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How Do You Market to the Super Stressed?

How Do You Market to the Super Stressed?

As consumers become more stressed, how do you make it easier for them to make brand choices? We have some ideas.

This should not come as a surprise, but most Americans are stressed. More stressed than ever, in fact. A survey in March 2021 showed that 48% of people reported elevated levels of stress. This trend increased with a follow-up study in March 2022.

With inflation, war, and supply chain issues, a lot of people may feel they are at their wit’s end. And, many are.

Cumulative years of stress change how we process information. 

Close-up of worried man at home
License this image via Maskot.

A recent AdWeek article ​​provided tips on what marketers might consider when targeting the super stressed: avoid shock value, manage choice overload, provide emotional validation, leverage familiarity and nostalgia, and focus on brand building.

But, what does that mean when it comes to images? And, are these the right steps for all brands? 


Don’t Just Avoid Shock Value. Offer Solutions. 

Avoiding shock value is a topic recently discussed on this blog by climate scientist and brand marketer Nicole Loher.

She wrote that, “In a world that’s rapidly changing, solution-focused media gives viewers hope, a direction to latch on to, and is necessary to keep momentum going on topics that feel impossible to digest.”

Rather than shocking consumers, the research shows that in a highly complex and fractured world, brands should be helping consumers think about new visions of the future.

Straight and curved vector illustrations
License this image via visiostyle.

“I saw Everything, Everywhere, All At Once this weekend and it actually used a visualization technique I used with my clients: Get in a “multiverse mindset” and imagine a previous or parallel time/space where the current conflict hasn’t happened yet and you are blissfully unaware of any stress it is causing you,” Bea Arthur, therapist, and founder of The Difference, tells Shutterstock.

“Better yet, imagine a future where you have solved the problem or overcome the challenge and feel the peace and relief of getting past that issue. The point is to remind yourself that all troubles are temporary and to not let your self-talk spiral into a state of being overwhelmed or powerless.”

Brands can help de-stress consumers by reframing their conceptions of the future.  

License these images via Mariia Korneeva, AnnaStills, Dizfoto, HQuality, Daria Lo, dekazigzag, Richard Zschech, Mark Brandon, Sergii Sobolevskyi, Sve_M, Gorodenkoff, and VITTA GALLERY / Westend61.


Manage Choice Overload

The same can be said for choice. Seek out images that simplify complicated decision-making choices. This is important for brands at any time, but more so in moments when it’s harder for consumers to make decisions—especially when they have specific physiological responses to stress.

In an interview with Shutterstock, Dr. Jennifer Kraker shared that “when we experience stress, our stress hormone cortisol increases. Increased cortisol leads to decisions that will result in euphoria (read dopamine-inducing) or sensation-increased outcomes. For example, stress often has consumers default to the most salient choice, i.e the chocolate croissant over the celery, the glass of wine over the sparkling water, smoking over not. The short-term comfort over deferred prudence.”

She went on to share that (setting gender fluidity aside): “Interestingly, men and women have different reactions to stress. Namely, men tend toward an increase in risk-taking decisions whereas women become risk-aversive.”

License these images via Rodion Kovenkin and Food Collection.

Now might be the time to keep your marketing from inducing decision paralysis. Perhaps you can narrow down to tactics that only share comfort-inducing aspects of your brand.

Or, offer people images that really help emphasize good habits to them in a moment of stress.

Broken phone on the side of the road with a car driving away in the distance
Well, don’t litter. But, you get the idea. License this image via Evgeniy Medvedev.

Leverage Family and Nostalgia 

Nostalgia-based images can instantly remind people of past positive feelings. Think: clothes from their childhood, cartoon characters, or movies that held mass appeal.

By instantly tapping into their positive emotions, brands can borrow these emotions from consumers and place them within the context of their brand.

Research (now dated) from the Journal of Advertising shared that consumers who saw nostalgia-themed ads rated the ad and the advertised brand more favorably compared to those who had seen non-nostalgic ads.

Nintendo and Spotify have all done this well in recent years. And, you can too by using images, colors, or concepts that instantly transport people to a cherished moment or place from their past.

Plus, tapping into the current 90s trend can help you connect with a new demographic—Gen Z.

License these images via Spectral-Design, De Visu, javi_indy, Juan Miguel Aparicio / Addictive Creative, David Agüero Muñoz / VISTA by Westend61, Kirsty Larmour, and Maria Symchych.


Focus on the Brand and Make Instant Connections

In a world where consumers are stressed out, helping them know and understand your brand will help with choice management.

Are you consistently using images that align with your brand value, your brand colors, and your brand concept? Are these images simple for people to understand and easy for a consumer to grasp in a single moment?

By choosing images that are clearly focused on eliciting responses, you can ensure the overstressed consumer is coming to your brand for exactly the feeling and solution they’re seeking.

Smiling young woman text messaging on her phone in the park
License this image via MaxwellArt Photography / Westend61.

License this cover image via TShaKopy.

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