Self-Monitoring and Product Conspicuousness on Reference Group Influence

David Brinberg, Baruch College, CUNY
Linda Plimpton, Ohio State University
ABSTRACT - Two facets of product conspicuousness-public/private and luxury/ necessity--and their impact on reference group influence were examined. The self-monitoring orientation of the respondent was included as an individual difference variable that may influence the relation between product conspicuousness and reference group influence. Two dimensions of reference group influence were identified normative and informational. Products perceived as conspicuous; that is, public and luxury products, were more susceptible to group influence. The self monitoring orientation of the individual, however, had little impact on the relation between product conspicuousness and reference group influence.
[ to cite ]:
David Brinberg and Linda Plimpton (1986) ,"Self-Monitoring and Product Conspicuousness on Reference Group Influence", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 297-300.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 297-300

SELF-MONITORING AND PRODUCT CONSPICUOUSNESS ON REFERENCE GROUP INFLUENCE

David Brinberg, Baruch College, CUNY

Linda Plimpton, Ohio State University

ABSTRACT -

Two facets of product conspicuousness-public/private and luxury/ necessity--and their impact on reference group influence were examined. The self-monitoring orientation of the respondent was included as an individual difference variable that may influence the relation between product conspicuousness and reference group influence. Two dimensions of reference group influence were identified normative and informational. Products perceived as conspicuous; that is, public and luxury products, were more susceptible to group influence. The self monitoring orientation of the individual, however, had little impact on the relation between product conspicuousness and reference group influence.

INTRODUCTION

Marketers and advertisers have long recognized the apparent influence of reference groups on consumers' decision. Several researchers have demonstrated consumers' susceptibility to reference group influence when making product or brand purchase decisions (Bearden & Etzel 1982; Burnkrant & Cousineau 1975; Park & Lessig 1977; Stafford 1966). The influence of the visibility of the purchase decision, sometimes referred to as the "conspicuousness" of the decision (Bourne 1957) has also been examined extensively as a factor that effects reference group influence on purchase decisions (Bearden & Etzel 1982; Burnkrant & Cousineau 1975; Witt 1969; Witt & Bruce 1970, 1972).

Behavioral theorists differ in explaining how reference groups affect consumer behavior. Several similar underlying dimensions of reference group influence appear in the literature. Deutsch and Gerard (1955) described two types of social or reference group influence. One is informational influence which facilitates the transfer of information among reference group members. Information here, could include product evaluations, preferences, or opinions and can occur through either active transfer, i.e., verbal interaction or through observation of group members. The second type of influence identified by Deutsch and Gerard is normative, which includes any influence to conform to group norms or expectations.

Recently Park and Lessig (1977) used a three dimensional structure to describe reference group influence. By combining the theories of Deutsch and Gerard (1955), Asch (1952) Jahoda (1972) and Kelman (1961) they defined three forms of reference group influence:

(a) informational reference group influence - information will influence an individual if it is accepted and is perceived as enhancing the individual's knowledge of the environment and/or their ability to cope with some aspect of this environment e.g. purchasing a product.

(b) Utilitarian reference group influence - is similar to the normative influence (Deutsch and Gerard 1955) and the compliance process (Kelman 1961; Jahoda 1972). In a purchasing decision, an individual will comply with the expectations of a reference group if s/he thinks the group can produce rewards or punishments, if the behavior would be visible or known to the group members, and if the individual is motivated to receive the reward or avoid the punishment (Park and Lessig 1977).

(c) Value-expressive reference group influence - an individual is influenced by the reference group because of a desire to enhance his/her self concept or because of a liking (affect) for the group.

The normative influence described by Deutsch and Gerard (1955) may be viewed as the basis of the value-expressive and the utilitarian influence dimensions. Both reflect the awareness of group norms, accepted practices, and values. Given this potential dual effect of normative influence one aspect of the current study will examine whether the value-expressive and utilitarian influences are perceived as distinct, across different products, or are both measuring the same underlying normative dimension.

Product Characteristics

Several researchers have noted that reference group influence is affected by the type of product or situation studied. In two separate studies of brand choice Witt (1969) found that brand decisions vary in their susceptibility to group influence. Subsequently Witt and Bruce (1970) found that reference group influence is related to the amount of social involvement associated with the product and that influence differs as a function of product characteristics.

Bourne (1957) found a relationship between reference group influence and product conspicuousness; where a product may be conspicuous (or visible) in two senses: (a) it is consumed publicly and (b) it is exclusive in some way. A good consumed publicly would be seen by others and, hence, be more conspicuous than a good consumed privately. Similarly, an exclusive product (i.e. luxury) defined as not commonly owned or used, would be more conspicuous than a product that is a necessity, Bearden and Etzel (1982) operationalized the conspicuousness of the product by creating two factors: (1) a public-private factor and (2) a luxury-necessity factor. They found that "...consistent with Bourne's framework, the luxury-necessity and public-private dimensions were consistently significant" (p. 192). These authors suggest, however that several issues need to be explored, including individual difference variables that may moderate the relationship between reference group influence and product choice.

