The Pleasure and Pain of Shopping

Jude Koh is the Regional Associate Strategy Manager for CARAT APAC.

Southeast Asia, in particular, is a hotbed for e-commerce. By focusing on creating pleasurable and painless moments throughout the consumer journey using media, we create more value for businesses

7 – 10 minute read


Online shopping: Intimacy replaced by expedience

Over the past two decades, we’ve witnessed an incredibly rapid evolution of commerce. In the short span of human history, we’ve gone from bartering with animal skins and spices, to exchanging coins for goods in a marketplace, to now, where we can buy almost anything online and have it delivered without ever leaving our house, even poop. Technology, in particular the increasing ubiquity of the Internet, has drastically lowered the previous barriers separating consumers from goods and services; we are no longer confined by a store’s hours or a product’s physical availability. Southeast Asia, in particular, is a hotbed for e-commerce (as evidenced here, here, and here).

Purely for the sake of research, I decided to join the online shopping scene to understand this shift in spending behavior. After a few rounds of senseless buying sprees, I’m satisfied with my haul of new clothes, but completely bored by the entire tap-tap-checkout-wait process. As this New York Times op-ed contributor put it, online shopping is “intimacy replaced by expedience.”

 

Acquire with pleasure, pay in pain

Shopping triggers a series of processes in our brain. Purchasing is less about the rational analysis of quality and price and more about the battle between pleasure and pain. In simplistic terms, buying is largely motivated by how our brain processes this: we acquire with pleasure, but pay in pain. On a larger scale, this neurobehavior guides our global economy, and on a smaller scale, explains why shopping is such a pleasurable activity.

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When you’re out shopping
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When you get the bill

The difference in individual perception of pleasure and pain results in two groups of shoppers: tightwads and spendthrifts. Tightwads experience agonising pain at the thought of parting with their money; while spendthrifts gets intense pleasure at the thought of gaining new goods.

This duel between pleasure and pain in our brain’s limbic system ensures our survival. The limbic system rewards us with pleasure when we do something beneficial to our survival, encouraging us to seek resources, While on the other hand, it punishes us with pain when we engage in non-beneficial behaviors, reminding us to protect our resources. We buy that new jacket because our brain tells us it is beneficial to our survival and we receive pleasure from that purchase, but when we realise that we have been overcharged, the pain we feel is a reminder to be more careful in the future.

Culture defines our pleasure and pain

So if our shopping sprees are controlled by this balance of pleasure and pain, why do our spending habits vary so much among individuals and cultures? Comedian Russell Peters may provide us with an insight into Chinese and Indian consumers:

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Despite its overly-stereotypical depictions, it highlights how culture plays a part in what should be a purely transactional act. Research has confirmed this with evidence that differences in culture lead to differences in how we bargain and negotiate. In our previous post, we know that culture conditions our mind and affects our inert behaviours. Similarly, culture influences how we feel pleasure and pain. The pleasure of gaining wealth, status, or well-being varies among cultures and sub-cultures and our brain seeks rewards based on how we value these pleasures. This explains why some might be willing to spend a month’s paycheck on a pair of Louboutins while others think paying a premium for a pair of red-soled heels is ridiculous.

The pleasure of gaining wealth, status, or well-being varies among cultures and sub-cultures.

A good shopping experience is all about pleasure

As marketers, how can we apply this knowledge? By creating an enjoyable shopping experience. We need to create gratifying moments that excite shoppers and enhance the pleasure of acquisition and overpower the pain felt in paying.

In-store shopping experiences are full of pleasurable moments such as the social aspects of window-shopping with your friends, the trust created when feeling the quality of the product, the risk reduction resulting from being able to it on, and the instant gratification of having it in hand immediately after payment. By immersing ourselves in these moments, our brains project a happy image which we relish in. The pleasure created drives us to make a purchase.

shopping fur coat thrift shop fur coat

How can we recreate these feelings of pleasure in online shopping, an experience that is largely limited by a screen? The answer lies in the touchpoints throughout the consumer’s online shopping journey.

