Why Are So Many Consumers Buying Flawed Products?

Consumers are becoming increasingly averse to sterile, artificial perfection and are instead seeking products that feel more natural and authentic


The virtues of imperfection.
The virtues of imperfection. Wikimedia.

For anyone who has ever purchased an artisan crafted product like a wooden table, the idea of imperfection is familiar. The knots of wood and uneven surfaces are a selling point when it comes to artisan products, yet when we consider the products and services we buy every day, imperfection seems like it should be less appealing.

After all, who wants imperfection when it comes to food, or shoes, or even financial advice?

Yet imperfect or “unperfect” products are becoming increasingly appealing to many consumers, who relish the fact that these offbeat products are unique and aren’t typically replicated. In fact, as we have seen from a growing number of company examples we have been tracking through our research, consumers not only love to associate themselves with these products but will also become, in effect, their brand ambassadors.

Consider, for example, the widespread popularity of Crocs and Uggs. Both are brands most people could hardly describe as “beautiful” by traditional footwear design standards and yet both are beloved by the people who loyally buy them and wear them in public.

Getting a grip on the year ahead.
Getting a grip on the year ahead. Illustration by Kaitlyn Flannagan for Observer

In an example from the retail sector, fashion retailer D.Efect has specifically designed its clothing to be “defective” in the sense that the company incorporates irregularities and mistakes and even highlight this feature in its brand name and slogan: “The Beauty of Imperfection.” In another example, American Eagle Outfitters celebrated imperfection and individuality in body images and clothing in its TV commercial “I’mperfect,” emphatically rejecting the notion that “one size fits all.”

Several years ago, Intermarché, the third largest supermarket chain in France, decided to sell misshapen fruits and vegetables at a 30 percent discount to reduce global food wastage, calling them “inglorious fruits and vegetables.” The campaign proved so successful that just a few months ago Wal-Mart announced that it too would start selling damaged or “ugly” fruits and vegetables at a discount.

Why are ugly, imperfect and flawed products so appealing?

It’s possible consumers are becoming increasingly averse to sterile, artificial perfection and are instead seeking products that feel more natural and authentic—like themselves. Call this growing preference for more flawed and authentic products and services “Lovable Unperfection,” which is likely to become even more important for brands to consider in 2017.

This quest for authenticity is also cemented by the explosion in social media, allowing each of us as consumers and influencers to express and even celebrate our distinctiveness, irreverence and even foibles.

Adding even more urgency to this trend is the fact that it has become harder than ever for any products or services to truly stand out and attract attention thanks to the growing demands on consumer’s time. Perfect products are easy to overlook because they don’t create any sort of discord with the world around them. Unperfection, on the other hand, creates a discord our brains are hard wired to notice.

In other words, being flawed demands that people pay attention. No one walks past the Leaning Tower of Pisa and doesn’t notice the fact that it is leaning.

As we head into 2017, the trend of “Lovable Unperfection” will continue to accelerate and impact how brands communicate and what products or services are likely to take off and inspire consumer loyalty. It is important to remember that being flawed is different from being broken, of course. Products and services need to deliver on their promises from a quality and functionality point of view.

Once they do, however, the key for brands to build beloved products and services in 2017 may be finding the right ways to be strategically flawed so that they can demonstrate a humanity, authenticity, and even personality that consumers are clearly seeking.

Rohit Bhargava is CEO and founder of the Influential Marketing Group and author of Non-Obvious: How to Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict the Future


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Why Are So Many Consumers Buying Flawed Products?