Chris Sanderson
Apr 23, 2014

Five things marketers need to know about extreme consumers

Moderation is out and extreme lifestyles are in. Consumers are realising that periods of fasting and gorging, saving and splurging, bingeing and purging earn them the lifestyles they crave, says the author

Five things marketers need to know about extreme consumers
The Future Laboratory’s recent macrotrend, The Polarity Paradox, looks at how brands can reach this contrary consumer. Here are five things that marketers need to know about appealing to this new breed of increasingly extreme consumer:
1. Make offers to those living in austerity
Bored of cutting back, saying no and pinching pennies, people are starting to indulge again. Consider how in the midst of an economic downturn, one in five Britons (21%) think an overseas holiday is a necessity, according to ABTA. In 2014, 19% plan to spend more on holidays, compared with just 16% who plan on spending less. Marketers need to create offers that alleviate the unabating pressures of austerity. 
Consumers have reached a point of acceptance where they understand that austerity is an enduring reality rather than a blip, yet are finding ways to indulge again. A great example is Shop Hers, a member-based US website dedicated exclusively to pre-owned designer fashion. This curated community enables its members to buy or sell second-hand high-end fashion from other members, enabling members to save on high-fashion items, while making money on their own underused pieces.
2. Help consumers both binge and purge  
 The way that we shop, eat, consume media, manage our finances and family time is shifting from an all-things-in-moderation approach, to a more extreme set of behaviours where consumers alternate between all and nothing. Our research shows that more than half of us are applying the approach of the 5:2 diet – in which people restrict the calories they intake on two days per week – to other areas of our lives. 49% believe that using the 5:2 method makes their goals feel more achievable, and are increasingly applying the binge-purge approach to save money, improve personal relationships and reduce alcohol intake.
"This way of living is taking hold because we feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice and sheer content that is out there," says Emma Cook, author of 5:2 Your Life. "People talk about detoxes and retreats, but this is a form of doing that within your daily and weekly living. It enables us to have it both ways – and that is a tempting proposition."
3. Act as a sensitive brand to help consumers navigate extremes
Living in extremes can be tiring and unnerving. Our research shows 44% of 25-34 year olds abstain from food or alcohol during the week, and will eat and drink more than they should at the weekend. Therefore, marketers and brands need to provide a service that helps people negotiate the extremes of the ‘Polarity Paradox’.
 An example of this in action is a new service allowing young professionals to nullify the effects of drinking heavily the night before. IV Doctor delivers an IV drip to the office, hotel room or home of a person suffering from over-indulgence, and rehydrates and reinvigorates them, allowing them to perform at work the following day. Brands that can develop new services that enable consumers to live polarised lives will gain fans, ambassadors and, crucially, customers.
4. Offer consumers definition to happiness
People no longer want to be simply happy, they want to be challenged, frustrated, and experience a depth of feeling that adds a definition to their happiness. As a result, they are seeking out extremes to make them feel alive and fulfilled. A great example is US chef Craig Thornton’s Wolvesmouth project, a dining event where the food is plated to look as though it has been torn apart by a wild animal, as jus, sauce and ingredients come together to look like fresh entrails. Specifically designed to take the guest on a cognitive trip from disgust, to curiosity, to delight, Thornton furnishes people with an experience, rather than just a product.
5. Use scare marketing
This approach provokes a strong cognitive reaction in consumers. In an environment where people are exposed to extremes, brands are generating value by demonstrating that they will lead consumers safely through the Polarity Paradox. Campaigns and commercials should look to take people on a journey first through anxiety, then to a sense of relief – a cognitive trip that is perfectly in step with the polarised consumer.
Love it or hate it, a recent example of this approach is Unilever’s film short, Why Bring a Child into This World? Several expecting couples are shown a short film that attests to the violence, war and natural disasters that grip the planet, forcing them to question their motives for having a child. Following the upsetting scenes, the film turns to optimism and an unseen narrator promises "illnesses that today affect millions of children a year will be prevented by simple, everyday products".
Chris Sanderson is chief executive and co-founder at The Future Laboratory
The article first appeared on


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