 

How we can make online shopping more pleasurable

But more often than not, online shopping takes the form of searching, followed by endless scrolling or next page clicks through an overwhelming mountain of similar items. After your cart is sufficiently filled to reach whatever shipping cost threshold you had in mind, you checkout, pay, and wait for your order to arrive. Undoubtedly this is a convenient and systematic way to shop; however, it often feels more like procurement than an enjoyable experience.  Online shopping has the pain of paying without the pleasure in the process.

Online shopping has the pain of paying without the pleasure in the process.

There is hope. Online shopping can be experiential and intimate when they focus on delivering an experience at the different touchpoints. E-commerce has the advantage of being able to seamlessly extend the experience with media. Globally, consumers are making media an integral part of their online shopping experience. They window shop by browsing on their mobile devices. They get #ootd inspiration from regularly scanning Pinterest or Instagram. They generate their shopping list through reviews and unboxing videos of shopping hauls.

 

Enhance the online shopping experience with media

Address pain points: Media and communications have the ability to enhance the online shopping experience by reducing the pain of paying, and therefore, make online shopping more pleasurable. To do this, we need to find out what the shopper’s pain points are throughout the consumer journey and either mitigate them or turn them into pleasurable moments. For example, we can eliminate the pain of turning off portrait orientation lock and having to rotate the phone to view horizontal videos by considering how consumers actually use their phone and creating previously unpopular, vertical video content instead. Similarly, shoppable video formats reduces the friction of having to search for products featured in videos by bringing users straight to product.

Harness programmatic’s potential: Consider how programmatic could play a role in the consumer journey. Instead of incessantly retargeting people with ads of a purchase they just made, encourage them to write a review, share their purchase on social media, or suggest accompanying items. Programmatic has the potential to act more like a personal shopper than a shopkeeper at a bazaar.

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Gif courtesy of Kik.

Get social with your media: Much of the pleasure of shopping in-store comes from the social interactions with accompanying friends, like-minded fellow shoppers, and gregarious store assistants. Media can further contribute to the thrill of online shopping by encouraging and facilitating social interaction and approval during the online shopping process, either through social media or AI messaging assistants.

Test content messages: With regards to content, test and run various messages that appeal to either the spendthrifts or the tightwads. Compare the effectiveness of messages that amplify the pleasure of acquisition or reduce the pain of payment amongst different audiences, keeping in mind the cultural context.

 

Online shopping: Intimacy and expedience

The intrinsic system of pleasure and pain determines how we shop. Our culture influences how we perceive this pleasure or pain. Commerce has existed almost as long as humanity itself and as we progress with e-commerce, we need to ensure it does not sacrifice intimacy for the sake of expedience.

Commerce has existed almost as long as humanity itself and as we progress with e-commerce, we need to ensure it does not sacrifice intimacy for the sake of expedience.

By focusing on creating pleasurable and painless moments throughout the consumer journey, we create more value for businesses. Use media to your advantage to deliver a fully connected and seamless experience.  As e-commerce continues to grow in APAC, the brands that have value and are able to use media to its full potential will be the ones getting APAC shoppers happily tap away.

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You Don’t Have to Play the Game to Win It

Jude Koh is the Regional Associate Strategy Manager for CARAT APAC.

Advertisers are often engaged in highly competitive and bloody bidding wars for the “best” TV spot or search term. But are these costly slots actually a good investment? By more deeply understanding our audience and applying our knowledge of statistical distribution, we can more efficiently reach our target consumers and leave our competitors in the dust.

