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.

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

How getting in sync with your partner can lead to increased intimacy and sexual desire

Researchers discover a link between nonverbal synchronization and relationship success.

Sex & Relationships
  • Scientists say coordinating movements leads to increased intimacy and sexual desire in a couple.
  • The improved rapport and empathy was also observed in people who didn't know each other.
  • Non-verbal clues are very important in the development stages of a relationship.
Keep reading Show less

How humans evolved to live in the cold

Humans evolved to live in the cold through a number of environmental and genetic factors.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Surprising Science
  • According to some relatively new research, many of our early human cousins preceded Homo sapien migrations north by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
  • Cross-breeding with other ancient hominids gave some subsets of human population the genes to contend and thrive in colder and harsher climates.
  • Behavioral and dietary changes also helped humans adapt to cold climates.
Keep reading Show less

Stan Lee, Marvel co-creator, is dead at 95

The comics titan worked for more than half a century to revolutionize and add nuance to the comics industry, and he built a vast community of fans along the way.

(Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Culture & Religion
  • Lee died shortly after being rushed to an L.A. hospital. He had been struggling with multiple illnesses over the past year, reports indicate.
  • Since the 1950s, Lee has been one of the most influential figures in comics, helping to popularize heroes that expressed a level of nuance and self-doubt previously unseen in the industry.
  • Lee, who's later years were marked by some financial and legal tumult, is survived by his daughter, Joan Celia "J.C." Lee.
Keep reading Show less