Cars with wider-looking grilles and headlights set farther apart generally cost more than cars with narrower “faces,” according to new research from a University of Toronto marketing professor.
There may be “an unconscious appetite” for wide-faced vehicles as well as other products that could be perceived as competitive in nature, suggests Pankaj Aggarwal of U of T’s Rotman School of Management, because that broadness suggests dominance, as it does in human faces.
“While people don’t want to interact with dominant human faces, we found they prefer it in certain products when their goal is dominance,” said Aggarwhal, who authored the study with the University of Kansas’ Ahreum Maeng.
The researchers gave the study’s participants different scenarios – some about interacting with others in public, others in private – and then asked them about their product preferences in those scenarios, using watches, clocks, and cars as their stand-ins for human faces.
In scenarios where dominance may be preferable – in driving up to a high school reunion where you’ll meet a former bully, or while preparing for a business negotiation – participants liked products with a higher width-to-height ratio. Products or cars with wide, “dominant” faces were less preferred in the more private scenarios.
Aggarwal and Maeng applied their findings to the real world, too, analyzing the “facial” width-to-height ratios and prices of more than 530 models of car from a recent model year. The results? A one percent increase in ratio led to a $250 increase in price.
“Ratio is important,” Aggarwal says. “It’s not necessarily size—cars can be the same size, but if the ratio is bigger, like a wider grille or headlights, that’s where you see the effect.”
The study was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research.