7 – 10 minute read


 

NO REWARD IN GUNNING FOR THE TOP

When Joseph Schooling won Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal this past summer, brands raced to Singaporean airwaves and television sets to be the first to congratulate him before announcing their own promotional Olympics offer [1]. However, in this race, there are no winners except for the media owners who received a sudden demand for their ad space.

schoolingpromosImage from Vulcan Post

Ad space can suddenly become a prized commodity during popular events. Speaking of the Olympics, this past summer, the most coveted spot went for $2 million in Australia [2]. And TV spots during the Super Bowl in the U.S. are notorious for their unbelievably high price tag: sometimes costing upwards of $5 million to air a 30-second commercial (remember that this doesn’t include agency or production costs) [3]. Singapore’s leading TV station, MediaCorp, charges a basic rate of $1,000 for a 30second ad which is compounded by a multiplier factor based on the popularity of the show, the ad position, and seasonality loading [4], sometimes reaching an upwards of $10,000 [5].

Events like the Olympics or primetime TV promise a huge reach which creates intense competition among brands: each trying to outspend the other in order to get the “best” spot. The same can be observed in paid social and paid search; brands are all competing for the same top audience on Facebook or top position in AdWords.

But are there tangible returns for such a huge investment? Not for McDonald’s. The fast food franchise made a huge investment in a spot during the 2015 Super Bowl. Following the event, their store sales went down by 4% that month and 2.6% for the entire first quarter of the year [6]. A separate study across 13 brands in different industries found that well-established brands did not actually benefit from any form of Super Bowl advertising [7].

Clearly, the high price of chasing massive reach does not necessarily pay off for brands. This highly competitive habit of outspending the competition to gain the most coveted spot is like a red ocean of sharks gutting each other over the same prey.

This experience of sharks fighting over the same prey is also similar to ads fighting for our attention by cluttering our screens.

In one hour of primetime TV, on average 15 minutes are actually dedicated to emotional ads about shampoo, cars, and insurance. There is also no relief when we turn to our phones as ads bombard our Facebook and Instagram feeds. On YouTube, we are forced to endure one minute of an unskippable ad before we can watch a 30-second Marvel movie trailer. Instead of informing us, ads are suffocating us and using up our precious data limit.

 

AVOID THE CROWD; FIND A PARTY

I do not intend to buy a car in the foreseeable future, yet I am constantly served car ads. There is a huge disparity between the consumer and the brand which is the reason for low returns on high media investments. The message falls short of what the consumers want.

Nike recognised this and decided not to be a part of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics clutter of ads [8]. Instead, they sponsored runner Michael Johnson by providing him with a $30,000 pair of gold-coloured racing spikes. After he won, Johnson appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the same pair of golden shoes strung around his neck. His nickname, “The Man with the Golden Shoes”, cemented Nike’s role in his achievement [9]. The brand showcased their product’s performance to a massive audience without spending the $50 million Reebok did to be an official Olympics sponsor that year.

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Image from Time Magazine

Again Nike created an uncontested marketspace during the 2010 World Cup using a similar principle [10]. Because Adidas was the official sponsor, Nike had to get creative—they found different ways and different channels to engage their audience. The brand understood that the beauty of football lies in its unpredictability, a topic that leads to much social conversation. So they created an emotional three-minute video called “Write the Future” which captured how quickly a game can swing between exhilaration and devastation for a team and its fans. The video was released on Facebook and Nike’s followers doubled in less than a week, all driven by the desire to see and share the ad. Furthermore, Nike created engagement opportunities by allowing fans to edit the ad and write their own versions of the future. The brand drove even more engagement by taking popular headlines written by fans on Twitter and Facebook and showcasing them in a massive LED lightshow on Johannesburg’s fourth largest building. The lightshow was visible from 2.5 kilometres away, gathering massive hype around the surrounding area. Although they could not advertise during the televised games because Adidas was the official sponsor, Nike went around the competition by running spots on shows airing at the same time and on soccer matches prior to the start of the World Cup. Their deep understanding of consumers and avoidance of the competition led to massive results: “Write the Future” was viewed by over 20 million people online within five weeks of its debut and Nike enjoyed more than double the share of World Cup buzz than Adidas. Success came from removing oneself from a highly competitive arena and instead, creating engagement opportunities with fans through a passionate narrative.

