Expert: Women Buy Bags, Men Buy Cars

Time magazine has an enticingly headlined column, “How Shoppers Make Decisions in a Recession,” which turned out to be a Q&A with Martin Lindstrom, a Danish brand consultant who thinks about how “neurology, as much as economics, drives consumer behavior”. He’s also one of Time’s 100 most influential people. Lindstrom says consumers should be aware of how marketing campaigns will prey on their emotions. And, then, some examples.

When the buyer from the family goes out and buys this Louis Vuitton bag, it’s actually hard to remove the guilt factor when she’s in the store. She now has to come home and justify to her husband why she bought this during a recession. And when you look at the curve of guilt, the biggest spike is maybe seconds after you bought that bag, because the only thing you are thinking about is how to justify the purchase. So what brands are doing now is basically filling a prepackaged justification argument. With women, brands now are basically saying there’s one side which is the emotional side, that is, “I love it, I can’t live without it, I’ll look sexy and popular and whatever.” On the other side, they are providing rational arguments to hand over to the husband when they come home. When the husband sees this bag and says, “What the heck are you thinking about?” she will immediately start this argument, saying “Well, I’m not going to buy another bag for four years.” Now that’s not going to be the truth. But that’s what the woman believes in that moment.


If you turn this around, it’s exactly the same thing happening with the husband. Around 60% of all car purchases today are decided by the woman in the family. And when a neighbor asks the husband why he bought the car, he cannot say, “My wife loved the pink interior design in my car.” That’s basically saying, “I’m totally controlled by the woman at home.” So what he’s going to say is, “Did you know this window can close at 82 m.p.h.? It’s the fastest-closing window in the world.” And the neighbor will say, “That’s kind of cool.” Well, it has nothing to do with the functionality of the car, but that’s a rational argument he will make. The car company is phrasing it in his mind so he can justify the purchase.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.