No Logo at 20: have we lost the battle against the total branding of our lives?

Naomi Klein with some brand logos

It was the bestseller that brilliantly critiqued the political power of the ‘superbrands’ and shot Naomi Klein to fame. Two decades on, we ask her, how does it stand up in our world of tech giants and personal brands?

Source: No Logo at 20: have we lost the battle against the total branding of our lives?

Some political books capture the zeitgeist with such precision that they seem to blur the lines between the page and the real world and become part of the urgent, rapidly unfolding changes they are describing. On 30 November 1999, mere days before the publication of Naomi Klein’s debut, No Logo, the epochal “Battle of Seattle” began. Tens of thousands turned out to protest against the World Trade Organisation, and the global corporate interests it represented, and were met with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun grenades. Seattle’s mayor declared a state of emergency, and a massive “no protest zone”, as the violence continued, while the chief of police resigned.

Reading No Logo back then in my first year at university was hugely formative; the book, mixing eye-opening reportage with sharp-tongued analysis of consumer capitalism, was a bible for understanding the world my generation was growing up in and the motor behind a new kind of grassroots politics. The battle lines were clear, as ordinary citizens around the world stood in opposition to corporate greed, sweatshops, union-busting, “McJobs”, privatisation and environmental destruction: and the avatar for them all, the increasingly unavoidable logos of western “superbrands”.

No Logo was published on the cusp not just of a new millennium, but a new phase of globalisation, in which household names such as McDonald’s, Nike, Shell, Starbucks, Disney, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Microsoft could trample over workers’ rights, local laws and civic opposition in pursuit of ever bigger profits, as western outsourcing crashed against the shores of the developing world, leaving behind human misery and environmental ruin as the tide rolled out.

The book charted the dramatic rise in the west of youth-oriented, cool-hungry consumer capitalism, in which companies sold an idealised lifestyle, not the physical product on the shelf. With the factories and production lines moved out of sight, and out of mind, the superbrands could focus their North American and European operations on ever more elaborate and intrusive marketing schemes and protecting their brand through censorship and legal action. In one infamous case, Disney sued a small-town creche for painting an unauthorised mural of their characters. Privatisation, Naomi Klein observed in No Logo, “slithers into every crevice of public life”.

Protesters against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle, 1999
Protesters against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle, 1999: ‘It felt like a dam breaking – every month there was another massive demonstration.’ Photograph: Héctor Mata/AFP/Getty Images
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How We Convince Ourselves To Buy Products We Don’t Need

Are You Unconsciously Seeking Permission To Spend More Money On Brand New Stuff?

Source: How We Convince Ourselves To Buy Products We Don’t Need

Douglas Van Praet

When you make up your mind to buy a new brand, product or service you are really making up your minds in the plural. Our decision making process involves two cognitive systems, one conscious and rational and the other unconsciousand emotional. Emotions tend to weigh in first and heaviest in our buying decisions followed by logic or reason. That’s because at this point in our brain’s evolutionary development our emotional circuits dominate. This is why it can be so hard to control our emotions and how our emotions often tend to control us.

But our rational thinking can serve as the important critical filter for our brand choices much like a gatekeeper, or the bouncer at the door that decides whether or not to give permission to move forward.

I have written a book called Unconscious that explains the driving forces both conscious and unconscious that make us buy brands. There are seven steps to this process:

1) Interrupt the Pattern,…

2) Create Comfort,…

3) Lead the Imagination,…

4) Shift the Feeling,…

5) Satisfy the Critical Mind

6) Change the Associations

7) Take Action

I’m blogging about Step 5: Satisfy the Critical Mind.

Cognitive science is telling us that we are not rational creatures. We are rationalizers. And when our emotional desires begin to shift toward a prospective brand, we subsequently seek to align our reasons to be consistent with that intention. Our rational mind is always looking for evidence to support our dominant beliefs . . . the stronger the emotion, the stronger the belief, and the greater the tendency to seek out supporting evidence. This confirmatory bias is why we often overlook the flaws of the ones we love, even if that loved one is a brand. We focus our attention on the positive qualities of the brand while ignoring the deficiencies. This predilection is what prevents Republicans and Democrats from finding common ground in the same set of facts, and why it is impossible to win an argument with someone on an emotionally charged issue like abortion or the existence of God. No amount of logic or reasoning can overcome strong feelings because the emotionally charged mind will always find its reasons to believe.