Self-Monitoring

One individual difference variable that has received some attention in consumer behavior is self-monitoring (Becherer and Richard 1978). Snyder (1974) postulates that a high self-monitoring individual is one who identifies social cues for appropriate behavior and modifies his/her self-presentation accordingly. A low self-monitoring individual is less sensitive and responsive to these situational cues. Snyder developed a self-monitoring scale to "... discriminate individual differences in concern for social appropriateness, sensitivity to the expression and self-presentation of others in social situations as cues to social appropriateness for self-expression, and use of social cues as guidelines for monitoring and managing self-presentation and expressive behavior" (Snyder 1974, p. 125).

Using Snyder's self-monitoring scale, Becherer and Richard (1978) hypothesized that the behavior of low self-monitoring individuals would be more affected by dispositional factors i.e., personality variables, and that high self-monitoring individuals would be more affected by situational factors i.e. social cues. These authors found that self-monitoring was useful in identifying "... individuals for which situational or dispositional variables have primary influence" (1978 p. 62). In the present study self-monitoring was used to examine potential differences in the amount and type of reference group influence among individuals.

In sum, the present study was conducted to examine: (1) the structure underlying the three reference group influence scale items proposed by Park and Lessig (1977), (2) the influence of self-monitoring and product conspicuousness on reference group influence.

METHOD

We adapted Bearden and Etzel's (1982) procedures to examine three forms of reference group influence (Park & Lessig 1977) and two forms of product use conspicuousness (Bearden & Etzel 1982). In addition Snyder's (1974) self-monitoring scale was used as a dispositional factor that may influence the relations between product conspicuousness and reference group influence.

Pilot Study

Two factors were used to examine the conspicuousness of the product: (1) a public/private factor and (2) a luxury/necessity factor. A pilot study was conducted to identify those products that best represented the 2 x 2 combination of factors. Ten products were elected initially to represent each of the four conspicuousness combinations i.e. public-luxury (PUL), public-necessity (PUN), private-luxury (PPL), and PPN (PXW).

A sample of sixty undergraduate students were asked to classify each of the forty products into one of the four categories using the definitions listed below.

1. Public luxury (PUL) - a product that other people are aware you possess and use. If they want to, others can identify the brand of the product with little or no difficulty. This product is not needed for ordinary day-to-day living.

2. Public necessity (PUN) - a product that other people are aware you possess and use. If they want to others can identify the brand of the product with little or no difficulty. The product is needed for ordinary day-to-day living.

3. Private luxury (PRL) - a product that is used at home or in private. Except for your immediate family people would be unaware of the brand you own. This product is not needed for ordinary day-to-day living.

4. Private necessity (PRN) - a product that is used at home or in private. Except for your immediate family, people would be unaware of the brand you own. This product is needed for ordinary day-to-day living.

In addition subjects rated each product placed in one of the four categories on a seven point Likert scale ranging from very representative to very unrepresentative.

Based on the classification of the product and the mean representativeness judgments the following products were selected (the value in the parentheses represent the percent of respondents who placed the product in the appropriate category): golf clubs (73%) and a walkman (73%) for the category of public luxury; record album (77%) and stereo (73%) for the category private luxury; rain coat (65%) and winter coat (81%) for the category of public necessity; and clock (68%) and toothpaste (77%) for the category of private necessity. A two-way ANOVA (luxury/necessity by public/private) was conducted using the representativeness of the product as the dependent variable. No significant differences were found. The results of the pilot study suggest that no systematic differences exist in the categorization or representativeness of the products.

Dependent Measures

For the main study, a questionnaire, developed by Park and Lessig (1977) and adapted by Bearden and Etzel (1982), was used to measure reference group influence for each of the eight products. The wording of the items was modified slightly from the original Park and Lessig (1977) questionnaire to connote not an evaluation of what "the individual," meaning other consumers, would do, but what "I" would do. This modification of the original questionnaire is important for the present study because the impact of an individual difference variable (self-monitoring) is being investigated. To compare self-monitoring tendency and susceptibility to reference group influence, the reference group items must measure what each subject would do with respect to the product being considered.

A six point bipolar agree (1) - disagree (6) scale was used to measure the reported reference group influence for each of the 14 items in the questionnaire. These items, which represent informational, utilitarian, and value-expressive reference group influence, were repeated for all eight products. The order of both the three types of reference group items as well as the presentation of the products was randomized. Snyder's (1974) 25 item self-monitoring scale was used to measure self-monitoring.

Design

A 2 2x2x2 factorial design was used with public/private luxury/necessity and two products per category as within subject factors and high/low self-monitoring score (derived using a median split of the self-monitoring scale) as a between subject factor.

Subjects and Procedure

A total of 80 undergraduate students participated in the study resulting in 75 useable respondents. The five respondents were eliminated from further analyses due to substantial missing data. Subjects were scheduled for one-hour sessions in groups of 10 to 15. On entering the lab, subjects were given an instruction sheet that described the basic purpose of the study as well as the types of scales to be used in the study. They were then given several "warm up" questions to become familiar with the scales.

