Consumer Behavior Trends

Faith Popcorn identified 17 trends that drove the business and people’s life in her book “Clicking” ten years ago. According to BrainReserve, trends are not fads. They endure, evolve and represent underlying forces, first causes, basic human needs, attitudes and aspirations. They help us navigate the world, understand what’s happening and why, and prepare for what is yet to come. This paper will investigate one of the trends Popcorn has identified – Fantasy Adventure – particularly focus on its development in the last ten years. I will examine related evidence observed in various industries and make the claim that this trend has not declined but further developed.

Fantasy Adventure refers to the behavior that consumer crave excitement and stimulation as an escape from stress and boredom in essentially risk-free adventures.(Popcorn, 1998) The excitement are taken in small doses, and allow us to return to our “normal” life at the end of the day. They make us feel courageous, open to new exotic experience, and most important of all, they give us the sense of transforming to a better person.

There are three underlying forces in creating this trend: the increasing stress brought to us by our routine yet increasingly competitive life, the rising number of cases of the unsafe, uncertain events happening around our environment and the advancement of technologies. In the 1990s only 40% percentage Canadians reported stress in workplace but the statistic had increased significantly recently.(JobStress, 1997) More than 6 in 10 Canadians reported in 2002 that they have experienced a “great deal of stresses at work because of the increasing difficulty to maintain work-life balance while managing the greater then ever demand at work. (StressMap, 2002) Popcorn (1998) pointed out in her book that we all want to retreat from the reality with Fantasy Adventures to relieve for a moment. The tight schedule most people have also means we are not allow to take off to a vacation or go away for a longer period of time to have a “real” adventure. With the increasing statistics of work-life stress, it is clear that demand for Fantasy Adventure has only increased during the recent period of time. Another component of Fantasy Adventure is the promises of safety. The environment is not safe as it was a decade ago, and consumers learn to choose a safer way of entertainment instead. Last but not least, with the improvement of technologies, people now can access more information about others’ lifestyles and can imagine larger possibilities.

One thing worth mentioning is the evolvement of the trend Fantasy Adventure – the co-creation of fantasy. Andrew Baker (2008) suggested in his findings that, young adults today are no longer passive receivers but are actively engaged in constructing their fantasy experience. This is partly resulted form the advancement of technologies as well as the increasing need of personalization and consumer participation. Examples will be illustrated in the following sections.

Roy William (2004) argued in his article that, the Fantasy Adventure trend had reached its end and sharply declined, as the people now ask for the truth. I agree that nowadays consumers may be more skeptical about the information and facts released by large firms, however the fact that people still in need of escape from reality does not change.

There are more and more products available to fulfill this crave of fantasy especially in the media industry. A popular theme for television series is superpower for instance the “Heroes” and “Smallville”. Fantasy and horror movies are still a big hit and stay on top of the most popular movie categories. “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Harry Potter” series and the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy are just a few examples. These television series and movies grant consumers a room for imagination and indulge themselves in something not real, and of course, back to their normal life after these two or three hours. For television show, a common pattern could be observed: a group of ordinary people come out, compete with talents and there they are, the tomorrow super stars. Just to name a few: “So You Think You Can Dance”, “British Got Talent”, “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF”. Another powerful source of fantasy engagement is Manga, or comics. In Japan the best selling manga are always about adventures or super power. A perfect example is “One Piece” which is about a pirate with a rubber-like body (super-power) setting off to an adventure to look for the biggest treasure in the world, being the greatest pirate and have fun. These media are all common in the way they take the audience on the flight of imagination; allow them to have an imaginary adventure in their comfort zone.
Food experience continues to be one of the greatest ways for many consumers to seek Fantasy Adventure. In Toronto’s restaurants, more exotic ingredients were brought to the once ordinary dishes, and there is increasing growing number of theme restaurant. In 2006, the first dark restaurant in Canada was opened in Montreal, where dinners undergo the entire dinning experience in total darkness. (Comm-odities, 2006) The theory is with one sense completely impaired, your other senses are fully heightened and the food will taste completely different. These restaurants provide extraordinary experiences to customers through different physical and emotional instruments thus offer a little adventure to the consumers.