What this means for consumers is we are always looking for permission to act upon our emotional desires to buy brand new products and services. This predisposition is so deeply ingrained in the consumer buying process because our minds have been conditioned to look for reasons over years and years of exposure to ads and product pitches. It is our unconscious tendency to respond to a rationale even if it appears to be irrational, accepting factual information that doesn’t always really make sense. Harvard professor Ellen Langer was one of the first social psychologists to think about the role of the unconscious processing of information. In a study Langer conducted in the late 1970s, researchers approached people in the act of using copying machines and asked if they could cut into the line and make photocopies. The experimental subjects were given different reasons for the request ranging from the sensible to the seemingly senseless, such as “because I’m in a rush” and “because I need to make copies.”

The researchers found out that compliance was higher when they gave a reason, even if the reason didn’t really make sense. The subjects responded to the context of the request and not necessarily the specific content. Simply structuring the question with an embedded reason was sufficient to gain compliance to the request. This phenomenon was not without its limits. As Langer explained, the rationale of “because an elephant is after me” didn’t cut it.

When marketers structure a request for people to choose their brand, they benefit from including a reason, any reason, even if that reason is the “sheeting action” of Cascade dish detergent or the trademark ingredient “Retsyn” in Certs mints. It contains just enough logic consistent with a claim for virtually spotless dishes or fresh breath.

So next time you are contemplating a new purchase be aware of this two-part process in action and the role of the critical mind — the part of the brain that plans behavior and decides whether or not to open the wallet or tighten the purse strings.


Douglas Van Praet is the author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing. He applies unconscious behaviorism, neurobiology, and evolutionary psychology to business.


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3 Reasons Why Brand-Specific Rituals Are So Powerful

… and why they’re worth billions to businesses.

Source: 3 Reasons Why Brand-Specific Rituals Are So Powerful

Utpal Dholakia Ph.D.

In a recent blog post on, I suggested that many of today’s successful brands are behaving like organized religions because they have adopted the same core principles that major organized religions have developed and refined over millennia to gain influence over people’s thoughts and actions.

These brands provide customers with a set of core beliefs and values to live their lives—“Just Do It,” “Love the skin you’re in,” etc. Many of them have their own divine personages and creation myths—consider the story of Apple’s founding, or think about how readily we see Elon Musk of Tesla or Jeff Bezos of Amazon as saviors. They have robust fan communities that provide social support well beyond the product’s boundaries, virtually replacing the physical, geography-based communities of the past. All of these things used to be provided by religions for millennia. Perhaps this is why today’s brand-loyal customers are called followers, congregants, or even evangelists.

In this post, I want to consider the power of another core aspect of organized religion that many successful brands have co-opted with great success—the cultivation and use of brand-specific rituals.

What Role Do Rituals Play in Religious Practice?

Rituals are behaviors that a person performs regularly, every day (brewing coffee), once a year (Thanksgiving dinner), or somewhere in between. Rituals follow a specific script, and possess symbolic and personal meaning. This is what makes them so powerful. They sometimes, but not always, involve participation by others. Over centuries, people have developed religious rituals to mark rites of passage in life such as birth, the transition to adulthood (like Quinceañera), marriage, and death. People also perform rituals to mark certain times of each year like the end of the harvest season; to please or praise divine powers; or to ward off misfortunes (specific Vedic ceremonies in Hinduism). Sociologists have argued that rituals are important to every culture because they provide order and structure to our lives, and assure us of our place in the bigger scheme of things.

