Mandel Naomi, Petia Petrova and Robert Cialdini. “Images of Success and the Prefernce for Luxury Brands”. Journal of Consumer Pschycology. 16 (2006): 57-69.
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General Problem Area
The allure and desire for luxury brands is a universal urge for all consumers. However, the desire to consume luxury brands by consumers has been in the recent past been greatly influenced and impacted by the media. The authors will demonstrate the existence of this influence by conducting a pilot study and three other additional studies.
Realistically, the media obviously does help shape a consumers’ world by sketching certain images in the consumers’ minds concerning certain products and services. Arguably, the media also does bias consumers’ views of reality towards the norms, values, and social perceptions that they ought to present.
The main question that the author is trying to answer through this research is whether social comparison process, as a result of media influences, has any impact on a person’s rating of his/her abilities. Moreover, if they can, do such processes affect the person’s future expectations? To empirically provide probable solutions to the afore-mentioned scenarios, the author makes two propositions.
The first one is when consumers try to compare themselves to other successful individuals, they may alter their future wealth expectations and consequently influence their brand preferences. The second proposition is that the direction that these effects will take primarily depends on whether assimilation or contrast has occurred.
Objective of the Article
The main objective of this article is to investigate how stories about other successful people might influence a person’s expectations and consumer preferences. Ideally, products do communicate certain information and attributes about their owners. The article, therefore, tries to explain that the propagation of various elements and attributes of successful others by entities like the media do have a direct impact on the consumption preference of others.
Literally, consumption of luxurious brands do tend to enhance and individuals’ status (Schwartz, 2002). This article tries to unearth on how conspicuous individuals try to consumer such products in the quest of differentiating themselves from others. The article will achieve it by demonstrating how the possibility of reading literature about successful others increases a consumer’s perception about his/her future wealth.
Summary of the Literature Review
Today, it can be empirically proved that both contrast and assimilation effects that result from social comparisons by consumers do actually exist. For example, it is highly likely that female college students who see ads featuring attractive models will tend to have a lower satisfaction with their own level of attractiveness compared to those who see ads without a model (Salovey and Robin, 1984).
Generally, one would find that a successful person might serve more as a role model, rather than a source of envy when it comes to assimilation of traits. In such cases, when consumers are more exposed to successful others, this tends to serve more as a substantial source of inspiration as compared to the exposure of an unsuccessful other which, may tend to serve disheartening and threatening experiences.
There are several variables that previous research on social comparisons suggests that influence the probable conditions under which assimilation and contrast occur. They include the state or quality; whether consumers can draw various analogies between themselves and target others, therefore influencing perceived vulnerabilities; the actual similarity of the comparing targets; and the practicability of the comparing target.
Some researchers have even gone to the extent of suggesting that when a comparison target is viewed as an extension of a person’s construal, the success of the target might be celebrated as the person’s own success.
For instance, business students are highly likely to increase their future wealth expectations when they are reading a story about a fellow successful business major, therefore, making them to express more interests in purchasing luxury items. This is otherwise contrast if the students chose to read stories about an unsuccessful business majors.
One of the main concepts in understanding the assimilation or contrast of successful others by consumers is that individuals do often have a drive to evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others (Festinger, 1954). Such social comparisons are not only limited to reading about successful others in newspapers and magazines but also through word of mouth.
Individuals are likely to be more depressed and anxious when they get a negative feedback on a characteristic that others have performed. But when they get positive feedbacks about individual, they feel more inspired and encouraged.
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Amazingly, when people do have trouble in imagining the consumption experience of a certain product, the less they are likely to purchase or even consume that product. This is because an image shaped in the mind of a consumer by experiences of a successful other always influences the consumption preferences of the individual.
The aforementioned forms the basis of why the article hypothesises that the effects of depictions of success on consumers’ expectations of success and product preference are always to be mediated by how a consumer imagines him/herself in the story.
The Pilot Study
Participants of the pilot study were business students who were to read a fictional newspaper article describing either a very successful or a very unsuccessful recent graduate from the same university. After reading the article, the students rated their similarities to the comparison target; the likelihood they would achieve the same success or failure; and the ease of imagining themselves in the same situation.
In this study, the business student first read a news story about the success or failure of another business or biology student from the same university. The purpose was to develop stimuli that either represented high or low status brands for the target population of undergraduate students.
A different bunch of business students from Study 1 was exposed to a news article about either a successful or an unsuccessful fellow student who was either a business or biology major. Unlike in Study 1, a third manipulated factor, feasibility, was introduced. After reading the stories, participants were to answer several filler questions and rate the target in terms of intelligence, success, and likeability. They then completed a scale to show how interconnected their business or biology majors.
Study 3 attempts to harmonise the findings of all previous studies by examining whether ease of imagination mediates the effects of comparison, direction and similarity on brand preferences. As in previous studies, participants read a newspaper article about a successful or an unsuccessful graduate from the same university. They then completed an unrelated advertising rating task. Here, the ease of imagination was manipulated at three main levels.
There was an easy-to-imagine condition where the same story as in previous studies was used. Then there was the moderately difficult-to-imagine condition where modification was done by adding several irrelevant numerical statistics to then story. In the highly difficult-to-imagine condition, the study used the story in which the student major was a biology major as used in previous studies.
Summary of Main Results
In Study 1, participants did indeed rate the successful target as smarter, more successful, and more likeable than the unsuccessful target. Participants more exposed to the success story expressed more interest in the luxury brands than did those exposed to a failure story.
In study 2, participants gave slightly more preference points to the luxury brand when they read about a successful business major than when they read about the unsuccessful business major. However, in low feasibility conditions, it was found that there was no significant effect of direction of compassion, college major, or their interaction on luxury brand preferences. In study 3, across product categories there was significant interaction between direction of comparison and manipulated ease of imagination.
Advertising and taste have a very major influence on consumers’ preference for luxury brands. Most people do have a successful personality in their mind that they are always emulating. If companies in the production of luxury brands could capitalize on these successful others as the images behind their brands in for instance, advertisements, they could automatically increase their potential client base.
This is because everyone wants to improve their status. Knowledge from a research such as the one conducted above is vital for most luxury brands in fishing potential consumers of the brands and elevating them from low-end potential consumers to high-end consumer. This can be done through always associating their luxurious brands with successful personalities in the society.
The only limitation that could be encountered is that every other consumer has a successful other of his/her own right that he/she always envies. It is not so easy to find a successful other that satisfactorily applies to all consumers.
I liked the article, its studies and findings in understanding the impact of media depictions of success or failures on consumers’ desire for luxury brands.
Festinger, L. A Theory of Social Comparison Processes. Human Relations. 10.1 (1994): 7, 117-140. Print.
Salovey P, & Rodin J. “Some Antecedents and Consequences of Social-comparison Jealousy”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2.1 (1984): 47, 780- 792. Print.
Schwartz J. “Supersize American Dream: Expensive? I’ll Take It”. New York Times. (December 16th, 2002): Print.