RESULTS

Structure of Reference Group Items

A principal components analysis with a varimax rotation was used to examine the underlying structure among the reference group ideas for each product separately. Based on a scree test and the interpretability of the factor, a two factor solution was selected for each product. The median percent of variance accounted for by the two factor solution across the eight products was 57% (range from 50% - 60%). The median correlation of the first factor across the eight products was .87 and for the second factor across the eight products .88. Because the factor structure was highly similar across the eight product categories, only one product is presented to represent the obtained factor structure. Table 1 contains a summary of the factor loadings of the reference group items associated with the toothpaste product.

The two factors were identified as informational and normative. Examination of the factor loadings indicates that the informational items loaded highly on factor 2 whereas the utilitarian and value-expressive items (except item B3) loaded highly on factor 1.

TABLE 1

FACTOR LOADINGS OF REFERENCE GROUP ITEMS FOR TOOTHPASTE

Product conspicuousness and self-monitoring

Two influence subscales were developed by summing the items labelled "A" in Table 1 to form an informational subscale and by summing the items labelled "B" and "C" to form a normative subscale. These subscales were then used as the dependent variables in the subsequent ANOVA analysis. We will focus our discussion on the effects of self-monitoring public/private, and luxury/ necessity factors. We will not discuss the impact of the product factor because of its limited theoretical interest.

For the normative subscale, there were significant main effects for the public/private factor (F=103.49; df=1,73; p<01, X(public)=33.2, X(private)=38.1) and for the luxury/necessity factor (F=45.62; df=1,73; p<.01, X(luxury)=34.0, X(necessity)=37.4). The main effect of the public/private and luxury/necessity factors indicates that products perceived as public (or luxury) had more of an affect on normative influence than private (or necessity) products.

In addition, there was a significant self-monitoring (A) by luxury/necessity (C) interaction (F=40.05; df=1,73; p<.01) and a public/private (B) by luxury/necessity (C) interaction (F=36.37; df=1,73; p<.01). A simple main effects test was conducted to examine these interactions further. For the AxC interaction, high self-monitoring individuals were more affected by normative influence for a product perceived as a luxury (X=32.9) than low self-monitoring individuals (X=34.9) (F=4.09; df=1,75; p<.05). For necessity products, however, low self-monitoring individuals were more affected by normative influence (X=36.3) than high self-monitoring individuals (X=38.9) (F=6.91; df=1,75; p<.05). For the B x C interaction, a private/necessity product had less of an affect on normative influence (X=41.3) than public/necessity product (X=33.4) (F=63.66; df-1,75; p<.05). There was no difference between private/public products for luxury products.

For the information subscale, there was a significant main effect of the public/private factor (F=40.05; df=1,73; p<.01, X(public)=13.9, X(private)=15.7) and for the luxury/necessity factor (F=8.58; df-1,73; p<.01, X(luxury)=14.2, X(necessity)=15.3). In addition, there was a significant public/private (B) by luxury/necessity (C) interaction (F=9.86; df=1,73; p<.01). Public luxury products had more of an affect on informational influences (X=12.9) than private/luxury products (X=15.6) (F=29.52; df=1,75; p<.05). In addition, public/necessity products (X=14.8) had more of an affect on the informational subscale than private/necessity products (X=15.8) (F=4.1; df=1,75; p<.05).

DISCUSSION

The two factor structure of reference group influence found here suggests that the theory of Deutsch and Gerard (1955) should not be expanded. Only two types of reference group influence were identified - informational and normative. Perhaps, as Kelman (1961) has argued, reference group influence operates through three separate processes, two of which are associated with the normative influence. Burnkrant and Cousineau (1975) relate Deutsch and Gerard's reference group influence types with Kelman's three processes. They suggest that normative reference group influence is accomplished through either the process of compliance (utilitarian influence) or identification (value-expressive influence).

Both utilitarian and value expressive reference group influences motivate behavior based on expectations. Whether one is attempting to identify with a group to enhance one's self image or to comply with its norms and behaviors to avoid chastisement, a desire for some association with the group exists; that is, both forms of influence are derived from normative pressure.

Bourne's (1957) theory of reference group influence on brand decisions for two forms of product conspicuousness was supported for both the normative and informational influence subscales. Both public and luxury products, which represent two features of conspicuousness, had more of an effect on reference group influence than private and necessity products. Further, the significant interactions indicate public/luxury products had more of as effect on reference group influence than private/luxury or necessity products.

An individual's self-monitoring orientation had limited relation to reference group influence and brand choice. We may interpret the self-monitoring by luxury/necessity interaction for the normative subscale to suggest that individual's who are likely to attend to social cues will do so when the product is a luxury rather than a necessity. This finding is consistent with the hypothesized impact of self-monitoring; that is, individuals influenced by social cues (high self-monitors) when considering luxury products, are most likely to be susceptible to reference group influence.

In sum, product conspicuousness did impact on the effect of reference group influence. Two rather than three dimensions of group influence were identified--normative and informational. Products perceived as conspicuous were more susceptible to group influence. Finally, the self-monitoring orientation of the individual had little impact on the relation between product conspicuousness and reference group influence.

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