers now employ the same methods that used to be available only to the rich and famous as they actively manage their digital selves.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the entire cosmetics and apparel industrial complex owes its very existence to the desires of the masses to manage their social identities. Professional “identity managers” assume many forms, from hairstylists and cosmetologists to wardrobe consultants and resume writers. Doctors perform nearly 860,000 cosmetic-surgery procedures in the U.S. each year alone.  In some circles nose jobs or breast implants are part of the rite-of-passage for teenage girls, and an increasing number of men spring for pectoral enlargements.

We may still need a trained surgeon to reshape a troublesome nose, but we can undertake other makeovers on our own. This is especially true when it comes to the identity we express on digital platforms. As I noted previously, Hugh Hefner probably owes his fortune to the abilities of the technicians who created Playboy’s centerfolds beginning in the 1950s – these airbrushed women literally do not exist, at least as they appear in the magazine.

Today, many techie teenagers can effortlessly produce the same results with PhotoShop or even SnapChat.  Millions of us manage – and embellish — our digital identities when we strategically populate a Facebook profile page or post a self-aggrandizing entry (perhaps with vintage photo from 20 years ago to match) on an online dating site.

Many marketers don’t seem to grasp the steady expansion of their customers’ energies and even their very identities into online realms. Indeed, the firm line many of us draw between “real world” and “online” activities grows increasingly porous; the distinction will probably seem quaint to our grandchildren.  Already many millions of consumers commute back and forth between their real and digital selves multiple times each day. It’s unlikely that the 10 million kids who visit a virtual world like Habbo Hotel for an hour or more each day would regard that aspect of their lives differently from the time they spend running on the playground.  A lot of kids really are what they post, and so are their parents.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Color Me Sold

In Consumer Behavior, Uncategorized on April 20, 2017 at 8:06 am

Social engineering concept

 

 

 

Back in the day, an executive at Campbell’s Soup reportedly chose the red and white iconic can because he liked the colors of Cornell’s football uniform. Today we know that color choices can’t be made so casually.

For example, researchers report that colors influence our emotions in profound ways. Evidence suggests that some colors (particularly red) create feelings of arousal and stimulate appetite, and others (such as blue) create more relaxing feelings (American Express launched its Blue card after its research found that people describe the color as “providing a sense of limitlessness and peace.”).  Advertisements of products presented against a backdrop of blue are better liked than when shown against a red background, and cross-cultural research indicates a consistent preference for blue whether people live in Canada or Hong Kong.

People who complete tasks when the words or images appear on red backgrounds perform better when they have to remember details, while they excel at tasks that require an imaginative response when these are displayed on blue backgrounds.  Olympic athletes who wear red uniforms are more likely to defeat competitors in blue uniforms, and men rate women who wear red as more attractive than those who wear blue. In one study, interior designers created bars decorated primarily in red, yellow or blue and people were invited to choose one to hang out in. More people chose the yellow and red rooms, and these guests were more social and active – and ate more.  But, partygoers in the blue room stayed longer. For marketers, color choices go well beyond aesthetics or nostalgia for college uniforms.

The PhotoShopped Self: Fake News or the New Reality?

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2017 at 8:37 am

Mature woman body before and after liposuction. Plastic surgery concept.

In Israel, an advertiser must state if it has used any kind of digital editing to create a slimmer model. Norway, France, and now the U.S. are considering similar measures.

For now, let’s put aside the rebuttal by industry insiders that this practice is so pervasive such a law is highly impractical.  Let’s also side-step the more abstract philosophical arguments about how we know that anything is real.

The debate more generally highlights our fundamental tendency to believe that what we see in the media is “real” unless we are otherwise advised – and likewise our tendency to put more stock in what we see than in what we know.  The true reality: Most of us are quite gullible and we’re quite content to be so.  We willingly “suspend disbelief” any time we attend a live theatre production or watch a television sitcom.  During these performances we enter into an unwritten compact with the show’s creators to assume that what we see is really happening.  Even the current craze for “reality shows” belies the fact that there’s very little that’s real about them.  Contestants are carefully screened, often coached, and sometimes willing to say or do whatever it takes to stand in the media spotlight.

