Date of this Version
Journal of Consumer Research
The notion of conspicuous consumption (Veblen 1899) suggests that consumers spend lavishly on goods to that symbolize status and visibly communicate wealth and status to others. Analysis of multiple product categories, however, indicates an inverted-U relationship between price and the presence of logos or brand names: High-end products are actually less likely to contain such clear brand markers. Further, experimental studies show that high-end products which use more subtle markers are harder for observers to recognize, more likely to be perceived as cheaper generic equivalents, and less likely to be perceived as status symbols. This research explains this seeming inconsistency through social identity and distinction. Mainstream consumers prefer explicitly marked products which are widely recognizable symbols of prestige. Consequently, insiders prefer subtle markers that differentiate them from the mainstream and thus facilitate communication with others in the know. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for the communication of identity, brand management, and the success of cultural products.
This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Consumer Research following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version: Berger, Jonah and Morgan Ward, (2010) “Subtle Signals of Inconspicuous Consumption,” Journal of Consumer Research, 37(4), 555-569, is available online at: http://jcr.oxfordjournals.org/content/37/4/555
conspicuous consumption, identity-signaling, social influence, conformity, branding
Berger, J. A., & Ward, M. (2010). Subtle Signals of Inconspicuous Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 37 (4), 555-569. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/655445
Date Posted: 27 November 2017
This document has been peer reviewed.