The Subtle Signals of Inconspicuous Consumption

Jonah Berger , University of Pennsylvania, USA
Morgan Ward , The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Conspicuous consumption suggests that branded products help explicitly display wealth and sophistication. In contrast, we argue that inconspicuous consumption, or using subtler signals unrecognizable to most consumers, can sometimes be more effective. Six studies demonstrate that a) certain categories show an inverted U relationship between price and explicit branding, such that higher priced products are less likely to identify the brand; b) most consumers prefer high-end products with explicit branding and misidentify those using subtle brand signals; c) insiders or experts prefer less explicit branding and can correctly identify subtle-signal products. This suggests that subtle signals can sometimes provide more effective identity signals.
[ to cite ]:
Jonah Berger and Morgan Ward (2009) ,"The Subtle Signals of Inconspicuous Consumption", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 36, eds. Ann L. McGill and Sharon Shavitt, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 90-92.