The idea of ‘luxury’ and the way in which consumers are manipulated.

Humans really love to stand out from the crowd. They will go to any extent to make sure they are noticed. It is no surprise that we wield materialism like a sword against society. The elusiveness of having something that others don’t is commonly noted in a world as materialistic as this.

Although it’s becoming more evident, it’s not new. We’ve seen crazy feasts, jewelry and other artifacts documented all the way from the reigns of kings and queens. Sure, by analyzing this phenomenon on the surface I can say that the physical appeal is what really entices us, but is it really all of it?

No.

There’s a much deeper, elaborate social and psychological construct at play here, and unless you read between the lines, you will probably miss it. Think about it, why would people pour thousands of rupees into an Armani suit or an LV purse? Sure, you could know the time by staring into a cheap five hundred rupee watch, but no, we want to invest in that lucrative ninety thousand rupee ‘Rolex timepiece’. A perfectly sturdy and stylish handbag can be purchased for five thousand rupees, but we go crazy trying to find a retail store for our favorite brands. Why?

The great thing about living in the information age is that there is so much of it. A psychology study conducted by Karl Aquino and Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia revealed that there are two distinguishable facets to our pride of luxury.

The first is ‘authentic’ pride, which is our motivation to acquire these luxuries, whereas the second is ‘hubristic pride’, which is the more snobbish of the two. Hubristic pride is exhibited when we talk or display the luxuries we own, and it is closely associated with bragging. That’s all natural, though. Humans are ‘programmed’ to be curious. They seek what they don’t have. It’s a psychological concept. The paradox though is that we buy these things to give ourselves a greater sense of accomplishment, but the exact opposite is projected to those around us, they seem to think of us as snobs and braggarts.

As always, somebody somewhere would stop at nothing to exploit this. And they have, very cleverly. Away from the world, in their massive corporate headquarters, marketing teams for luxury brands plot and scheme manners in which they can exploit the masses. They need something concrete, something personal, and so, just like that, their marketing changes from brand promotion to insecurity seeking. They find the things you most hate about yourself, and the poke fun at it. After they’ve tarnished your self-esteem, these same marketers will advise you to try their product so that you don’t feel as bad about yourself.

Irrationalism

We’re also irrational. Very irrational. We go out of our way to compete and prove our worth by possessing things that we may not even have the ability to afford. Take Apple, Inc. for example.
Customers sleep outside stores overnight buy the next iPhone or the new Macbook. They remain loyal to the brand even though the iPhone isn’t superior or modern to most market phones in any way.
Now, you and I can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell about this, but tell me, did that Siri feature really help you organize your appointments to the doctor and alert you about the traffic thirty minutes before you intended to leave? No, it didn’t. You know the reason why you still bought that fingerprint enabled iPhone? Because they told you it was worth it. One habit all of us have ingrained within us is the way in which we look at things: the way we want to. Often, we mentally program ourselves to only look at the advantages of a certain item rather than contrasting them with its disadvantages as well.

Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is a major determining factor. I talked about this phenomena in my blog “The Psychology of External Validation” which you can read here.

No psychological concept stands alone, they are results of one another and are interdependent on each other. One reason that people choose to buy luxuries can be attributed to their modest outlooks about themselves. We seem to think that the flaws of our character or lifestyles can be covered up by physical things. Bostonreview’s article (cited at the bottom of this blog) sums up this in a very good way, by saying:

“If such purchases are motivated by status enhancement, they become positional goods: their value is determined by what other people possess. This inspires a powerful critique of consumerism. Status is a zero-sum game, and just as countries in a literal arms race have to strip away resources from domestic priorities, the figurative arms race that economist Robert H. Frank calls “luxury fever” takes away from individual consumers money that would be better spent on more substantial goods, such as socializing and travel. It is hard for people to opt out. To say that an individual can simply refuse to participate is like saying that countries in a literal arms race can choose to stop buying all those fighter planes and put the money into school lunches and Shakespeare in the Park. Sure they can—if they don’t mind being invaded. If everyone else buys fancy suits for their job interviews, then I risk unemployment by choosing not to.”

The Conscience of Authenticity

The reason why people look the other way from the street vendor (or any copycat for that matter) selling a fake that looks like the original is because of their conscience. Sure, you can lie to the world about buying that pricey watch, but you know within yourself that it is nothing but a knockoff. Companies capitalize on the consumer’s guilt.

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