Marketing Association Amsterdam · Marketing Theories

New Years Resolutions: trying (and failing) to reach your ideal self

Last week Nicoline’s “How Marketers Play With Your New Year’s Resolutions” illustrated that marketers can use the symbolic fresh start, that January 1st brings, to their advantage. But why do we make resolutions and why can marketers play into them ever so effectively? Research has been done to understand the psychological drivers of this consumer behavior.

When the New Year’s hangovers wear off and our minds become a bit less foggy, we begin to ponder. A whole year has come and gone; what has happened? 365 days are a solid measurement of time, and provide ease of comparison. How have we changed and what have we achieved? And that’s when we start looking forward. What will this year have to offer, and how will we make the most of it?

We look at what stands between us and our ideal selves. Our ideal self is a romanticized version of our self (Hollenbeck & Kaikati, Consumers’ use of brands to reflect their actual & ideal self…, 2012). It is based on our environment and past experiences, that guide us to form ideas about our model versions of ourselves and the world: someone who eats healthier, works more, judges others less, exercises more, and expands his/her horizons, travels to new places and acts more kindly.


The incongruity between our actual self and our ideal self is what drives our resolutions. Most of us are constantly seeking to grow closer to the best version of ourselves, and this manifests in our behavior (Sirgy, Self-Concept in Consumer Behavior…,1982). When the new year comes, especially, we are all too aware of our incongruent actual and ideal self, and January contemplations become powerful determinants of our behaviors. Marketers act on them. Gyms overcrowd whilst they continue to offer deals to attract new members. Airlines and travel agencies are selling the dream: cruises, flight to idyllic islands, stays in luxury hotels, and trips through adventurous worlds. What do these products and services have in common? They strive to show us that we can move towards that ideal life we strife to lead.

So, why do we make resolutions and why does it affect our behavior so much? The new year marks a concrete moment in time, that allows us to review how much we have achieved. Are we, in fact, any closer to the ideal version of ourselves that we fantasize about? As the year progresses, the difficulty of measuring personal growth increases. 2016 started a while ago.. but I’ve still got a while to go, so no need to rush… Our resolutions seem to become less and less important. And before you know it, it’s January 2nd, 2017, and you haven’t actually made as many grand improvements as you were planning to. Oops..

Susanne ten Brink



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