Selling something? Tap into consumer arrogance

July 12, 2020

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Selling something? Tap into consumer arrogance

Deny it you might, but even modest consumers brag about their purchases. Even me, and I’m certainly a “modest consumer.”

But, researchers wondered, can marketers leverage our tendency to brag about our buys to market products or services more successfully? Apparently, they can.

A new study published in Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science shows that leveraging consumer arrogance might be marketers’ most effective strategy for promoting their brands and products.

What the researchers say: “Arrogance is when you broadcast your superiority to others, whereas consumer arrogance is broadcasting your superiority to others via consumption,” said the lead author of the study. “Whether it’s, ‘I got a better deal on a product than you,’ or, ‘Look at my new car,’ it’s all about showing others how great a consumer you are, better than them.”

It’s what I call selling “phony status.”

Companies spend millions of dollars advertising products, services and experiences, but the researchers explained that word-of-mouth—the information consumers share about products, deals, brands or anything that is consumption related—is an invaluable promotion tactic that is driven by consumer arrogance.

“It is predicted that in 10 years, the conventional world of marketing will disappear and will rely only on word-of-mouth marketing—especially for those of the younger generation who do not trust marketing messages from companies, and rely on influencers, recommendations and other forms of word-of-mouth communication,” the lead author said. “This is why the social phenomenon of consumer arrogance is critically important to understand.”

In an era of oversharing one’s consumption practices and triumphs, the researchers wanted to find out what role consumer arrogance played in word-of-mouth sharing—for better or worse. In five studies, they showed how consumer arrogance drives word-of-mouth communication.

“We found that if you can trigger people’s sense of consumer arrogance, they’re more likely to engage in word-of-mouth communication,” they said.

But, is that always good for marketers? It depends. The study found that such a tendency might be a double-edged sword for marketers.

“While most consumers prefer to engage in positive word-of-mouth communication and talk about their consumption triumphs, we found that consumer arrogance fuels both positive and negative word-of-mouth communication,” the researchers noted.

Consumers brag about their consumption triumphs out of self-enhancement motives. Such triumphs portray them in a positive light as successful consumers to others. And, if their sense of consumer arrogance is triggered, they will brag significantly more; however, triggering this sense of arrogance will also lead consumers to share negative information if they regard their consumption experience as a failure.

The “bragging culture” in which we live rests upon consumer arrogance—showing others what you have that they don’t, how you got it or where you’re doing it. This culture is shifting how companies reach their consumer bases.

“Our research emphasizes the uniqueness of consumer arrogance as a social phenomenon that drives word-of-mouth communication,” the lead author concluded. “The findings provide marketing managers with a strategic mechanism to add to their arsenal of managerial options for how to engage in the marketplace, particularly on social media.”

So, what? We turn to merchandise for our sense of value and status because we have lost it in so many other ways.

We are designed to get our sense of status, and self-esteem, from the fact that other people value us and therefore will protect us—give us safety. Getting status from what we own, or the position we hold, or the school our kids go to is “phony status” and leads to depression and a whole range of other disorders.

Most of the things that we buy we don’t need and contribute nothing to our satisfaction with life. So many studies have shown that we get more pleasure from doing, from experiencing than from owning, and from that which is free—like Nature, or spirituality, or creativity, or being with people who support us. Anything else is foolish.

I am not sure that it’s ethical to tap into people’s phony sense of arrogance or need for self-worth-through-purchase. The “stuff” will mostly be discarded, as will our sense of self if that’s all we rely on to feel good about ourselves.

Thus endeth my sermon for today.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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