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:

What's in a name? For young Chinese consumers, it's about culture mixing
Younger, more cosmopolitan Chinese consumers tend to favor brand translations that keep both the sound and the meaning of the original name, says U. of I. business professor and branding expert Carlos J.
Why do consumers participate in 'green' programs?
From recycling to reusing hotel towels, consumers who participate in a company's 'green' program are more satisfied with its service, finds a new study co-led by a Michigan State University researcher.
Consumers care about carbon footprint
How much do consumers care about the carbon footprint of the products they buy?
Consumers have huge environmental impact
You won't make big cuts in your environmental impact by taking shorter showers or turning out the lights.
Consumers' preferences for foliage plant attributes
Experiments investigated the effect of plant attributes on consumers' likelihood of purchasing indoor foliage plants.
New study finds adult fresh pear consumers had a lower body weight than non-pear consumers
The epidemiologic study, led by Carol O'Neil of the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, used a nationally representative analytic sample to examine the association of fresh pear consumption with nutrient intake, nutrient adequacy, diet quality, and cardiovascular risk factors in adults.
How much do consumers know about new sunscreen labels?
Sunscreen labels may still be confusing to consumers, with only 43 percent of those surveyed understanding the definition of the sun protection factor value, according to the results of a small study published in a research letter online by JAMA Dermatology.
Saving money: Do consumers spend less if they think about the future?
Why is it so hard for consumers to save money?
When are consumers more likely to rely on feelings to make decisions?
Why do some consumers make choices based on their feelings instead of rational assessments?
How are ordinary consumers transforming the fashion business?
One of the most important shifts of the 21st century is the ability of consumers to participate in markets they love such as music and fashion.

Related Consumers Reading:

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

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...