What if there were five days every month when your customers were unusually receptive to your product? If you market products or services that make women more attractive (apparel, cosmetics, diet programs, etc.), those magic days exist. New research shows that women’s purchasing behavior is unconsciously influenced by their hormones. Specifically, it was found that women who are ovulating buy and wear sexier clothes, and their choices are less influenced by men than by the need to outdo female competition.

“The desire for women at peak fertility to unconsciously choose products that enhance appearance is driven by a desire to outdo attractive rival women,” says Kristina Durante, a post-doctoral fellow at the Carlson School. “If you look more desirable than your competition, you are more likely to stand out.”

This research, forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, provides some of the first evidence of how, why, and when consumer behavior is influenced by hormonal factors. Durante and co-authors focused their predictions on the fact that competition for a suitable partner would be influenced by a woman’s fertility status…

In the study, researchers had ovulating women view a series of photographs of attractive local women and then asked them to choose clothing and accessory items to purchase. The majority of participants chose sexier products than those who had been shown photographs of unattractive local women or women who lived over 1000 miles away. This change in consumer choice is not a conscious decision and non-ovulating women are not subject to the effect.

The current findings have practical implications for marketers because ovulatory cycle effects may profoundly influence women’s consumer behavior. “For about five to six days every month, normally ovulating women—constituting over a billion consumers—may be especially likely to purchase products and services that enhance physical appearance,” says Durante. Such products include not only clothing, shoes, and fashion accessories, but also cosmetics, health supplements, fitness products, medical procedures, and more. [From U of M research finds ovulating women unconsciously buy sexier clothing to outdo attractive women.]

According to Durante, “We found that, when ovulating, women chose sexier fashion products when thinking about other attractive, local but not distant women. If you are in New York, a woman who lives in LA isn’t going to be seen as competition.”

Interestingly, even though the subconscious objective is to attract a male, behavior of the subjects was influenced by viewing photos of females. “In order to entice a desirable mate, a woman needs to assess the attractiveness of other women in her local environment to determine how eye-catching she needs to be to snare a good man,” Durante says.

Perhaps the next frontier in neuromarketing is to do a blood draw along with brain scans and biometrics to evaluate the hormonal levels of male and female subjects. (See also High Testosterone Marketing.)

Go Local. What’s a marketer to do? Acting on this fascinating research is a bit of a challenge since the “magic days” are randomly distributed across the population. But, if your product or service is related to making women look better, why not ensure that advertising and marketing target the ovulating segment without diminishing the appeal to everyone else? For example, one could feature women identified as “local” in apparel advertisements. Health clubs and diet centers sometimes use local “success stories” in their marketing. While no doubt they do that primarily for credibility, it’s likely that the comparison effect provides an added boost.

While the comparison effect will likely be lost on the majority of viewers, those women who are at their hormonal peak might find the models identified as local to be more persuasive cues. Or, place models against backgrounds that are familiar and clearly local. This might be a bit more risky – perhaps consumers in Cleveland would prefer to think their dresses are what stylish Manhattanites are wearing – but it would be worth testing.

My male Neuromarketing readers will no doubt be thrilled that after numerous posts showing irrational (and even dumb) behavior by guys (e.g., Bikinis, Babes, and Buying, Attractive Women Make Men Impatient, A Pretty Woman Beats a Good Loan Deal) when women were unaffected by similar stimuli, some small amount of gender parity can now be reclaimed.

The paper “Ovulation, Female Competition, and Product Choice: Hormonal Influences on Consumer Behavior,” will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Image via Shutterstock.

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