Consumers should ‘sweat the small stuff’ to get healthier


March 25, 2014
Brain & Behavior, Health

International researchers say even one small act, such as failing to recycle a water bottle, can decrease commitment to an overall goal of well-being, such as protecting the environment.

Marketing researchers from the University of Idaho, Washington State University and University of Lausanne (Switzerland) say these everyday failures compromise goals for achieving a healthy lifestyle and society. Writing in the Journal of Marketing, Berna Devezer, David E. Sprott, Eric R. Spangenberg and Sandor Czellar offer insights into what can be done to help consumers stick to their goals.

Small failures, big consequences

“Most people aren’t aware that even a single behavioral slip can matter when making decisions regarding their own well-being or that of others,” said Devezer, UI assistant professor of marketing. “Consumers don’t think that just skipping the recycling bin one time would make them less environmentally responsible.

“But in reality, such failures may reduce consumers’ willingness to perform other acts associated with the long-term goal, such as conserving energy,” she said. “This spillover effect may jeopardize their attempts to live better lives.”

The researchers conducted four studies showing how consumer failure to perform small actions could influence the pursuit of longer-term well-being goals. They focused on three contexts: consumer overspending, environmentally friendly behaviors and charitable donations.

In one study, student participants were asked to imagine meeting or falling short of a monthly savings target. Results showed that participants who did not meet the short-term target were less likely to pursue a long-term savings goal.

“Our basic finding that small behavioral slips have negative immediate and long-term consequences on an overall goal of well-being was replicated across all three contexts,” said Spangenberg, WSU marketing professor and dean of the College of Business.

Relevance, clarity and consequence matter

The researchers demonstrated that the adverse effects of these small failures are less when the goals are important to the consumer and a clear mental picture is painted, such as “Your act will help reduce the amount of trash in the Atlantic Ocean.”

The research also points out the importance of increasing consumer awareness of negative consequences of failure. For example, the United Way’s slogan “Give. Advocate. Volunteer. Live United,” could be enhanced by simply adding the phrase, “If you don’t, children may go hungry.”

“Our findings suggest that marketers who want to promote well-being would do well to remind consumers of the importance of goals related to well-being, use easily visualized promotional messaging and show the downsides of even small behavioral lapses,” Spangenberg said.

The researchers’ efforts coincide with a movement supporting consumer research that benefits the quality of life for those engaged in or affected by consumption trends and practices.


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