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Image from football-marketing.com

After realising the low returns on investing in the 2015 Super Bowl, McDonald’s pulled out the following year [6]. Instead, they focused on creating meaningful conversations with consumers. Social media served as a platform for consumers’ feedback and news about their latest, revamped menu. This revenue-generating tactic helped McDonald’s overturn a bad quarter and achieve their best annual earnings yet. By avoiding the competition and engaging potential consumers, McDonald’s rebounded from a bad quarter and performed better than ever.

Nike and McDonald’s had created their own blue oceans—uncontested market spaces. A blue ocean strategy is about finding opportunities and creating and capturing new demand. Nike and McDonald’s, though they sell products with mass appeal and achieved high reach, communicated in a personal way that appealed to a diverse set of consumers.

 

THE LONG TAIL IS A GOLD MINE OF OPPORTUNITY

The long tail is a statistical term used to describe the type of distribution seen below:

long-tail-distribution

Let’s say this long tail distribution is being applied to SEO; similar to what we saw in the fight for primetime television slots, there is high competition for popular key search terms in the head, creating a red ocean. However, when we look at the long tail, we see a blue ocean: overall, there is a sizeable amount of search volume with lower competition and higher conversion rates. And today, technology makes it easier to cater to the long tail.

This advantage was fully made used of by Obama’s campaign team during 2 of his elections.  They are known of running a highly sophisticated digital campaign and by precise targeting of undecided voters [11]. Finding these undecided voters was challenging, so they used statistical analytics supported by technology to go beyond traditional demographic based targeting based, and instead microtargeted voters [12]. This technique involves sampling a group of undecided voters through surveys, layered on data mined from digital platforms to create statistical models. These models predicted different types of voters and their individual hot button issues.

Microtargeting helped the campaign team refine their targeting of the undecided voters and serve messages that pulled at their heartstrings. For example, the campaign team discovered that there were some female voters who agreed with most Republican stances except when it came to the issues of equal pay and women’s health. However, those voters were only 20-40% likely to vote for Obama. To win them over, the team tailored their message to inform these women about Obama’s proposed policies on equal pay and women’s health [11].

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Image from girltalkhq.com

The campaign team became more efficient in their communication efforts with microtargeting. Specific messages were broadcasted on niche TV networks and programs, avoiding the big networks and primetime slots [13]. They identified the cost per dollar of persuading a voter by building models that marry detailed information about a voter’s viewing habits and their political leanings. This superb efficiency helped Obama beat an extremely well-financed opposition in the 2012 election.

Nike, McDonald’s, and Obama’s campaign team understood the need to move away from the overcrowded red ocean and focus on new opportunities in their own blue ocean. Nike shied away from the obvious mass reach sponsorship tactic, and instead, created meaningful stories across different touchpoints. McDonald’s built relationships with their consumers by listening to them on social media.

Targeting the long tail is about becoming more relevant to the vast majority who are more varied in interest and preference, otherwise not reached by an approach tailored for the “head”. Technology enables us to do this with greater efficiency and accuracy, as seen in the Obama campaign’s use of statistical models to microtarget. To fully take advantage of this, brands need to know the nuances of who they want and how to reach them.

 

AIM FOR A LONG TERM PRIZE

Competing in the red ocean is an exhausting, vicious cycle of winning and losing. Creating a blue ocean allows for more sustainability. The long tail will provide an almost infinite opportunity for brands. With developments in analytics, it is now easier to understand these consumers with precision. Advances in technology also creates more ways to reach consumers. There is no longer a need for us to compete over the top ad spot just to gain mass reach. We can now target more efficiently by creating models of potential consumers, engaging them with relevant messages through different platforms, measuring the outcome, and optimising for future campaigns—all with scale and precision.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Companies race to honour Joseph Schooling | Straits Times
  2. Local brands spend millions on ad campaigns during the great Aussie medal hunt | News.com.au
  3. Why Some Top Companies Decided Super Bowl Ads Aren’t Worth It | The Huffington Post
  4. Mediacorp 2016 Advertising Rate Book for Channel 5, Channel 8, and Channel U
  5. Based on internal survey of media planners and buyer in Carat Singapore
  6. Not Advertising In The Super Bowl…McBrilliant | Forbes
  7. Russell, M. G., & Et Al (2003). Brand Perceptions of TV Commercials During Super Bowl XXXVIII. ResearchGate
  8. How Nike Brilliantly Ruined Olympic Marketing Forever | ADWEEK
  9. Michael Johnson’s legendary gold Nike shoes at Atlanta 96 almost never existed | Dailymail UK
  10. The World Cup Brand Winner: Adidas or Nike? | HBR
  11. How Obama’s Team Used Big Data to Rally Voters | Technology Review
  12. They Know Who You’re Voting For: How Big Data Redefines Political Campaigns’ Microtargeting | Data Informed
  13. Secret of the Obama Victory? Rerun Watchers, for One Thing | New York Times

