Are you proud of your luxury purchase?

Appeal to consumers' sense of reward, not exclusivity, or risk being seen as a snobbish brand.

Research shows pride is a motivating factor in getting consumers to part with the large amounts of money required to indulge in luxury brands, but marketers in those categories should be wary: it’s a very specific kind of pride, and trying to illicit the wrong kind could come off as snobbish.

The studies, conducted by Brent McFerran of Simon Fraser University with Karl Aquino and Jessica L. Tracy of the University of British Columbia and published in The Journal of Consumer Psychology, show that purchasing a high-end brand is motivated by a feeling of accomplishment or reward, while the feeling one gets from displaying those brands is from a more snobbish and arrogant sense of pride. Even people that see others using luxury brands as snobbish look past that, feeling that sense of accomplishment when buying the brands themselves.

To determine if using luxury items increased feelings of snobbishness, groups were told to write a story involving a product they considered either a luxury or non-luxury brand. The luxury brand group wrote stories that showed a higher level of arrogance. In another study, groups were told to evaluate a story written by someone else, one with luxury brands and another substituted with non-luxury brands. Similarly to the first case, those who read the stories involving luxury brands deemed the writer to be more snobbish or arrogant.

This seems to suggest a problem: if people see luxury brands as connoting snobbishness, then why would they ever want to purchase those brands and risk being seen as snobbish themselves? The researchers proposed a different kind of pride all together drives the purchasing process: consumers feel justified in an expensive purchase if they are rewarding themselves. But if they are too concerned with appearing snobbish or arrogant when displaying the purchase, it could reduce the motivation to buy luxury brands.

To test this, the researchers performed another story exercise where two groups were instructed to use words that either signified authentic pride (“successful,” “confident,” “fulfilled,” “productive”) or hubristic pride (“snobbish,” “conceited,” “arrogant,” “smug”), then asked to rate their desire to purchase products from a list of brands once they were done. Those in the first group showed a high desire to purchase both luxury or non-luxury brands, while those in second group only had a high purchase desire for non-luxury items.

In another study, the groups were told to write about a time they felt either accomplished or snobbish, and instructed to do a similar purchase desire rating. Those in the first group had a high purchase desire for luxury brands and a low one for non-luxury brands. In the second, the reverse was true.

The report says that marketers working with luxury brands should be careful about the kind of pride they are trying to illicit in their campaigns. It points to Rolex’s “A crown for every achievement” campaign as a successful appeal to a sense of accomplishment, as opposed to those that position products and their consumers against those of a “lower status,” as they risk evoking a sense of arrogance and anti-socialness.

“For marketers interested in inducing consumers to purchase high-margin brands, identifying ways of this [authentic] facet of pride rather than it’s hubristic counterpart would seem to be a useful strategy for motivating demand,” the report states.

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