Fast Forward to 2018

Time For Change

Do Americans Believe in Getting a ‘Fresh Start?’ Marketing Professor Robin Coulter Shares Intriguing Answers

If 2017 didn’t turn out exactly how you’d hoped or planned, don’t give up!

Many Americans are strong believers in a ‘fresh start,’ reports Professor Robin Coulter, the head of the UConn School of Business Marketing Department. Based on nine studies conducted in the U.S. between Fall 2013 and Spring 2017, Coulter and her colleagues find that the ‘fresh start’ mindset is a key to transforming your life—whether improving your finances, adapting a healthy lifestyle, breaking bad habits, or simply charting a new course.

And even if you are on the ‘weaker’ end of the ‘fresh start’ mindset, certain key dates, like New Year’s Day and your birthday, can bolster your quest to fix whatever you dislike.

Regardless of Age, Gender or Income, Americans Cherish Idea of Renewal

“The ‘fresh start’ mindset is a belief that you can move on, let go of the past, and renew yourself if you’re in a rut. It is a powerful concept, and one that is very pervasive in American culture,” Coulter emphasizes. While researchers have previously investigated the ‘growth mindset,’ a belief in change through learning and education, the concept of a ‘fresh start’ mindset is introduced in Coulter’s research.

“The ‘fresh start’ mindset embraces the belief that people can change and are not defined by immutable character flaws for failed pasts,” Coulter says. The ‘fresh start’ theory downplays luck, circumstances of birth, ethnicity and social class, structural forces and genetics as the determinants of life outcomes; emphasizing responsibility and perseverance amidst difficulties.

Coulter’s research finds that the belief in a ‘fresh start’ does not vary by age, gender, marital status, household income or size. There is some evidence, however, of a connection between the ‘fresh start’ mindset and religious beliefs that merits further study.

“Our research is really about the impetus to transform lives. I think our findings offer people tremendous hope that they can make life changes, both big and small. Sure, individuals can take a job across the country and make a fresh start, but there are also smaller, but important changes,” she suggests. “It isn’t just about getting a new job, marrying or having a child, but rather small changes—cleaning a closet or straightening your desk or buying a new brand of shampoo—can give you a new perspective. If you do things differently you can improve your life, well-being, and outlook. A failure in your past doesn’t have to define you.”

Even for people who do not have a ‘strong’ belief in the ability to get a ‘fresh start,’ the research documents that the concept of ‘fresh start’ can be activated or enhanced.

Belief in a ‘Fresh Start’ Extends to Others

“Our research reports that this core belief in a ‘fresh start’ isn’t just individualistic,” Coulter shares. “If individuals believe that fresh starts are possible, they are willing to help others in need of a fresh start.”

Specifically, their research finds that those who have a core belief in the idea of a ‘fresh start’ are more likely to support programs that help vulnerable populations make new beginnings. For example, they are more likely to endorse programs that help veterans transitioning to civilian life, tax and mortgage programs that aid people who have shaky financial pasts get back on their feet, and programs for disadvantaged children and at-risk teens that assist them to start anew.

It is noteworthy that many companies, non-profit organizations, and even politicians have leveraged the ‘fresh start’ metaphor in their marketing campaigns. ‘Fresh start’ is a powerful metaphor with an element of constant self-reinvention. For retailers, the idea of a ‘fresh start’ may sway consumer purchases, from clothes to home décor to new technology. For life coaches, therapists, and personal trainers, this research may be beneficial to their clients’ health and wellness.

“A central goal of transformative consumer research is to help consumers make positive changes in their lives, including quitting bad habits, embracing new goals, improving their well-being or seeking a better life,” she remarks. “Those with a strong ‘fresh start’ mindset tend to be more optimistic, more future focused, and willing to take control of their actions. Indeed, those with a ‘fresh start’ mindset are likely to leave the travesties of 2017 behind, moving on to 2018 looking through rose-colored glasses.

Coulter’s colleagues on this research are professors Linda Price of the University of Oregon, UConn alumna Yuliya Strizhakova ’05 Ph.D. of Rutgers University, and Ainslie Schultz of Providence College. Their article, “The Fresh Start Mindset: Transforming Consumers’ Lives” is forthcoming (2018) in the highly regarded Journal of Consumer Research.

The research team currently has studies underway in China, Russia, and Mexico to investigate whether the ‘fresh start’ mindset is a uniquely American or a more global trait.