The Subtle Signals of Inconspicuous Consumption

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.


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.


Jonah Berger , University of Pennsylvania, USA
Morgan Ward , The University of Texas at Austin, USA


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 36 | 2009

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


Restrained by Resources: The Joint Effect of Scarcity Cues and Childhood Socioeconomic Status (SES) on Consumer Preference for Feasibility

Lili Wang, Zhejiang University
Yanfen You, New Mexico State University, USA
Chun-Ming Yang, Ming Chuan University, Taiwan

Read More


Cues to Sincerity: How People Assess and Convey Sincerity in Language

Alixandra Barasch, New York University, USA
Juliana Schroeder, University of California Berkeley, USA
Jonathan Zev Berman, London Business School, UK
Deborah Small, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Read More


C2. The Bad Taste of Healthy Food Discounts

Iina Ikonen, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Aylin Aydinli, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Peeter Verlegh, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.