In marketing, there are numerous examples of brands explicitly, and successfully, encouraging consumers to engage in rituals specifically involving their products:

  • The Oreo Twist, Lick, Dunk. The distinctive twist, lick, dunk (in milk) routine many use to eat an Oreo cookie is perhaps one of the most successful and long-lived rituals marketers have created. It enjoys consistent advertisement and gleeful embrace by consumers around the world. In a highly competitive market with fickle consumers, many credit this routine for propelling the Oreo cookie brand to annual sales that top $3 billion.
Enjoying a Corona by Indigo Skies Photography Flickr Licensed Under CC BY 2.0
Source: Enjoying a Corona by Indigo Skies Photography Flickr Licensed Under CC BY 2.0
  • The Corona Beer Lime Wedge. A chilled bottle of Corona beer comes with a wedge of lime in its rim. While the origins of this ritual are unclear―speculations for the lime’s purpose range from wiping away rust from metal caps to keeping flies away―it is clear that the company encouragespresent-day customers to embrace the ritual.
  • The Jeep Wave. Part of owning a Jeep is the obligation to wave enthusiastically to another Jeep driver on a trail, in country lanes, and in parking lots. (Waving is not required on freeways, at night, etc.). While owners of some other vehicle brands like the VW Beetle and the Mazda Miata have tried to adopt this ritual, Jeep customers retain credit for originating this ritual and remain its most fervent practitioners and propagators.
  • The Apple iPhone Launch Queue. About twice a year for the past several years, when a new iPhone is launched, consumers around the world line up outside Apple stores, sometimes for days, to be the first to purchase the smartphones. So far, Apple has encouraged this ritual by making the first buyers of its products feel special and limiting initial supply to create a sense of scarcity and urgency.

These are just some well-known examples, but many smaller brands are also able to use rituals successfully with their customer base. This begs the question: Is a ritual the cause or the symptom of a successful brand? I want to make the case that regardless of how well-known or powerful a brand is, creating compelling rituals provides it with significant benefits. Here’s why:

1. Rituals encourage habitual product consumption

In her influential book on rituals, religious studies professor Catherine Bell says:

“One of the most common characteristics of ritual-like behavior is the quality of invariance, usually seen in a disciplined set of actions marked by precise repetition…The emphasis may be on the careful choreography of actions…or the rhythm of repetition in which the orchestrated activity is the most recent in an exact series that unites past and future.”

Consider how much of our own consumption follows this pattern of regular and predictable actions. From brewing Starbucks coffee in precisely the same way every morning to stocking up on specific brands of cereal, spaghetti sauce, or laundry detergent periodically, many of our ritualistic buying behaviors are “invariant.” And the longer they remain so, the more likely they are to turn into entrenched habits as we use environmental cuesto perform certain actions—e.g., as soon as I get out of bed, I make coffee. We may still enjoy the symbolic and meaningful aspects of the ritual, but perform them habitually, making it easy for us to keep buying the brand.

2. Rituals lock customers into the brand’s customer community

Whether it is carrying out the Jeep Wave, going on a weekend ride with a Harley Owner’s Group or socializing new gamers in an XBOX User forum, many brand-specific rituals are based on social interactions between customers.

Robert Scoble, the first iPad man at Apple Store Palo Alto by Jun Seita Flickr Licensed Under CC BY 2.0
Source: Robert Scoble, the first iPad man at Apple Store Palo Alto by Jun Seita Flickr Licensed Under CC BY 2.0


Customers tend to enjoy such brand-specific ritualistic activities that involve participation by others. What’s more, such rituals don’t have to involve physical proximity—they work just as well online even when the participants are far-flung strangers.

Social brand-specific rituals draw consumers into a community of like-minded brand enthusiasts. They provide a substantial value beyond the functional and esthetic aspects of the product. Over time, such communities can become very important, taking the place of close friends, and even family members. And they ensure that the customer will stay committed to the brand for the long haul for the sake of continuing membership in the community.

