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Why are we hooked by Coles Little Shop and Woolworths Ooshies promotions?


Marketing expert Dr Paul Harrison sheds light on why these collectables are such a hit.

If you're still searching for a gold Simba Ooshie, you're not alone. Whether it's Lion King Ooshies, Coles Little Shop, footy cards, Star Wars memorabilia, jokes, books, cacti, spoons, cars, houses or wines, it is a natural human instinct to acquire, collect and display our accomplishments.

Many of us collect material objects, ideas and even experiences (such as travel destinations or visits to restaurants), in some form or another. One estimate is that one in three people collect something in a methodical way. One way to think about collecting is that it is a common, engaging form of consumption.

Rest assured, if you collect you are not alone.

There are a whole bunch of reasons why we collect. They are usually clustered around social, psychological and identity explanations.

There is a social aspect to collecting because the object gives us a "prop" or an excuse to interact with others around a mutually shared interest. When we own something and are encouraged to display it, we achieve recognition by others who collect the same object.

The scarcity effect can also explain why we are often willing to work hard to own the least available items in a collection, like the elusive Golden Shopping Trolley, the Golden Billy Banana or The Macallan Valerio Adami (look them up). It also explains why some of us go nuts when the waiter offers to grate some subterranean ascomycete fungus (truffle) on our burger.

FOMO and the rise of retail promotions

Our psychological response to scarcity results in us believing that if it is scarce, it is rare, and ownership of the rare item gives us a sense of achievement and allows us to display our achievement. Without sounding too dramatic, scarcity also exploits our psychological and social vulnerabilities, because it relies on urgency and anticipated regret (the ubiquitous fear of missing out).

And there is a pretty basic reason that promotions such as Coles Little Shop and the Woolworths Lion King Ooshies are becoming more ubiquitous. Both Coles and Woolworths are starting to worry about their once imperial-like control of the market share in the grocery sector.

With the competition that is coming from the emergence of international discounting brands in Australia such as Aldi, Lidl, Costco and Kaufland, executives at Coles and Woolies are starting to get worried.

The hope is that these promotions should create loyalty, build barriers to defection and underpin differentiation from their competitors. They are also an attempt to draw you away from your local IGA or corner store, and get you to shop with them, even when all you want is milk and bread. Once you're in the shop, they know that you will spend more than you expected to (and the research in this field supports this).

Ultimately, Woolies and Coles are trying to get you to think of their brand first (in marketing we call it the evoked set) whenever it comes to food and other home needs.

Do collectable promotions really make us loyal?

Locking in loyalty through promotions (whether it's collectables, discounts or loyalty programs) is one of the oldest tools in the marketer's toolkit, but the reality is that the loyalty is transient.

Promotions rarely create strong loyalty – the kind that leads to resistance to other promotions or better offers elsewhere. For the most part, they create loyalty to the promotion, rather than the brand.

That said, if the promotions run long enough, they can create habit, which may lead to behavioural loyalty. In the grocery market, habit is one of the major antecedents to choosing where most people do their grocery shop, along with location (how close the supermarket is to your home) and parking.

That said, it's hard not to notice the contradiction of being forced into bringing our own bags to cut down on plastic waste, while knowing that these toys will end up as landfill and makes the whole promotion pretty galling for some.

But, there is another, more significant factor that may have been missed in this discussion. Whether intentionally or not, these "collectables" teach children (and adults) to consume. It creates positive associations with the consumption of, mostly, unfunctional products. It reinforces the idea that we are entitled to, and encouraged to acquire more stuff. In a world of finite resources, with mounting waste issues, we should be encouraging people to consume less.

What is the solution, I hear you ask?

The research in the area suggests that we can achieve longer term happiness and life satisfaction through experiences, rather than things. So, if your kids (or you) are going to collect things, collect them in a conscious way.

Use the collection of Coles Little Shop or Lion King Ooshies as an opportunity to talk to your kids in a critical way about consumption, about collecting, about the characters in the film, about getting together with friends and sharing your collectables (even five years olds are up for the chat if you treat them with respect).

Maybe focus on collecting programs that lead to positive societal outcomes at the same time, such as Woolworths Discovery Garden (despite the coriander haters).

It's not all doom and gloom, because collecting done right can provide a sense of achievement and agency, while helping you and your kids to better connect with the world.

Dr Paul Harrison is professor of marketing and consumer behaviour at Deakin Business School. He is the marketing lead in Deakin's MBA program and is director of the Centre for Employee and Consumer Wellbeing.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article (which may be subject to change without notice) are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Finder and its employees. The information contained in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice or any other advice or recommendation of any sort. Neither the author nor Finder have taken into account your personal circumstances. You should seek professional advice before making any further decisions based on this information.

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