Last fall, the world association of market research professionals, ESOMAR (which has focused on encouraging and elevating market research since 1948), held its annual congress in Amsterdam.
I’d like to focus on a presentation that was offered. It was from the Netherlands. The writers are J.G. Waldorp, M.A. Simons and HBM van De Wiel. Its title was intriguing – “The why instead of what of consumer behavior, an evolutionary-based new model.”
Its introduction follows this story: "Early Man Goes to Market" is the title of a painted rock piece that looks like a prehistoric cave painting and was said to have been found in the Peckham district south of London. The piece, depicting a human with a shopping cart, showed up mysteriously in the British Museum in 2007. Although obviously our early ancestors did not walk around pushing shopping carts, for some time nobody at the museum noticed that there was something peculiar about this exhibit.
“The work finally turned out to be a work criticizing consumerism and was created by the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy, who smuggled the piece into the museum. From an evolutionary perspective, Banksy presents the missing link here of today's consumer research, because the modern consumer still has the mind of his early ancestors, and is motivated by motives that have been shaped a long time ago.”
Going further in the paper, you learn about a new model which might help marketers to better understand consumer’s behavior based on motivation research. If one is to believe the authors (and why not, the idea makes sense), we’re drowning in data about consumers but we’re still starving for insight. They plead for marketing science to include evolutionary theory as do authors like Miler and Saad because “Homo Consumericus are biological beings shaped by a common set of evolutionary forces.”
I’d like to give you another piece of this paper: “Only after the introduction of evolutionary psychology, science came to realize that our mind is not designed to solve the day-to-day problems of modern people, but those of our early ancestors.”
But what I perhaps liked most in the paper was the repeated misuse of Darwinian Theory: reproduction success is really the main goal of behavior, not survival as an individual being. For Waldorp et. al., the ultimate reason of consuming motivation is to appear as attractive to a mate as possible. Self actualization, power, achievement and intimacy are deeply seated in human nature. To go further, when able to “waste,” an animal shows that he has succeeded in covering its basic needs and so appears as a suitable mate even if it is costly signaling. Darwin gave the example of the peacock’s tail, an enormous ornament appearing as a tremendous waste and a terrific handicap in case he had to flee from a predator.
Here is the very interesting point of the paper: “Consumer buying motivation has just one ultimate evolutionary goal: promoting inclusive fitness by costly signaling. We therefore propose to use costly signals to improve insight in consumer motivation and to make this insight actionable for consumer research.”
Of course you may ask “Yes, but what about the feed industry?” And I’ll answer with other questions: “Do you really feel that the feed and animal products industries are out of the marketing science stream? Do you remember the scandal of the PETA ad due to be shown on TV during the Super Bowl three years ago? (For those who missed it, it was about vegetable and sex appeal.) And finally, do you think consuming meat, milk or eggs still appear as a powerful signal of efficiency or does it make no sense regarding mating success?”
This theory might explain why we find such wide gaps between countries as to individual eating volume and why marketers might have to incorporate evolutionary theory in their brain storming sessions.