3. Rituals give customers a compelling reason to choose the brand in a crowded marketplace

Consider this: Without the twist, lick, dunk ritual, the Oreo is just another sandwich cookie, indistinguishable from dozens of others on the market. With the ritual, however, the Oreo is unique. The ritual is part of what the brand stands for and what it means to us. Both the ritual and the brand are part of pleasant childhood memories for many consumers. If a competitor brand or some private label sandwich cookie tried to get us to imitate this ritual, or to claim it for itself, it just wouldn’t work.

What is the big takeaway from this discussion?

Well-designed and popular brand-specific rituals are virtually impossible for competitors to imitate, no matter how similar or even superior their own products may be. The twist, lick, dunk ritual belongs to Oreo and Oreo alone. For the foreseeable future, it can keep socializing new generations of children to practice this ritual—and become loyal and life-long consumers of its cookies.


Utpal M. Dholakia, Ph.D., is the George R. Brown Professor of Marketing at Rice University.

I teach marketing and pricing to MBA students at Rice University. You can find more information about me on my website or follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter @ud.

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Fashion Trends and Primal Urges

The quest for dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin leads to grandma’s closet.

Source: Fashion Trends and Primal Urges

Loretta G. Breuning Ph.D.

High fashion looks eerily similar to the stuff we wore when I was young. It’s not a coincidence.  It’s the circle of life:

  • Grandma’s clothes end up in a thrift shop
  • Hipsters patronize thrift shops
  • High-end designers imitate hipsters

Haute couture gets inspired by grandma’s closet without conscious intent. The urge for something new sparks excitement over things that haven’t been seen for decades. You hate what your parents wore, but what your grandparents wore is ripe for re-discovery. 

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

You may hate fashion. You may try to ignore it. But if look at a painting from any historical period, you see that everyone is wearing the trend of the day. Whether it’s a big collar, small collar, big sleeve, small sleeve—people dress like those around them and you probably do too. Even hunter-gatherers were adorning their bodies with fashion statements when contacted by early explorers. The impulse is so deep that we need to understand it instead of just sneering at it.

Social animals strive to stand out and also to blend in. These urges compete and we want both! We want to blend in because the animal brain sees it as protection from predators. And we want to stand out because the animal brain sees it as the key to reproductive success.

You are not consciously trying to reproduce or hide from predators. But natural selection built a brain that rewards you with the good feeling of oxytocin when you find safety in numbers. We are constantly looking for ways to feel special while also enjoying the safety of a group.

The happy chemicals are quickly metabolized so we try to stimulate these feelings again and again. Fashion is one way to do it.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to feel special when everyone else has the big collar, so you are tempted to seek an even bigger collar. You may hate fashion trends, but if you are honest, you will find that you are seeking specialness in some way. We have inherited a brain that seeks specialness because serotonin makes it feel good.

We seek oxytocin opportunities just as eagerly. Our mammal brain fears “sticking out like a sore thumb.” You feel safe when you adorn yourself in ways that connect you to the group that you feel safest with. Trends exist because of the competing drives to be special, and yet to fit it.

Dopamine is stimulated by novelty because novel resources helped our ancestors vary their diet. Dopamine is stimulated when you scan for new resources because it helped our ancestors forage. Dopamine is stimulated when you anticipate meeting a need, including an oxytocin and a serotonin need. Foraging in a thrift shop feels good because it stimulates dopamine.

Someday I will be gone, but my clothes will still be here. They might end up in a place where young people can see them with fresh eyes. It’s painful to think about a future that you will not be part of. This makes it easy for old people to sneer at the young, but you can remember sneering at the old when you were young yourself. This is the circle of life. Fashion trends are just a visible manifestation of it.

When you know how your brain works, you can be at peace with our mammalian social impulses instead of being angry about them. People are competitive, and you are competitive too. Other people’s competitiveness annoys us because of our own urge to be special.

When you know how your brain works, you have power. Will you research old people’s closets and market the data? Will you hold on to your old junk to sell when it appreciates? Probably not, but you will surely use your new power to be more accepting of our neurochemical impulses instead of getting upset about them.

Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., a professor emerita of management at California State University East Bay, is the author of Habits of a Happy Brain.

