Less is More: shoppers and the permissibility of pleasure

Oct 24, 2019 | Content marketing, E-commerce

Over the past decade, retail infrastructure and shopper marketing has been relentlessly fuelling a mindset where shoppers expect ‘more for less’. Callum Saunders, Head of Planning at brand activation agency ZEAL Creative, looks at a rising counter trend as health-conscious shoppers look for moderation at a premium price.

The rise of the discounters has heightened shopper expectations of more choice at lower prices (within their own walls, as well as those of their competitors). The proliferation of e-commerce continues to offer shoppers ever more options, with services such as Amazon Prime Now fulfilling shopper orders in less time than ever before.

It’s even reinforced by some of the major grocers: Asda’s ‘Save Money. Live Better.’ positioning, and Sainsbury’s ‘Live well for less’ mantra, are just two cases in point.

But do shoppers demand ‘more for less’ in all instances? Recent attitudinal and behavioural changes suggest that there is one area where shoppers are inverting this principle.

And that is in the area of permissible pleasure, where for shoppers, less is most definitely more.

Regulation of pleasure and the ‘uncompromising shopper’

We live in an age of unparalleled digital content, empowering us to make more health-conscious and informed choices about the food and drink that we consume. As a society, there’s no doubt that we’re shifting towards a collective responsibility to take better care of ourselves; to make better choices.

We also have government initiatives aimed at supporting us to live healthier lives. Only last year, the government introduced the ‘Sugar Tax’ as part of its childhood obesity strategy. Similarly, restrictions from the recent government consultation on advertising and promotion of products high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) also look set to have a significant impact.

Any initiative that improves the health of the nation is to be lauded. But it’s also important to note that responsible – and therein lies the key word – pleasure should not be demonised through a blanket ‘scattergun approach’ to complex issues.

The soft drinks brand Cawston Press offers an interesting counter-viewpoint in “a world that has gone ‘zero’ mad’”, stating that calories are ‘maligned and misunderstood’. It frames the natural nature of its own calories as an example of the ‘positive permissive’ – a positioning that is both interesting and insightful.

We’re entering the era of the ‘uncompromising shopper’: shoppers who want to make better, positive choices for themselves, but without feeling as if they are compromising on convenience, health, taste or enjoyment.

Less really is more: winning with shoppers and charging a premium

Shopper marketing is connecting shoppers to these permissive products in new and exciting ways.

Like many wines, New Zealand brand ‘Mud House’ has recently introduced new 50cl bottles alongside its standard 75cl format.

Accompanying shopper communications on neck collars directly call out the benefit, ‘perfect for occasions when you just want to share two large glasses of wine and no more’. By no means is this a ‘healthy wine’: but it’s a smart product format and clever piece of communications that gives shoppers an option of more permissible pleasure.

The soft drinks industry has also been tapping into this consumer driver. In the German market, Coca Cola offers ‘Mini-Dosen’ cans. At only 150ml, these are regular Coke drinks, but in a size that offers a mini size, but maximum refreshment.’ A permissive way for more health-conscious consumers to enjoy a Coca Cola, without feeling as if they have had to compromise.

Think about ‘Pret Slim’, the unique format that literally offers shoppers half the sandwich. Or products such as Magnum Mini, marketed as ‘full Magnum pleasure in a smaller size’. These are not positioned as ‘health’ products, yet they inherently allow shoppers to buy into more health-conscious occasions.

And from a commercial perspective, it appears that shoppers are willing to pay more for the privilege. Think about the miniature chocolates on the counter of every coffee shop in the land: a permissive way to enjoy a chocolate hit, at a premium price point.


Enjoying something pleasurable is not a negative thing. After all, human beings are neurologically wired to both seek out pleasure (releasing dopamine) and, subsequently, enjoy it (opiates).

But in this new age of the uncompromising shopper, pleasure needs to be permissible: FMCG brands that can provide this sweet spot stand to make significant penetration gains with those who share this emerging shopper attitude.

Less certainly is more, both in terms of what it offers shoppers, and the price that they are willing to pay. In a world where many categories are experiencing a growth in volume but a decline in value, permissible pleasure could be a very welcome commercial strategy indeed.

By Callum Saunders
Head of Planning at brand activation agency
ZEAL Creative

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