Performances and marketing communications alike need to “sell” the receiver to achieve their objectives.  Sophisticated digital technologies that remove cellulite or add higher cheekbones simply make the sales job a bit easier.  Editing, whether roughshod or subtle, has been a fact of life for eons.

You don’t need to be a supermodel to “manage” the way you appear to others.  In fact we all do it every day.  If we didn’t, we would have no need for mirrors. Sixty years ago, the sociologist Erving Goffman, among others, wrote extensively about the elaborate process of impression management.  Since that time, volumes of social psychological studies have empirically documented the preening process and the huge impact physical appearance exerts on our judgments of those around us (“beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone”).

Furthermore, we know that our perceptions of our own attractiveness profoundly influence feelings of self-worth as well.  Way back in 1902, the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley wrote about the looking-glass self that operates as a sort of psychological sonar: We take readings of our own identity when we “bounce” signals off others and try to project their impression of us. Like the distorted mirrors in a funhouse, our appraisal of who we are depends on whose (imagined) perspectives we take.  We also calibrate these sonar readings to the external standards we adopt:  Studies show that young women alter their perceptions of their own body shapes and sizes after they watch as little as 30 minutes of TV programming.

But these standards have always been idealized. Throughout history, cultural elites and rulers have meticulously edited the impression they communicate to their peers and followers.  It’s hard to imagine that Julius Caesar, George Washington, or the British royal family (past and present) didn’t have strong opinions about which of their images would adorn currency or portraiture and the details that might appear (most likely with some embellishment) in official biographies.  Today of course a massive public relations machine carefully crafts the images of celebrity clients. And, our First Lady’s recent settlement in a libel suit against The Daily Mail to protect her image as “…one of the most photographed women in the world” speaks volumes about the careful cultivation of a public persona.

Every society anoints certain men and women as aesthetic ideals, and motivates emulation of these ideals as it rewards attractive people (however defined) and makes life a bit more difficult for the rest of us. While there is legitimate cause for concern, the current discourse about the demoralizing impact of digitally altered photography is old wine in new bottles. Just as the victors in a war get to write its history, people with resources always get to manipulate the image they convey to others. Today they just have access to more powerful tools that enable them to do this.

Here’s what is different now: Mainstream consumers can play with the same tools as they too carefully sculpt their public images. At the risk of stating the obvious, the entire cosmetics and apparel industrial complex owes its very existence to the desires of the masses to manage their social identities. Professional “identity managers” assume many forms, from hairstylists and cosmetologists to wardrobe consultants and resume writers. And, more radical approaches that used to be available only to those with significant resources now are in the mix as well.  Doctors perform nearly 860,000 cosmetic-surgery procedures in the U.S. each year alone.  In some circles nose jobs or breast implants are part of the rite-of-passage for teenage girls, and an increasing number of men spring for pectoral enlargements.

We may still need a trained surgeon to reshape a troublesome nose, but we can undertake other makeovers on our own. This is especially true when it comes to the identity we express on digital platforms. Professional editors have long been able to wield their airbrushes to give us advertising images of breathtakingly beautiful people who literally do not exist in the real world. Indeed Hugh Hefner probably owes his fortune to the abilities of the technicians who created Playboy’s centerfolds beginning in the 1950s.   Today, many techie teenagers can effortlessly produce the same results with PhotoShop or even SnapChat.  Millions of us manage – and embellish — our digital identities when we strategically populate a Facebook profile page or post a self-aggrandizing ad (perhaps with vintage photo from 20 years ago to match) on an online dating site. To repurpose an old joke, “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.”

 

Four Reasons Why You WANT Your Customers to Complain (to YOU)

In Uncategorized on April 13, 2017 at 8:56 am

woman holding, opening gift box, displeased with what she received

 

From ihatestarbucks.com to boycottwalmart.meetup.com, irritated customers have launched hundreds of gripe sites to air their grievances against companies. The practice is so widespread that some firms proactively buy unflattering domain names to keep other people from buying them. Xerox, for example, registered xeroxstinks.com, xeroxcorporationsucks.com, and ihatexerox.net. About 20,000 domain names end in “sucks.com.” About one-third of these sites are registered to none other than the companies they slam; owners include Walmart Stores, Coca-Cola, Toys “R” Us, Target, and Whole Foods Market.