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Unconscious Branding

Elucidating the unconscious mind helps marketers help consumers

Source: Unconscious Branding

Douglas Van Praet

Every year an absurd tragedy occurs in our lagging market economies. Billions of dollars are wasted asking consumers questions they can’t answer. In the U.S. an abysmal 2 out of 10 product launches succeed because what people say in traditional market research surveys can’t reliably predict what they actually do. We’re all playing a game without knowing the rules.

That’s because humans, i.e., consumers, make the vast majority of decisions in life quite unconsciously. What is a no brainer to cognitive scientists remains mind boggling to marketers. Markets flounder because consumers can’t articulate their deeper desires and companies fail to reach these unmet hidden needs. The blind leads the blind.

Steve Jobs was the exception. When asked how much research was conducted to guide the launch of the iPad, he famously quipped, “None. It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.” The iPad, according to some measures, would become the most successful consumer product introduction in history and Apple the most valuable company of all-time.

Businesses have been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking why consumers do what they do, we need to ask how. We need to shift from measuring the outward expressions of beliefs to better understanding the inward causes. That is, how do our minds process information and form the often-unconscious beliefs that drive motivation? Fortunately there is a sequence and structure to this process and elucidating it will help both sides of the free market fence.

As a marketing strategist and researcher my frustration with the tools of my trade led me to search for better answers. I found them not in market research, but rather in the research of cognitive and behavioral authorities. I also became a behavioral change therapist and learned how to help everyday people who were interested in changing their lives…not because of emotional illness but for self-improvement and a more fulfilling life, the same things people seek in brands.

Through that work, I noticed first hand how the unconscious was the key to that change. So I began reverse engineering what I learned from neurobiology, evolutionary psychology and behavioral economics, starting with the things that were proven to yield real results quickly in real people. I created a seven-step process to change behavior, one that I have been applying to marketing strategies with remarkable success ever since.

These are the seven steps: 1) Interrupt the Pattern, 2) Create Comfort, 3) Lead the Imagination, 4) Shift the Feeling, 5) Satisfy the Critical Mind, 6) Change the Associations and 7) Take Action.

This new shift from a cultural to a biological view of behavior is one of the most promising opportunities in the history of humanity. There is so much fertile ground but woefully few farmers. We need an organizing framework to put these insights into practice. Because many of the most outward, pervasive and economically significant manifestations of our culture–such as the products and services we buy everyday and the advertising that moves us most —often have clearly explainable neurobiological determinants. Piggybacking culturally relevant messages atop these cognitive truths exponentially increases impact.

Take for instance an ad we created at Deutsch LA for Volkswagen, which leveraged Star Wars fame and the first of my seven steps: Interrupt the Pattern. The pathway to our unconscious best begins by galvanizing our conscious attention. But awareness of our surroundings occurs only when the things we perceive violate our expectations. We only really notice the car driving in front of us when its’ brakes are slammed. Our mind is a prediction machine that works via pattern recognition. When something unexpectedly defies our prediction, our expected pattern, we are forced to take notice. This is the biological basis of how consumers learn and how marketers break though clutter.

The commercial we created interrupted perceptions of the concept of the evil Dark Lord by featuring an adorable pint-sized version that quickly became a global phenomenon. In the ad, mini-Darth Vader is seen in a series of unsuccessful attempts to use “the Force” on various household items, each time predictably failing, until he encounters the new 2012 Passat. This time the pattern is interrupted as the car comes to life by the power of his little raised hands after his dad secretly starts the engine using the remote start feature on the key fob.

“The Force” generated a staggering 54 million views on YouTube and a reported 6.8 billion impressions worldwide and more than $100 million in earned media. We were merely building upon Volkswagen’s great legacy of using pattern interrupts. In 1959 they introduced “Think small”, a refreshing campaign counter to an industry of conspicuous consumption that boasted big. A zig among zags that Advertising Age ranked the top ad campaign of the century.

“The Force” also generated an outpouring of support from delighted brand fans inspired by the charming tale and a magical moment in the life of an imaginative little boy. And the Volkswagen brand enjoyed a remarkably successful sales year, achieving its highest market share in decades. A “win win” for both company and customer.


