Happy couples are everywhere in advertising, and (as in real life) the effect on single people is to lower their self-esteem until they no longer think they deserve nice things. New research from USC’s Marshall School says that reminding consumers of relationships they don’t have doesn’t make products aspirational. Instead, it reduces shoppers’ sense of “deservingness” and “triggers them to restrict their own indulgent consumption.” Contrary to the conventional wisdom about retail therapy and eating your feelings, the study found that people with a low sense of deservingness spend less money, and choose lower-end products and lower-calorie foods when they do spend.
With marriage rates at historic lows, researcher Lisa Cavanaugh suggests brands place indulgent products in ads or editorial settings that focus on general platonic relationships over exclusive pairs, or target their marketing according to relationship status. Los Angeles fashion label Wren is one step ahead. Their recent online ad showing beautiful strangers’ awkward first kisses — as opposed to romantic coupledom — went viral among the Tindering set before anyone even realized it was an ad.