Hooked on power
Assistant Professor of Marketing
University of Groningen
PhD in Marketing
“The tempted powerful consumer is more likely to buy more products that they don't necessarily need and choose products that are immediately pleasant but unhealthy in the long-run. ”
What actually has an impact on our decisions, and how can marketers make use of that information? Mehrad Moeini-Jazani has taken a particular interest in how power affects us as consumers.
"Power is an ubiquitous feature of our social life. In today's market, companies are constantly applying strategies that put consumers at the center of attention and use tactics that treat consumers like the king. Think about different types of membership hierarchies that, for example, airlines create to treat their consumers differently. As a result, some consumers may feel more powerful than others", says Mehrad, a former doctoral candidate at BI Norwegian Business School.
But what are the consequences of feeling powerful or powerless for consumer behavior? Specifically, while everyone enjoys being powerful, could there be a downside of feeling more powerful for consumers? These are some of the questions that Mehrad tried to address in his Ph.D. thesis.
In his doctoral project, Mehrad challenges the established theory that the perception of power is enough to directly influence consumers' impulsive behavior. In contrast, Mehrad proposed and found that power in and of itself is insufficient to spur impulsive behavior unless the powerful also experience visceral states, a strong temptation for seeking pleasure.
His theorizing was tested and confirmed across several experiments where participants' feeling of having or lacking power was manipulated in addition to their experience of visceral state (desire or no desire). It turned out that power enhanced participants' tendency to choose instant gratification, but only in the group, whose lust for reward-seeking and desire had been triggered. The result of the experiments also indicated that high-power people with active desire experienced less perceptual distance between themselves and the reward.
Power to the marketers
People who experience having power are more action-oriented when they are tempted. As a result, they might make fast, less optimal decisions. The tempted powerful follow their impulses more often and are more likely to listen to their own bodily experiences. While such tendencies might have advantages in certain contexts, they are costly for the powerful consumers in the marketplace where temptations are prevalent. Think for examples of all advertisements with appetizing pictures of calorie-rich food or the pleasant smell of pastries from the bakery next door. Having power, while is a great experience, comes at a cost: the tempted powerful consumer is more likely to buy more products that they don't necessarily need and choose products that are immediately pleasant but unhealthy in the long-run.
Mehrad is now an assistant professor at the University of Groningen, where he teaches and continues to research more about how social power and related constructs such as poverty impact consumers behavior and decision-making.