Among all products in the entertainment market, digital games may be the single platform that really fulfills the need of Fantasy Adventure. This includes video games, Role Playing games and Virtual network online. The Entertainment Software Association announced in 2007 that sales of computer games and video games have increased by 22.9 percent to $11.7 billion in the US. The average age of most frequent game player has shifted to 39 years old. (ESA, 2007) We can identify the trend that more people are willing to pay and indulge themselves in the form of video gaming. Video games has uncountable content, however may it be action, sports, role playing, shooting etc., the principle is the same: the player transform to a “Hero” and do the impossible.
Figure 1. (a) Top Selling Game Genres in 2006
Figure 1. (b) Top Selling Game Genres in 2007

Figure 2. Frequency of playing games by frequent players
In 2001, Microsoft released a sixth-generation video game console – the Xbox and entered the competition in the gaming console market. 24 million units were sold as of May 2006. In 2002, Halo 2, a shooting game, set the record of being the highest-gross release in entertainment history with over $125 million in the first day. Xbox was replaced by Xbox 360 in 2005 which made a even bigger success as over 30 million units was sold in mere 3.5 years. There were over 1000 games available in the end of 2008, labeling the success of Xbox 360. These numbers are only a part of the overall consumption of video game playing, which suggested that consumers continue to seek the imaginary adventures, buying into brand and products in order to escape reality. One unique feature of Xbox 360 is its online game feature on the platform Xbox Live. This feature enables the players to have interaction and communications when playing games with other players. This development makes the gaming experience more realistic then ever and thus more profoundly fulfill players’ dream of fantasy adventures. It also fits the theory of Baker that now consumers want a more active role in creating their Fantasy Adventures.

Second Life, an innovative concept launched in 2003, is another example that illustrates how people escape the reality and embrace a second identity in the virtual world. Second Life is a virtual world that allows users to interact and socialize via the internet. There are no particular missions or goal to accomplish, and there is no winning and losing, unlike almost all the traditional online games. However the users cherish the complex capability of interaction in this virtual world, as well as the feature of customizing a personal avatar, and thus the ability to create a fantastic self via this creative toolset. In 2008, an average of 38,000 users was logged in at any moment, and the accumulate user hours reached 112 millions in the end of 2008. These soaring numbers show us exactly how a product that fits the consumer insight can quickly capture a large portion of the targeted market.

Figure 3. Total signups of paid accounts for Second Life

Figure 4. User Hours per Quarter for Second Life 2006-2008
The continuous trend of Fantasy Adventure could be utilized by marketers. For example the promotion video of the Red Light Social Center, an adult virtual community has the phrases like “enter a Realistic world”, “create a NEW you”, “it’s Safe”. Bingo! These are exactly what fantasy cravers look for. “The drift in advertising over recent decade has been toward limited factual information and more symbolic, emotional, humorous and fantasy-oriented meanings.”(Mick, 2008) Here I identify two approaches in advertising that are very common: the get-a-taste-of-something approach and transform-to-your-better-self approach. Recall the promotion campaign of Tropicana that “Offers a Taste of Tropic” and that of Kraft’s “a Little Taste of Heaven”. (Chiasson, 2009) They both suggest that with a little sip and dip you would feel like being in a fantasy or exotic place immediately, an escape from the reality.

The second approach is even more observable, as majority of advertisements implies a transformation upon using the advertised product. There was a series of advertisements by SK-II with the slogan “Correct Your Age”, which they sold the idea that the anti-aging product helps you return to your younger self. Celebrity endorsement also falls under this approach because they suggest that using the product will let consumer be more like the popular icon.
The above examples suggest that the consumer behavioral trend of craving excitement in small dose and in a safe manner has not declined. Moreover consumers now want a share in creating the fantasy by involving in the process. Video games and virtual network became one of the most significant platforms where consumers seek their fantasy escape. At the same time, marketers capture the psychology of consumer and make use of fantasy-oriented approaches in advertisement and promotion strategies. Fantasy appeal is most likely to continue to be one of the most influential approaches in the future marketing.

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G. Chiasson (2009) Tropicana Campaign Offers a Taste of the Tropics. Retrieved from on 7th June 2009