As part of my dissertation, I studied and researched the consumer psychology behind Buzzfeed’s content marketing. It was a journey that yielded some surprising and not so surprising results. In determining the key psychological factors behind the audience clicking and consuming Buzzfeed’s content marketing, a variety of interlinking reasons occurred. Without going into the 20,000 words plus of research, some interesting psychological tendencies of today’s millennial arose.
People are bored and very bored when they are clicking on Buzzfeeds content. Its hardly a surprise given that the Buzzfeed founder himself, Jonah Perretti, acknowledges that people who are bored at work are the chief target audience. However, notwithstanding this, the biggest underlying factor for clicking on Buzzfeed’s content and other similar content is hedonic motivations. Or put more simply, the use of hedonic marketing to attract and entice the consumer. So what precisely is hedonic marketing?
Hedonism is essentially the cult of pleasure with hedonic marketing being a practice that centres on this innate human tendency. Many businesses and companies, particularly in the entertainment industry use hedonic marketing. For me, my definition is as follows. ‘Hedonic marketing is the practice and marketing to appeal to the consumer’s deeply ingrained desire for pleasure’.
While I just made that up, but it’s basically the gist of it. When browsing on social media we tend not to think too much about what we click. More often than not, we see something, it catches our attention and we click. This lack of rationale and conscious thought can be attributed greatly to our hedonic motivations. The renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud, attributed our hedonic motivations to, the part of our brain that is largely unconscious in nature; the id. From here, the id makes a lot of our major decisions which are based on pleasure and gratification.
So how does a marketer engage with hedonic marketing?
Really simple. Appeal to people’s pleasure principles. Buzzfeed does this with its fun and entertaining content. Its cat pictures and playful quizzes and whatnot are all very jolly and light. From my general conversations with people, a common argument is that ‘I would never click on that’. However if we dig into to the data and pull back the curtains, Buzzfeed business model is based on exploiting this psychological tendency. Given the fact that they make the top 40 websites in the U.S means that there content is being viewed and clicked upon from social.
Aside from entertaining cat photos on Facebook, there are other ways hedonic marketing can take place. Anything to do with Food and sex, also comes under the umbrella of hedonic marketing. These are primitive drives in human nature with both coming from the aforementioned Freudian id. A classic old school example here, would be the glamorous model alongside the car. Before any sight of a model, the man is thinking logically about the car. He is weighing up the how economical it is, how safe it is and other significant conscious factors that take place before anyone would make a significant purchase such as a car. However when a glamorous model is strategically next to it, ( or lying top of it) these factors seem less important and the car just seems a lot more attractive. That right there is hedonic marketing. Of course people are wising up to these obvious marketing ploys as time passes, but the underlying premise of appealing to our hedonistic nature is still present.
Playing to people’s fantasies is also another key tenant of Hedonic marketing. People love escapism from their daily lives. Aside from content marketing across social media, the use of Hedonic marketing in this context, takes place quite frequently in sales pitches. If you can sell somebody ‘the dream’ and appeal to their fantasies, you are also inveterately engaging with hedonic marketing. This is a strong pull in human nature. We all dream of the sunny beach and cocktails while there is an automated cash flow just magically flowing into our account. Many ‘internet marketers’ will sell this dream and make money from people’s fantasies, simply because if the fantasy is strong enough and presented well enough, people will eat it up. Now without wanting to sound like a pessimist, I do not personally buy into this dream or at least the way it is being presented. Of course you can make passive income, but I do not think it is as easy as the spammy internet marketer makes out. Appealing to people’s fantasies and their desire for instant gratification is the core component of hedonic marketing. If the spammy internet marketer was to pitch around the harsh reality of the work required to get this, the fantasy would not be as tempting. As we want instant gratification, the often tedious and laborious work which is required, would be as appealing as watching paint dry.
We must be very careful because the desire for pleasure, in a quick fast way without putting in any real work to get there is an inherent unconscious pull in the human psyche. The magical pill to solve all our problems is something to be aware of because for the most part, it doesn’t exist. Yet across many different industries, whether they be get rich quick schemes or in supplements in the health and fitness niche, there is always a guru that is selling the the ‘magic pill’ and promoting the fantasy with little or no work to get there.
This concept of Hedonic marketing is nothing new. There have been many different theorists, psychologists and more that have exposed our psychological tendencies. I am merely just putting a name on this act in a 2015 online marketplace way. As Robert Greene author of ‘The 48 laws of Power’ acknowledged ‘people who can manufacture romance or conjure up fantasies are like oases in the desert: Everyone flocks to them’. Hitting this psychological button can create opportunities. However in the continually changing landscape of today’s world, it is a task to hit these motivations while still proving a quality service with value to the consumer.
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