Image: Fashionsquad (source).
The other day, I was browsing assorted online retailers in search of a baseball cap. Now, I am not a baseball cap kind of person. I’m not a hat kind of person in general (unless I need to be out in the sun a lot for some reason), because my hair has the miraculous ability to shape-shift into exciting new positions and stay that way with an iron-clad will for the rest of the day… that is to say, I get some truly epic hat-hair. So in day-to-day life, I’m not really one for hats. Why, then, was I looking for a baseball cap to buy? Presumably my follow-up plan to buying it would have been to wear it, in which case, why was I shopping for something I’d probably never wear? Well, because I’m an impressionable little ape and I saw a few photos on blogs of people wearing baseball caps and looking kind of cool and I thought “Hmm, maybe I should give that a go”.
I do wonder about the impact of blog content (whether it be photos, written thoughts, reviews, whatever) on purchasing behaviour and consumption. I’ve written before about the mere-exposure effect, that funny little psychological phenomenon in which just seeing something repeatedly can make you like it more. An annoying consequence might be that you start to like things that didn’t grab your attention or your affections at all to start with. In the context of style/fashion blogs, it might be a specific item (e.g. people looking lovely in, say, a pair of Ray-Ban Clubmasters or something) or a more generic category of item (e.g. people wearing baseball caps!), but the effect might be the same – maybe the more you see it, the more you like it, even if it isn’t necessarily really your thing. And maybe you go out and buy it. That’s the potential power of blog content.
This NPR article, Showing Off Shopping Sprees, Fashion ‘Haulers’ Cash In Online, fills the picture in a bit more, describing how vloggers (and I’d say bloggers too, by extension, since plenty of blogs contain dissections of hauls) discuss their buys online and turn their purchase reviews into sponsorship and income. Of particular interest was the link to this Google report about the role of YouTube in shopping, which says “video has become so influential that 4 in 10 shoppers visited a store online or in-person as a direct result of watching a video”. Now that statistic is a bit vague – I think they mean that 40% of people have visited a store as a direct result of watching a video at least once in their life, not that an average of 40% of people viewing a given video will then visit the store – but all the same, that is a considerable amount of influence. And I’d hazard a guess that it’s the case for not just YouTube haul videos but also blogs.
This results in an interesting little quandary (which I’m sure has a very nebulous answer, with a lot of caveats) – how does blogging about material goods affect readers’ consumption? What are the unintended consequences?
When I see a recommendation about an item from a blogger whose writing and style and thoughts I respect and/or identify with, I often feel a pang of “Maybe should get that excellent item too, even though I don’t really need it in my life”. When I see a positive review from such a blogger regarding a brand I haven’t tried, I feel like trying the brand too, even when the purchase would be clearly superfluous to my needs. When I see awesome outfit photos, sometimes they make me feel like I suddenly have gaps in my wardrobe that weren’t there before. Yet at the same time, the very same information has positive effects: a product recommendation could guide someone to buy a good quality item that doesn’t need replacing for years, avoiding the need for further purchases; a positive review of a brand could coax someone away from high quantities of low quality clothes towards low quantities of high quality clothes; and an awesome outfit photo could inspire someone to put together items already in their wardrobe in novel and interesting ways instead of buying something new. There are two sides to this coin, seemingly, and it’s pretty much impossible to weigh them against each other.
Ultimately, blogging about products or brands or material goods in some way, shape or form is the basis of a lot of blog content, and this likely has both good and bad consequences for readers’ purchasing behaviour – perhaps to a greater extent than a lot of bloggers realise. However, I’d say it’s hardly the responsibility of bloggers to nanny their readers and avoid posting such content on the chance that someone might go out and buy something they don’t actually need. It’s more the case that it’s just good for us all to be aware of the potential influences on our thoughts and impulses, and to take those into consideration when making our purchasing decisions. So I suppose I’ll just be closing all those browser tabs that contain baseball caps and replacing them with recipes for pretzel tacos.