Take me to pleasure town.

In my opinion, one of the big cultural ideas driving behavior in the 2010s is the collective embrace of exploratory hedonism – a desire to seek out novel forms of raw in-the-moment stimulation. I’m going to try my best to show four juicy ways that the  exploratory hedonism comes to life across different categories of ordinary consumer life.

1.Sexual taboo breakdown – The most obvious area of life where exploratory hedonism comes to fruition can be seen in the changes we can see in sexual behavior.  A few points that illustrate the scope of this cultural shift:

  • A 2013 Lancelot  study showed a 10% uplift in the number of UK women who experimented with same-sex relations compared to 2001.
  • Pornhub.com recently published that it receives 35 million global visitors daily.
  •  There are 17,749 sex manuals on Amazon and the most influential, like Sex at Dawn, are suggesting that open relationships might help couples trying to reignite their flame.

A couple of marketing experiences that reflect/utilize this new sexual energy:
Nikon’s ‘Girl-Girl’ Print Ad
Sexcereal’s line of sexual energy cereals

2.Wander-LUST –  The passionate desire to explore and experience the beauty of the world has caught on like wildfire and the language system is highly emotive. A few points of evidence that capture how big this phenomenon really is:  

  •  Instagram photos tagged with ‘lust and ‘porn’ (2,000,000+ photos tagged #wanderlust, 7,000,000+ photos tagged #cloudporn, 250,000 #Treeporn)
  • An American Express study found that a desire to travel the world was the number one goal on American bucket lists in 2013 (having kids was #2).
  • A Noise Digital-Ferrero study of online dating profiles found that adventure and exploration was a dominant theme used to attract potential lovers.  

A couple of marketing experiences that reflect/utilize this explorer desire:
Jeep’s 2014 built free tv spot
Clothing brand The Great PNW’s  instagram strategy

3.The spread of foodiesm’s way of thinking – Through TV personalities and early adopters, we’ve collectively been trained to lust for food objects and use descriptive language and non-verbal reactions that liken food to sex and drugs. A few points of evidence that show the scope of this trend.

  • A team of sociologists from U of T analyzed foodie blogs to find that evangelists consistently portray food as an object of sensual desire.
  • A team of psychologists from Stanford found that food ratings on Yelp often relied on sexual and drug metaphors.
  • There are 30,000,000+ photos tagged #foodporn on Instagram.

A couple of marketing experiences that reflect/utilize this spread of foodiesm to the masses:
President’s Choice re-branding of its premium offering into ‘black label’
Oscar Myer delivers immediate food stimulation via its bacon smell alarm

4. The contemporary culture of music consumption –  Finally, exploratory hedonism comes to life in the growing desire to experience music in mind-numbing formats that combine multi-sensory (environmental, visual, audio, psychotropic) simulators and dramatic ‘beat drop’s to deliver pure pleasure.  A few points of evidence that show this phenomenon is real.

  • Live music growth: As reported by Forbes, from 1999 to 2009, Concert ticket sales have tripled. 
  • Psychologists in the UK found that live music is associated with authentic feelings of pleasure and happiness. 
  • Coachella has grown from a small-medium sized festival into a $47 million dollar a year juggernaut that attracts youth from all over.

A couple of marketing experiences that reflect/utilize this desire for multi-sensory musical experiences:
Kohler combines the pleasure of a great shower with beautiful acoustics with its new shower head
Pepsi’s bioreactive concert experiment quantifies the level of raw energy experienced during a multi-sensory music experience

The Take-Away for Marketers: Brands are using the idea of exploratory hedonism to make the brand a facilitator and advocate of pure moments of sensual euphoria.  This type of happiness has become more important than some material objects we desired in the past (cars for example). Brands should look for opportunities to ride this wave and create resonance and value with their consumer base.

Stay tuned: What’s really interesting is that some of the same companies are offering ‘soul-cleansing’ brands that counter this in-the-moment stimulation. Stay tuned for my forthcoming article on how brands are using society’s desire to cleanse itself of the stresses, toxins and negativity of modern life to build equity.


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