A number of factors influence what we’ll do after we’ve been wronged. People are more likely to take action if they’re dissatisfied with expensive products such as household durables, cars, and clothing than for problems with inexpensive products. Ironically, consumers who are satisfied with a store in general are more likely to complain if they experience something bad; they take the time to complain because they feel connected to the store. And, if a company resolves the problem, a customer feels even better about it than if she hadn’t complained in the first place! The moral: Although nobody likes criticism, organizations should encourage people to complain for these reasons:

  1. They get the chance to correct the situation.
  2. They will avoid an escalating problem that results when consumers take to social media to let others know they’ve been treated badly. People are more likely to spread the word about unresolved negative experiences to their friends than they are to boast about positive occurrences.
  3. They collect valuable insights about customers’ experiences that will (hopefully) help them to improve for future customers.
  4. If the consumer does not believe that the store will respond to her complaint, she will be more likely to simply switch than fight as she just takes her business elsewhere.

The Vegan’s Neiman-Marcus: Jaded Americans Find Fulfillment at Whole Foods

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2017 at 7:56 am

Pick the apple

Yesterday’s luxury products are passé. Many of us would rather show off our pricey yoga pants than an Armani suit. One reason is that we’re getting jaded; many of us take it for granted that the next exotic product awaits us around the corner.

The place we see when we turn that counter could well be Whole Foods. One advertising executive argues that today an upscale grocery store like Whole Foods in its own way sells luxury products, but with a different twist. In his words, “Instead of cold, intimidating retail vaults awash in tastefully, restrained colors, Whole Foods provides a hip, eclectic sort of vibe that feels like a Berkeley revival with no credit limit. Funky music blares, dreadlocked associates staff checkout aisles, and shoppers are a mix of artsy-looking moms, retirees in pricey but well-cushioned running shoes, and a constant stream of suits taking a quick break from corporate America while awaiting a $15 turkey sub and some curried sweet potato couscous.”

That means today we still obsess about what we buy but we’re more interested in where it came from than what celebrity endorsed it. One important dimension today is provenance: Shoppers are willing to pay more for an item when they know its exact heritage, and they are assured that “real people” have thoughtfully selected the things from which they choose. This process of curation, which used to refer to an expert who carefully chooses pieces to include in a museum exhibit, now applies to a range of consumer products such as food, clothing, and travel. Whole Foods personalizes its inventory as it features the names of store employees on chalkboards throughout the store and often specifies the farms that grew the products. You can’t buy authenticity – or can you?

You Always Want What You Can’t Have: The Allure of “Decadent” American Capitalism

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Dallas

In the early 1980s, the Romanian Communist government broadcast the American TV show Dallas to point out the decadence of Western capitalism. This strategy backfired: The devious (but rich!) J. R. Ewing became a revered icon in parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A popular tourist attraction outside of Bucharest includes a big white log gate that announces (in English) the name, “Southfork Ranch.” Western “decadence” appears to be infectious.

After the downfall of communism, Eastern Europeans emerged from a long winter of deprivation into springtime of abundance. The picture is not all rosy, however. It’s not easy for many people who live in transitional economies to attain consumer goods. This term describes countries such as China, Portugal, and Romania that struggle as they adapt from a controlled, centralized economy to a free-market system. In these situations, rapid changes occur in social, political, and economic dimensions as the populace suddenly is exposed to global communications and external market pressures.

Some of the consequences of the transition to capitalism include a loss of confidence and pride in the local culture, as well as alienation, frustration, and increased stress as citizens sacrifice their leisure time to work ever harder to buy consumer goods. The yearning for the trappings of Western material culture is perhaps most evident in parts of Eastern Europe, where citizens who threw off the shackles of communism now have direct access to coveted consumer goods from the United States and Western Europe—if they can afford them. One analyst observed, “As former subjects of the Soviet empire dream it, the American dream has very little to do with liberty and justice for all and a great deal to do with soap operas and the [now defunct] Sears Catalogue.”

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