Using Cultural Context to Create a Hyperlocal Strategy

Growing up, I have seen ads changed over time: in the past, they were purely functional and focused on the quality of the product; a decade later, I found myself weeping over an ad about the eternal spirit and sportswear. Today, I see ads in Hokkien (a dialect that was once taboo in Singaporean media) about the latest government healthcare plan. From my experiences alone, I can see that brands want to tap into culture more than ever. Culture helps advertisers reach a wide group of people with relevancy. And now technology helps better target cultural moments. But can brands tell if a moment is actually culturally significant or just a fad? What exactly is culture and how do we identify it? Are our insights about consumers or are they about culture? How can we make use of culture to build an effective hyperlocal strategy? In this article I will attempt to answer these questions.

 

Being a Chinese Singaporean, I always assumed my culture is similar to the culture of a Hong Konger or a Taiwanese. After all, we all experienced the same level of economic development in our nations; we descended from a similar root; and we share a common language. However, after celebrating Lunar New Year with a native family in Hong Kong, I realised I was wrong and our similarities were only skin-deep. This is a common mistake that brands make as well when approaching APAC: they assume a homogenous culture when there isn’t one.

 

What makes culture? Arts, language, traditions or food might come into our minds when we think of culture. While these are important parts of culture, they are not the true definition of it. A culture is a collective form of behaviour or practice among a group of people. Aspects like religion, history and governance are large scale influences [1] in people’s behaviour and practices, shaping the culture as a society progresses from generation to generation.

 

“Small” and “big” culture: separating fads from tradition

Culture can be broadly seen as “small” or “big” [2]. “Small” culture moves quickly (fashions, fads, slang words, etc.), while “big” culture is slow moving and underpins the way we live (traditions, customs, values, etc.). Dynamic influences from our surroundings shift these two types of cultures. Our mind adapts to the constant shift in culture and reacts according to the changes. Our brain is constantly conditioned by the culture we are in [3], shaping our behaviour and perception [4].

 

I recall IKEA’s previous agency ran an ad during Hari Raya (an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting) that roused a reaction from the Muslim community in Singapore [5]. The ad tries to depict the urban-ness of a Muslim family with “gangsta” poses and gold chains during the holiday. While urban-ness or hip hop music could be relevant in “small” culture, what it fails to do is recognise the taboos, traditions, and practices in the “big” culture: the underpinnings of lifestyle among mainstream Muslims in Singapore.

 

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Responders to the ad can be categorized into 3 main groups: older Muslims were mostly against the ad, younger Muslims were lukewarm to it, and non-Muslims appreciated the “humorous” take on Hari Raya. The different responses among the groups reveals how culture conditions their responses to the ad.

ikea facebook.jpg

The older group were concerned about the misrepresentation of  Muslims in Singapore and the inappropriateness of “gangsta” poses during Hari Raya. While the younger Muslim group appreciated IKEA’s effort to introduce fun and relevance, they felt haram still needed to be observed. The non-Muslim group found it “humorous,” but then again, they do not celebrate Hari Raya and are unaware of the subtleties within the culture. One ad can be perceived differently by different cultures, even in a small nation like Singapore. This is why a hyperlocal strategy is important, especially in a cultural period like Hari Raya.