If you’d like to learn more, visit my website at:

Douglas Van Praet is the author of Unconscious Branding: How Neuroscience Can Empower (and Inspire) Marketing. He applies unconscious behaviorism, neurobiology, and evolutionary psychology to business.

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How Reflecting on Our Possessions Can Curb Impulse Buying

It provides a way of mentally “shopping the closet” and quells desire to buy.

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Source: How Reflecting on Our Possessions Can Curb Impulse Buying

Utpal Dholakia Ph.D.

“Wilful waste makes woeful want.” – Mrs. Gaskell, Wives and Daughters, 1866.

A consistent theme of this blog is discussing ways to shop, buy, and consume prudently, and derive maximum pleasure from these activities. Unfortunately, most of us have far too many possessions to fully enjoy or use. Yet we keep adding to our store of belongings in ways big and small. Instead of increasing enjoyment, our possessions overwhelm us and our total pleasure is reduced.

Row of Shoes by Duong Tran Quoc Unsplash Licensed Under CC BY 2.0
Source: Row of Shoes by Duong Tran Quoc Unsplash Licensed Under CC BY 2.0


Take the case of shoes. American men own an average of 11 pairs and American women own 13 pairs. Their shoe collection equates to two and a half weeks of income for the average American. Yet, people use only about three pairs regularly and own several shoes they have never worn.

The twentieth-century aphorism, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,” seems laughably quaint and naïve in the light of such excessive shopping activity. We hardly use up or wear our any of our belongings, and instead of making do or doing without, we keep buying new ones.

Can we turn this ship around, so to speak? In this post, I want to write about an interesting finding from a research paper that I coauthored with two Rice University doctoral students, Jihye Jung and Nivriti Chowdhri which suggests one promising method. In the research, we studied the usefulness of a visualization we call “reflection” to reduce people’s shopping urges. It can be used “just in time” – right when an urge to buy something is experienced.

Reflection is about thinking deeply and remembering in detail how you used any one of your possessions recently. In our research, we’ve found it helps if the reflected-upon possession is something functional, like a kitchen implement, a lawn-mower or a wristwatch.  Here’s the instruction from one of our studies which included 165 participants:

“In this exercise, your task is to describe your recent experience with a product. Specifically, we would like you to think of any product that you purchased, currently own, and have used recently.

Step 1: Take a minute and think of a product that you purchased, currently own, and have used recently.

Step 2: In a few sentences, please describe this product in detail.

Step 3: Now we want you to describe how you used the product on the most recent occasion. In the space provided below, explain WHEN, WHERE, HOW, and HOW LONG you used this product. Please describe your experience with the product in as much detail as possible, and please spend at least TWO MINUTES on this task.”

And here are two examples of our participants’ reflections to give you a better sense of the exercise:

Shoe Wardrobe by Jakob Owens Unsplash Licensed Under CC BY 2.0
Source: Shoe Wardrobe by Jakob Owens Unsplash Licensed Under CC BY 2.0
  • “I have a pair of light Nike running shoes I used this morning. I bought them about a year ago for about $80. The reason I bought them was because my brother has a same pair which I tried on and really liked so I bought my own. I used them this morning to go for a run. I went for a run around the neighborhood for half an hour. I really like these shoes because they’re really light and they breathe easy. I use them to go on runs. Sometimes I use them at work since I do a lot of walking and they are so comfortable.” (25-year-old male).
  • “I just purchased a Kindle Fire. It is black. I can read books and access the internet. It opens a world of novelty to me. I read a book in bed and checked the weather this morning before even getting up. I spent about 45 mins. I also downloaded several apps. I was laying down and the ease of Kindle use allowed me to comfortably read without noise to wake up my partner.” (29-year-old female).

The study had two other conditions. One was a control condition in which participants didn’t do anything. In the other condition, they formed a plan to use a possession they hadn’t recently used, which is a common situation many of us face because we have so many things we haven’t used recently.

