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Why Aspirational Advertising Fails 9 Times out of 10

Relevant topics Archive, Conversion

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Humans constantly compare themselves to the actions and social status of other people, for better or for worse. People tend to develop negative attitudes to others that widely outperform them, but positive ones to people that are only slightly better.
  • Application:
    When creating aspirational advertising, try to not portray a picture too perfect for the audience to bear.
  • We’ve all heard it before: “buy this car and have the luxury life you always wanted”. Usually, advertising sketches a utopia; an idealistic world. This form of marketing, where a certain product offers the key to the life you always wanted, is known as aspirational marketing.

    This form of advertising builds on the principle of cognitive consistency theory, which claims that a fit between one’s self-concept and an identity-enhancing brand or product category leads to greater attraction.

    One example comes from Red Bull, a brand that likes to depict a lot of superstars in their advertisements. The ads make you realize that you haven’t achieved the fame of one of your idols – but by drinking the same drink as your idol, you’re one step closer to his/her fame.

    The interesting question remains: does aspirational advertising create favorable effects for the advertised brand under any circumstances? Let’s take it to the extreme. Does it work with a middle-aged woman who compares herself to the young model with flawless skin closely related to beauty products?

    Science has uncovered the answer: unfortunately not!

    The pitfalls of aspirational advertising

    New research shows that aspirational advertising’s success depends upon the gap between the viewer’s self-image and the idealized person. If the target audience feels the difference is unrealistic (i.e. the middle-aged women and the flawless model are too dissimilar) the ad will instantly spark negative emotions from a loss of self-esteem, which spill over to the advertised brand.

    Unfortunately for advertiser’s, many of today’s commercials portray a picture that’s more than a giant leap from reality. While aspirational advertising certainly works, it would be much more effective when it portrays people that hinge only slightly more towards perfection than the target audience. A good-looking girl next door sells better than a Hollywood super star.

    If the advertisement elicits knowledge about an out-group that is superior to the consumer on some relevant dimension, the consumer experiences a loss of collective self-esteem, leading to diminished attitudes toward the advertised product, and thereby alienates them.

    How to make aspirational advertising work for your brand

    When used properly and in the right context, aspirational advertising can be very powerful. Research shows that success depends on these two factors:

    1. It is very important that there are similarities ­– at least to some degree – between the viewer and the featured out-group, otherwise it may very well lead to alienated consumers.
    2. Context matters. As it turns out, aspirational advertising is strongly influenced by the consumer’s self-esteem at the moment the commercial is shown. So, if possible, focus your media buying around programming that tend to elicit positive feelings in your target audience.

    Aspirational marketing is a powerful tool. But beware of its side effects – when overdone, your idealized image may harm your brand and alienate consumers.

  • Why Aspirational Advertising Fails 9 Times out of 10
  • Reference:

    Dimofte, C. V., Goodstein, R. C., & Brumbaugh, A. M. (2015). A social identity perspective on aspirational advertising: Implicit threats to collective self-esteem and strategies to overcome them. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(3), 416-430.


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