 

Getting more out of your insights with culture
I am sure you have come across insights such as, ‘Filipinos aged 18 – 25 engage heavily in social media and frequently share selfies on Facebook’. An insight like this is good to understand the consumers, but not people or culture. We need to examine the insight within a cultural context to gain deeper understanding. The “small” culture of this insight is the love of sharing selfies by Filipinos among their social network, proven by the fact that Manila is actually the selfie capital of the planet [6]. But if we examine under “big” culture, we see that Filipinos have high value for friends, Amor Propio (self-esteem), and a need for expression [7]. These could be the motivations for Filipinos to produce more selfies than any other country.

Selfies---Manila-1-009

Understanding the cultural context of our insights prevents lazy stereotypes. In the west, it is common to view selfies as a sign of narcissism [8]. But in the Philippines, the cultural need for communication, expression, and self-esteem are reasons why selfies are so popular. Over or misrepresentation could occur if we do not give cultural context to the insights. In the Hari Raya ad, we can see that there is an over-representation of the “small” culture of hip hop music which caused a misrepresentation of the “big” culture of Hari Raya practices.

 

Cultural context for a hyperlocal strategy
Having cultural context sharpens our insights which helps to create a hyperlocal strategy. A hyperlocal strategy is not just about having a well-defined target, it is also about tailoring the media experience. If we know the cultural context of why Filipinos love selfies, we can create conversations about expressions and Amor Propio on Facebook, YouTube, or TV. On Instagram, we can find ways to use selfies as a form of expression. Engaging people on a cultural level creates a collective impact on them. “Big” culture topics can be introduced on high reach media that is familiar and scalable to attain effectiveness, while relying on the latest trends in “small” culture to innovate activations. Always remember media should deliver the best experiences to the audience and to do that, cultural context needs to fit well with media context.

Culture has a huge role to play in our media experience. Culture conditions our minds’ responses and perceptions. Considering culture and using it to sharpen our insights will help us design effective media experiences and have the right content in the right context. In this economy where scaling is important, culture is the best way to engage people collectively. Recognising a fad from a tradition is important so as to show thought and tact from a brand. Ultimately, it is about how a brand can appreciate the uniqueness of cultures in this highly diverse APAC region and find opportunities to engage diversity effectively.

 

Jude Koh is the regional associate strategy manager for Carat APAC.

 

  1. Pradeep. BV, Mediratta, N. (2016). Consumers don’t exist, people do! How to speak to people within their cultural context [WARC Article]. Retrieved from WARC
  2. Curphey, J. (2011, Nov). Culture: Insight’s third space – Conducting and integrating cultural analysis to drive brand value [WARC Article]. Retrieved from WARC
  3. Ambady, N. (2011, June). The Mind in the World: Culture and the Brain [APS Column]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2011/may-june-11/the-mind-in-the-world-culture-and-the-brain.html
  4. Park, D. C. Huang, CM. (2012, Aug 1) Culture Wires the Brain: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective [Perspect Psychol Sci Journal]. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3409833/
  5. Rajaratnam, R. (2015, June, 23) IKEA Singapore Responds To Outrage Caused By “Bling Glamour Home” Ad (Yes, Bling) [Web article] Retrieved from http://says.com/my/news/ikea-singapore-raya-2015-ad
  6. Golangco, V (2014, March 13). Sexy and social: why Manila is the selfiest city in the world [News Article] Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/mar/13/manila-selfiest-city-most-selfies
  7. Philippines-Australia Business Council. (2008) Filipino Values [Web Article] Retrieved from http://pabc.org.ph/main/details.php?p=14
  8. Seidman, G. (2015 August 6). What is the Real Link between Selfies and Narcissism? [Web Article] Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/close-encounters/201508/what-is-the-real-link-between-selfies-and-narcissism
  9. Fernandez, C. (2007, April 05) The Heart of Filipino Problems – Amor Propio [Web Article] Retrieved from http://chinocracy.blogspot.sg/2007/04/reason-for-filipino-problems-amor.html