After this experimental manipulation, study participants were given a series of five products. These were a cashmere sweater, a stainless steel watch, a coffee maker, a chair, and a box of Godiva chocolates. For each item, participants indicated how much they were willing to pay (WTP) for it. We calculated a WTP index for each participant, by standardizing each item’s WTP and then adding the values.

Reflection study results/ Graphic by Utpal Dholakia
Source: Reflection study results/ Graphic by Utpal Dholakia


As the figure shows, those who had reflected on using their possession recently had a much lower willingness-to-pay for a basket of products than either the control or the plan conditions. To give you a sense of the actual numbers, the total WTP for the five items of those who reflected was $227, compared to $265 for the control group and $281 for the planning group. In other words, reflection about recently used possessions lowered the person’s willingness-to-pay for new items by about 14% compared to the control condition.

Reflection is like a mental “shopping the closet” visualization, and a useful way to stifle the urge to buy new things.


Utpal M. Dholakia, Ph.D., is the George R. Brown Professor of Marketing at Rice University.

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Why Do We Buy Luxury Brands—and How Do They Make Us Feel?

A tale of two types of pride

Source: Why Do We Buy Luxury Brands—and How Do They Make Us Feel?

Brent McFerran Ph.D.

Global demand for luxury goods is strong and rapidly growing, with over $200 billion in annual sales each year. Consumers purchase these goods for a variety of reasons, among them because they convey a sense of status, wealth, and exclusivity. These purchases lead others to make rapid inferences about the character of the purchaser (e.g., successful, arrogant, among many others). Further, using and displaying luxury products can elicit various feelings on the part of the user.

Drawing on recent research in social psychology on pride, in a recent paper with Karl Aquino and Jessica Tracy (both at the University of British Columbia), we show that there are two types (i.e., “facets”) of pride in consumption.

Interestingly, we demonstrate that the feeling which motivates a desire for luxury purchases (accomplishment, or what is termed “authentic pride”) is very different from the feeling that one derives from displaying those same products (snobbery, or what is called “hubristic pride”). In other words, the same emotion (pride) operates in two different ways. These findings shed new light on why consumers purchase luxury brands, highlighting a paradox: these purchases are sought out of heightened feelings of accomplishment (and not arrogance), but they instead signal arrogance to others (rather than accomplishment). Further, we show that these effects are generally more pronounced for those low in narcissism.

These conclusions were based on the results of seven experiments. In some, participants were asked to recall a luxury brand or a non-luxury brand they own, and we assessed how much of each facet of pride they felt. Those who recalled luxury goods felt snobbier (hubristic pride), but not more accomplished (authentic pride), showing the former facet of pride stems from luxury consumption. Another version of the study had other people rate a luxury brand user (or a non-luxury one). People judged the luxury brand consumer as more snobbish, but not more accomplished.

However, in other studies, we gave participants a task designed to make them feel authentic or hubristic pride, or a control task. We then assessed their desire to purchase luxury and non-luxury branded items. This time, those who felt accomplished had a higher desire to purchase luxury goods than those who felt hubristic pride, suggesting that feelings of accomplishment are a stronger motivator of luxury consumption than feeling snobbish. In another variant, we measured how accomplished and snobbish participants chronically felt; higher levels of accomplishment were associated with a higher desire for luxury goods.

This research has implications for companies selling luxury goods, or wish to market products as such. Luxury brands are sometimes positioned in a manner associating them with snobbery, for instance contrasting their wearers with laborers of lower status professions. Others, such as Rolex’s “A crown for every achievement”, suggests its product is a marker of accomplishment. Our research shows that although consumers indeed associate luxury goods with both accomplishment and snobbery, the former is more motivating in creating consumer desire.

Beyond purveyors of luxury goods, the growing obsession among some consumers to acquire luxury brands, particularly when they cannot reasonably afford them, is also a concern. For those interested in helping consumers better regulate their expenditures and avoid additional debt, our results speak to the psychological factors that motivate consumers to buy products that may make their lives economically precarious.

Full paper:

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.

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