When Are Consumers Most Receptive?



If the workers who built the Pyramids were paid wages, undoubtedly nearby vendors knew when to exert maximum effort: payday. A person with a fresh supply of money is far more likely to spend liberally than one who’s nearly tapped out. Beyond the obvious fact that only people who have money can spend it, it turns out there is a more subtle and complex change in our spending related to when we are paid. Research shows that consumer motives change depending on where they are in their pay cycle, as does their response to advertising messages. Understanding when consumers are most receptive allows marketers to optimize the timing of their sales pitch.

Promotion vs. Prevention

University of Utah marketing professors Himanshu Mishra and Arul Mishra studied consumer behavior and attitudes, and found,

Newly paid consumers are more likely to spend money on “promotion-focused” products and services—those that make their lives better, if even in a small way. As the previous payday gets further away, though, consumers are motivated to choose products that are “prevention-focused”—that preserve their current standard of living. [From Payday Proximity Changes Consumer Motives and Behavior.]

Payday timing chart

According to Himanshu Mishra, “As time goes by and your paycheck is almost spent, you want to maintain your status quo.”

The researchers conclude that if you are advertising new products or products geared toward improving lifestyle, those should be advertised in the time period shortly after payday. If you are advertising products intended more to maintain or prevent worsening of their lifestyle, target the period just before payday. They provide a simple example: whitening toothpaste would be an improvement-oriented product, while a cavity-prevention message would be geared to prevention. Hence, if one assumes a first of the month payday, one would promote the former at the beginning of the month and the latter at the end.

Of course, there are practical issues in acting on this advice. Not everyone is on the same pay cycle, and it seems that more affluent consumers who don’t live from paycheck to paycheck would be less influenced by payday issues. Still, this work presents some interesting possibilities.

Local and Individual Targeting

In some locations, a single employer or small group of companies may account for a large number of employees. Synchronizing marketing might be more productive in this environment. And with today’s ability to target consumers down to the individual level, it’s not impossible to think about optimal times to email, mail, or text a consumer with an offer.

  1. Carson Boddicker says


    Interesting post and I appreciate you pointing out my outright ignorance. Despite having behaved as you suggest time and time again, I’ve never, until now, considered attempting to leverage the behavior in marketing.

    Carson Boddicker

    1. Roger Dooley says

      It’s not ignorance, Carson, most of us are unaware of the things that impact our decision making. Many folks outright deny such unconscious effects, even when they can be demonstrated conclusively by split-run tests and other means. This blog wouldn’t exist, or it would be quite boring, if our decision processes were totally rational!


  2. Lukas says

    Hi Roger!
    I was wondering if you could elaborate on “preventive” products? I mean, it’s most likely differing vastly from consumer to consumer as to which products that can be considered as “preventive”, but what general product lines would you describe as being preventive?



  3. Roger Dooley says

    Lukas, the researchers cite “eating healthy” as a prevention decision since it maintains current health. I would guess that a good example would be insurance products, as they are mostly geared toward preserving lifestyle even if an unexpected event (illness, fire, car crash) happens.


  4. Best Swiss Watches says

    Another interesting observation; it is fun to see a marketing blog that focuses on the psychology behind buying. I don’t know how easy a mailing strategy based on this information would be to implement seeing as there are widely differing pay cycles. And as you mentioned if you are in a more affluent niche the customers may not be as effected by this. I wonder if the same conclusions could be made in regaurd to bill due dates – do people become more preventative the closer it comes to the mortgage being due?

  5. Mercedes says

    I don’t know what your research shows about age. But I am finding that the older I get, the less receptive I am to any kind of advertising. In fact, I find myself developing an aversion to advertising altogether. But I agree, a lot of people look forward to payday. It’s a holiday or a time of celebration of sorts. The festive mindset would tend to cause people to spend more freely on quality of life products. And as the dollars dwindle so too does the festive sense of well-being and a more serious attitude sets in. That’s when people start think about the future and what they can or should do in the way of prevention.

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