How your level of self-esteem determines the success of ‘envy marketing'

Marketers have long used envy as a tactic to sell products, but a new study suggests that it only works on people with a high sense of self-esteem.

'The Most Interesting Man in the World' ad campaign for Dos Equis beer. (Credit: Dos Equis)
'The Most Interesting Man in the World' ad campaign for Dos Equis beer. (Credit: Dos Equis)


When a commercial makes you feel envious, are you more or less likely to desire the product?

Your answer might depend on your level of self-esteem, according to a new study from the UBC Sauder School of Business. The findings suggest that even though envy can be an effective marketing tactic, it can also backfire among people with low self-esteem.

"Marketers often try to take advantage of consumers’ tendency to compare themselves to others. Does their neighbor’s lawn look healthier than theirs? Is their co-worker’s car more luxurious?” said study co-author Darren Dahl, professor of marketing and behavioral science at UBC Sauder. “While this strategy can sometimes work, our findings suggest that when marketers use envy to sell products, they could also end up with a bunch of sour grapes instead of sales, and potentially damage brand relationships.”

In the study, researchers conducted a series of experiments, involving more than 500 people and brands like the NHL and Lululemon, where one participant possessed a product the others desired. Those who reported being confident tended to want the desired brand and remained motivated to get it.

But participants who reported a lower sense of self-worth felt worse about themselves for not having the product and generally felt unworthy of the high-status brand. To avoid a bruised ego, they often rejected the brand altogether.

“If you have low esteem, the tactic of using envy (for) a company doesn’t work really well,” Dahl told the Star Vancouver. “People generally say, ‘Screw it, I don’t want it.’”

Interestingly, the unconfident participants were more likely to favor a desirable brand right after they were given a self-esteem boost.

It’s not the first time marketers have shown that brands can suffer when they elicit envy in consumers. In 2013, the American Marketing Association published research showing that people who try to impress others by flaunting a particular brand they really like—remember Ed Hardy t-shirts?—can actually make others dislike the brand, ultimately hurting its reputation.

“Companies need to find a way to control this type of behavior or they risk damaging their brand equity,” co-author Rosellina Ferraro wrote in an article published on the association’s website. “While companies may want to encourage consumers to highlight their brand in a way that others notice, they don’t want it done in a way that’s going to turn off other consumers.”

On the consumer side, Dahl said it’s empowering to understand how marketers play on our psychology.

“Consumers should be aware of their emotions, and how companies are using envy to elicit those emotions. When they have high self-esteem, they’re going to be excited about the product, and when they have low self-esteem, it can turn them off,” he said. “Either way, it’s empowering to know.”

The study, “Can Brands Squeeze Wine from Sour Grapes? The Importance of Self-Esteem in Understanding Envy’s Effects,” was recently published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

‘Time is elastic’: Why time passes faster atop a mountain than at sea level

The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
  • This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
  • Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Keep reading Show less

Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

Keep reading Show less

Universe works like a cosmological neural network, argues new paper

Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.

Synapses in space.

Credit: sakkmesterke
Surprising Science
  • Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
  • The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
  • The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Keep reading Show less

We studied what happens when guys add their cats to their dating app profiles

43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture.

Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships

If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.

Keep reading Show less
Coronavirus

Quarantine rule breakers in 17th-century Italy partied all night – and some clergy condemned the feasting

17th-century outbreaks of plague in Italy reveal both tensions between religious and public health authorities.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast