Nav: Home

Using envy as a marketing tool can backfire

June 05, 2018

For decades, marketers have used envy to sell, attempting to cash in on consumers' desire to want what others have. But does it actually work?

According to a new study from the UBC Sauder School of Business, employing envy can boost brands but it can also completely backfire -- and it depends on a consumer's self-esteem. The study is the first to demonstrate the relationship between envy, self-esteem and consumer behaviour.

"Marketers often try to take advantage of consumers' tendency to compare themselves to others. Does their neighbour's lawn look healthier than theirs? Is their co-worker's car more luxurious?" said study co-author Darren Dahl, professor of marketing and behavioural 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."

Looking at brands such as Lululemon, the NHL and the Star Alliance airline network, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in which one participant had something the others desired. They then looked at how the situation affected the participants' perceptions of the brands.

Researchers found that people who reported a high sense of self-worth tended to want the envied brand and stayed motivated to attain it. But for people who reported lower self-esteem, seeing another person with a desired brand made them feel worse about themselves and unworthy of the brand. That feeling threatened their ego, so in order to make themselves feel better, they rejected the brand.

Dahl said stirring envy could still be an effective marketing tool, especially for companies targeting consumers with higher self-esteem. But brands that want to expand their reach and broaden their appeal would be wise to carefully consider the self-worth of the individuals they're targeting, or risk alienating them.

The study also found that when consumers with low self-worth were given a self-esteem boost before evaluating the brand, they were far more likely to see it favourably.

According to Dahl, the research is valuable for businesses as well as consumers, who can better understand how marketers are manipulating their emotions to get them to buy products.

"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."

Dahl co-authored the study with Kirk Kristofferson of Western University and Cait Lamberton of the University of Pittsburgh. 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. The study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
-end-


University of British Columbia

Related Consumers Articles:

Should patients be considered consumers?
No, and doing so can undermine efforts to promote patient-centered health care, write three Hastings Center scholars in the March issue of Health Affairs.
Consumers choose smartphones mostly because of their appearance
The more attractive the image and design of the telephone, the stronger the emotional relationship that consumers are going to have with the product, which is a clear influence on their purchasing decision.
When consumers don't want to talk about what they bought
One of the joys of shopping for many people is the opportunity to brag about their purchases to friends and others.
As consumers, how do we decide what's 'best' when it's not clear?
Imagine you are choosing between two resorts for your island vacation.
Effects of ethnocentrism on consumers
Aitor Calvo-Turrientes, winner of the prize for End-of-Degree Project in Sustainability in 2015 awarded by the Faculty of Economics and Business of the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country in Vitoria-Gasteiz, is the author of the paper 'The valuation and purchase of food products that combine local, regional and traditional features: The influence of consumer ethnocentrism,' published recently by the prestigious journal Food Quality and Preference.
More Consumers News and Consumers Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...