Originally posted 2014-06-26 11:00:51.

By Christina Serverino | amdlawgroup.com

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“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit;
For, if they could, Cupid himself would blush.”
The Merchant of Venice, 2.6

Following my post last week regarding the blunders of outlet mall fashion, my curiosity led me to further focus on why (despite being out of style or season) consumers continue to flock in droves to discount retailers such as these, oftentimes in a stint of wanton disregard for the authority of the omnipresent “Fashion Police”. This curiosity led me to a Google search unveiling a patchwork of blog entries and even scholarly articles addressing the societal and scientific impact of consumer behavior and turnover rate of trends. The approaches of the bloggers and scientists seemed contradictory to one another: Bloggers expressed flagrant hostility towards certain trends, while researchers seemed to discredit such convictions, suggesting that the lust for luxury prevails. So what exactly is driving consumers to covet for couture: the product itself or elicited attention of the brand?

A recent study conducted by Dr. Brent McFerran of Simon Fraser University and colleagues (2014) posits that pride plays a significant role in brand consumption. The authors describe pride as a two-tiered trait: Authentic and Hubristic pride. They describe Authentic Pride as a form of pride associated with pro-social and achievement-oriented outcomes, oftentimes a motivator of luxury purchases. On the other hand, Hubristic Pride tends to be associated with anti-social behavior such as arrogance or narcissism, as a result of wearing and displaying those purchases. The feelings of elation and exclusivity associated with the act of adorning a new Hermès satchel, for instance, may in fact invoke the “silent language of luxury” relied upon by more affluent consumers who can afford such a delicacy. However, this trend seems to flow down to even the lower tiered luxury brands. Regardless of price point, Dr. McFerran asserts that, although there may be several motives behind why consumers yearn for luxury goods, he highlights that those purchases, “Convey a sense of status, wealth, and exclusivity,” and that, “rapid inferences” of the user’s character are oftentimes made by observers. Similarly, by using and displaying such products, the consumer is in turn projecting various internal feelings and behaviors onto outside observers, who then appraise the user’s status and character.

The study’s findings suggest that although the initial drive consumers have to purchase luxury goods stems from positive and pro-social behavior, those purchases are subsequently portrayed to others as a sign of harboring anti-social personality traits, like snobbery or pretentiousness. McFarran also mentioned that these findings were more pronounced among research participants who scored low in narcissism. The findings of this study have substantial implications for luxury companies and how they convey their brands to consumers. By marketing the brand in a manner that belittles consumers lower on the fiscal totem pole, luxury companies are essentially pushing away those consumers, potentially losing out in terms of economic opportunity. So, who is doing it right? McFarran says that pitch lines such as Rolex’s, “A crown for every achievement,” give consumers the impression that their products are signs of accomplishment, rather than arrogance. Taking into account the fact that luxury brands already make up over $200 billion dollars annually, it’s no wonder that brands are going back to the drawing board and tailoring a more approachable image in the hopes of maximizing their profitability.

Resources:

(1) McFerran, Brent, Karl Aquino, and Jessica L. Tracy (in press, 2014), “Evidence For Two Facets of Pride In Consumption: Findings From Luxury Brands”, Journal of Consumer Psychology.

(2) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ill-have-what-shes-having/201405/why-do-we-buy-luxury-brands-and-how-do-they-make-us-feel

Image Credit: https://flic.kr/p/cUodLf 

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