Five Magic Days to Sell (to Women)


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.

  1. Brendon Clark says

    Whoa. If only you knew when…

    So, as a guy, and at the risk of talking out of turn :-), surely there’s room here for a related product to legitimately ask for this kind of information from subscribers?

    Imagine a campaign that ran along the lines of women asking women, Pssst, what time is it? It’s a secret, known only to women in the club. To join this exclusive club, you have to fess up and give the time. Incentivise disclosure. Run an algorithm to calculate the time of ovulation thereafter.

    Build some content around the whole thing, and then selectively target with information and product that suits. Develop internal segments such as the quick cyclers or slow cyclers, but choose better names!

    When you’re successful, then run the companion campaign. Have a woman say to a man, her man: Pssst. Know what the time is? Incentivise him to join the boy’s section, and then market, market, market to him as well, lingerie, perfume, clothes, cosmetics…

    Ok. And if I ever see this campaign, I want half!

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Brendon, I think there’s a simpler approach: by my rough math, at any given moment, about a third of your appropriately-aged female customers will be at their appearance-buying peak. Appealing to them isn’t much different than appealing to the total market, with the exception of the “local comparison” phenomenon. So, I’d advertise to the whole market with local cues. Those cues will be particularly effective with a third of the viewers, but shouldn’t hurt with the rest.

      I kind of cringe at the idea of pinning down where each female customer is in her hormonal cycle. Probably too much to lose by going there vs. any potential gain.


  2. Bianca Te Rito says

    Fascinating read thank you Roger…(as a woman)these days we have Ovulation Apps, Fashion Apps, Make-up Apps you name it – readily available for download to a cell phone. Marketers now have the potential to market their products to us based on information about our preferences (that we have willingly and voluntarily communicated online) which is being sold to companies as we speak. Exciting/interesting times we live in – awareness of how we are being influenced “externally” and “internally” is key. Keep the great content coming – thank you.

  3. Joseph Condron says

    One would wonder if awareness would negate the results on these experiments. I don’t think it really has a practical implication for marketing.

  4. pc says

    good point, woman are largely controlled by there hormones – not that men aren’t buy we have a more rational outlook as opposed to relying on feeling to make most of our judgements. I beleive that this article holds water and was a great read – I plan to look into this more thankyou

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Actually, pc, there’s a lot more evidence of men making irrational decisions than women! Just adding a picture of an attractive women will significantly alter guys’ behavior.


      1. Angela Ahola says

        Hi Roger!
        Thanks for the interesting post!
        Do you perhaps have any study (article) on this subject?
        (= adding a pic of an attr woman to alter a mans behaviour) and im also curious to read your article on “ovulation, female competetion and product choice)? Do you know where I could find it or if you could bother to email it to me?
        Thank you very much in befohand!
        All the best!
        Angela Ahola, Stockholm

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