Pleasure in progress: The dopamine deficit
As we look to burst out of the coronavirus pandemic bubble we've been forced to live in, Murillo Meireles, Strategic Planner at Missouri Creative, examines the different ways in which human biology might play a part in how consumers could approach our re-found freedoms.
It was just over 100 years ago that the world finally started to recover from 1918-20 Spanish Flu. It was one of history's deadliest epidemics, which was preceded by one of history’s deadliest wars, WW1.
That prolonged period of hardship was the main cause of some major shifts in consumer behaviour. One being the total embrace of freedom that marked the Roaring ‘20s. Now, as we start to see the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, the parallels between what happened then and what’s about to happen in our near future, become clear.
Our collective dopamine deficit is palpable. The world is in need of a good time.
It’s been a painful period for everyone. But pain and pleasure are intertwined; this link is deeply rooted in our biology. For a start, the nervous system releases endorphins as a way of blocking pain. This endorphin activity leads to an increase in the production of dopamine. Therefore, after a year of pain, it’s only natural that we now eagerly anticipate pleasure. Our collective dopamine deficit is palpable. The world is in need of a good time.
Above: Missouri Creative's Meireles believes many consumers will be ready to get out into the world and "indulge in instant gratification".
However, we see two different social realities emerging when restrictions are finally lifted. In the first, a significant part of our society will actively reject any constraint to their personal freedom. In the other, there will be a cohort for whom lockdown created a permanent shift in behaviour, causing them to hold on to newly acquired habits. It seems that everything is set for a split in the market between hedonistic and restrained consumer behaviour. Below, you’ll find four key insights, two for each consumer, and what your brand can to do to win their custom and their loyalty.
The Hedonistic Consumer
1) The serious business of pleasure
After a year of heightened anxiety and suffocating restrictions, the desire to let loose is widespread. As a result, many consumers will be prone to indulge in instant gratification without giving too much thought to the implications of their decisions. For many, pre-pandemic priorities, such as sustainability and diversity, will take a backseat for a while.
Pre-pandemic priorities, such as sustainability and diversity, will take a backseat for a while.
They have already started to show signs that they want to shake off, at least temporarily, worries and responsibilities. They’re ready to say adios! to fakeaways and Zoom parties and hola! to nightclubs in Ibiza. They want to escape. And when they do, they don’t want to stress about anything, least of all money. In fact, as many as 32% of consumers globally claim they expect to increase their spending when drinking and eating out friends, compared to before the lockdowns. (Source: Nestle)
Opportunity: Facilitate the consumer to escape from the worries and responsibilities of the real world. Consumption of your product should feel like the ultimate reward.
2) Adventures in pleasure
If, at the height of the pandemic, consumers were buying heritage brands they could trust, once that uncertainty is over, we expect them to deliberately throw caution to the wind and seek opportunities to step out of their comfort zone.
Many consumers have caution fatigue, and what they want now is to break the rules and try something new.
Many consumers have caution fatigue, and what they want now is to break the rules and try something new. They want the excitement of newness after a year of sameness. In the UK, as many as 83% of consumers now say they plan to ditch at least some of the shopping habits they’ve acquired during the pandemic after this is over. (Source: ONS)
Opportunity: Encourage discovery. Facilitate to exploration of new flavour combinations, unfamiliar destinations and experiences that take consumers out of their ordinary.
Above: Personal well-being is at the top of the agenda for many, with some consumers being more controlled about how they treat their mental and physical health.
The Restrained Consumer
1. The pleasure of learning
By contrast, there’s going to be a whole other segment of the consumer landscape that will hold on to what they see as positive aspects of isolation. They’re going to come out on the other side of this crisis with new found passions and, as a result, they’ll spend more of their time and money on hobbies and personal development.
Pleasure now lies in the fulfilment of [the restrained consumer's] own potential.
According to a recent UK study conducted by The Health Work Company, 22% of people in the UK have taken up a new pastime in lockdown, while 35% have rediscovered an old one. As they come out of isolation, eager to reignite their social life off-screen, we’ll continue to see them prioritise products and experiences that come with an element of self-discovery or self-reflection. For these consumers, pleasure now lies in the fulfilment of their own potential – in self-actualising.
Opportunity: Put learning at the heart of your product experience. Create opportunities for consumers to hone their skills or acquire new ones. Facilitate them to learn from your brand, or from a collective sense of progress.
2. Pleasure in moderation
The events of the last year have also made some consumers eager to take matters into their own hands. This is especially true in relation to their personal wellbeing – both mental and physical. In the UK, 2020 has seen news shows record their lowest ratings, with more people choosing to stop following the news in order to protect their mental health (Source: BBC).
In the UK, 2020 has seen news shows record their lowest ratings
As for physical wellbeing, consumers are taking control by reassessing their relationship with food and drink to establish what’s good for them and what’s not. They’ve learned that the way they feel is up to no one but themselves. Now, they’ll continue to seek less harmful ways to indulge and boost their wellbeing. For them, pleasure comes from taking control.