People strive for consistency in beliefs and behaviors as they have a basic desire to affirm their self-image. Studies have shown that people choose products that are congruent with their self-image:
“Participants who supported the values symbolized by Pepsi (exciting life, enjoying life, social power, and social recognition) had a more favorable taste evaluation, attitude, and purchase intention when told they had tasted Pepsi than when they thought they had tasted the low price Woolworth cola.”
“Participants preferred the taste of Perrier over Old Fashioned Seltzer when the two options were labeled; when the products were offered without labels, participants did not show a preference.”
But what is the reverse relationship? Can products also influence people’s self-image? Experimental research by Townsend & Sood (2012), involving 159 participants, shows that choosing products with attractive designs affirms people’s self-image.
Products and self-concepts may influence each other reciprocally: how we think of ourselves is influenced by the products we choose, and how we think of ourselves influences our product choices.
The authors compared the choice of an attractive design product with choice of products superior on other attributes (function, brand, and hedonics) to show that only design influences a consumer’s sense of self:
They conducted three studies in total: Study 1 showed that the desire to affirm the self drives the choice of attractive objects; Study 2 and 3 showed that choosing attractive products has the same effect on subsequent behavior as a self-affirmation manipulation (increased openness to counter-attitudinal arguments and reduced propensity to escalate commitment toward a failing course of action).
But why do attractive products influence our sense of self? The authors suggest that a so-called beauty premium applies to products as well as people:
“First, research on personal values recognizes that appreciation of beauty is a “basic human value common to all [people]” … Second, studies of interpersonal perception have found a universal and innate bias to equate beauty with goodness in people.” (p. 256).
So, attractive products may have a similar effect on us as attractive people: we associate attractiveness with something good, and we appreciate its beauty. We may choose attractive products to affirm or boost our sense of self. But how do we know what is attractive? We just ask people.
Efforts have been made to document physical characteristics of universal beauty. Earlier research by Langlois & Roggman (1990), often referred to in the textbooks, found that we tend to judge the most average faces to be most attractive.
In the same way, it is likely that some products are universally more attractive than others, but the value we attribute to certain products is important for how we view it as well.
Just like we use material products to affirm or boost our sense of self, experiential purchases can serve the same purpose:
“… Consumers seek a specific self-identity through white-water rafting, sky diving, or plastic surgery.” (p. 258).
But please have in mind that the reasons we buy different (either material or experiential) products are many: One person may buy a fancy car to boost his self-worth; a second person may buy it to make his life easier; and a third person may buy it for both reasons or a third.
What I find interesting is that people who buy experiences, such as travels or concerts, are happier than people who spend their money on material possessions such as automobiles, research shows.
A large body of evidence has also documented a negative association between materialism and well-being. So we might want to ask ourselves: How much do I prioritize materialistic goals, such as attractive products, relative to other goals in life?
Thank you for your attention.