The most enduring image to have come out of the Auto Expo 2014 until now has been that of the actress Priyanka Chopra posing sexily on top of the Jaguar Land Rover’s Range Rover LWB, during its launch. The actress even tweeted about it and said “Just unveiled the stunning Land Rover LWB…What a beauty she is-sleek & powerful!check it out.”
The picture got several of my friends on Facebook and Twitter talking about this sports utility vehicle (SUV). The question I asked them was why would anyone want to buy a gas guzzling and difficult to park and manoeuvre SUV ( I meant any SUV here and not just the one that Piggy Chops unveiled).
“She is a real beauty,” said one friend. “SUVs show a passion for design and give the feel of power while driving,” said another.
But there is more to why men love SUVs, than just great design and power.
Geoffrey Miller, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of New Mexico in the United States, writes about this in his book Spent – Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour.
Miller asks “Why would the world’s most intelligent primate buy a Hummer H1 Alpha sport utility vehicle for $139,771? It is not a practical mode of transport. It seats only four, needs fifty one-feet in which to turn around, burns a gallon of gas every ten miles, dawdles from 0 to 60mph in 13.5 seconds and has poor reliability.”
But despite being not so high on performance (or what we Indians like to call kitna deti hai?) and environmentally unfriendly, the male of the human species simply love SUVs. Why is that? “Biology offers an answer. Humans evolved in small social groups in which image and status were all-important, not only for survival but for attracting mates, impressing friends, and rearing children. Many products are products are signals first and material objects later,” explains Miller.
This tendency of men to send signals through products is referred to as the “peacock syndrome” in reference to the tendency of peacocks displaying their plumage in an effort to impress the peahens or the female of their species. In fact research carried out by Dr Michael Dunn at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff showed that women rated a man higher if he drove a “fancy motor rather than in an old banger”.
“It appears that the stereotype of women being positively influenced by a man’s status is true and, evolutionarily speaking, this makes sense,” Dunn told www.telegraph.co.uk. In a similar research, researchers at the University of Texas studied this phenomenon and concluded that: “although showy spending is often perceived as wasteful, frivolous and even narcissistic, an evolutionary perspective suggests that blatant displays of resources may serve an important function, namely as a communication strategy designed to gain reproductive rewards.”
Dr Jill Sundie who led this research was very direct when he said “This research suggests that conspicuous products, such as Porsches, can serve the same function for some men that large and brilliant feathers serve for peacocks.”
Evolutionarily, the best strategy for a man is to be promiscuous and attract as many women as he can. As Richard F. Taflinger in You and Me, Babe: Sex and Advertising “The more women with which he mates, the greater number of children containing his genes are possible… Thus, a man’s biological criteria can be simple: 1) she must be healthy; 2) she must be young; 3) she must be receptive; 4) and she must be impregnable.”
For women things work a little differently. Condoms, birth control pills and other birth prevent measures are relatively recent inventions and given this, historically, women could not be promiscuous like a man could be. This was because sex with a man could result in a pregnancy of nine months. Hence, women needed to be choosy.
As Taflinger puts it “Women…have a far greater physical, physiological and temporal stake in producing children. This means she must be highly selective in her choice of men if she wishes to produce the highest quality children in her reproductive lifetime.”
This is something that Dunn of University of Wales in Cardiff agrees with. As he puts it “Females focus on questions of wealth and status because if the male possesses those, that male would be in a better condition to rear healthy offspring.”
And driving an SUV is a clear symbol of that. As Geoffrey Miller writes in The Mating Mind – How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature “The metaphor seems apt because SUVs make such a show of their rugged utility, all-terrain capability, enormous power, and absurd size…Their huge size demonstrates the ability to incur a high initial cost, and their large engine demonstrates the ability to incur high running costs due to poor mileage. Although capable of transporting six adults across a mountain range, they are often used for nothing more demanding than driving one’s toddler to and from day-care, through leafy suburbia…Principally, their size is a wealth-indicator.”
Hence, a man driving an SUV sends out the right kind of signal to women.
Of course, men cannot be as promiscuous as they want to be because they live in a society. And in any society there are societal pressures. But even with this, there is subconscious need among men to be promiscuous. Marketers play on this and use women to advertise all kinds of products.
Most deodorant ads run on just one formula, where women swoon over a man after he has applied the deodorant being advertised. In fact, in India even underwear ads have been targeted at the promiscuous nature of men.
Given this, it is not a surprise that Priyanka “Piggy Chops” Chopra was seen posing sexily on top of a Range Rover at the Auto Expo in Delhi yesterday. The idea was to tell the prospective customers that anyone driving this car would attract women as sexy and beautiful as Priyanka Chopra. Some marketing formulas never fail.
The article originally appeared on www.firstbiz.com on February 6, 2014
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)