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Subtle Signals of Inconspicuous Consumption

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  • Jonah Berger
  • Morgan Ward
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    Abstract

    While theories of signaling and conspicuous consumption suggest that more explicit markers facilitate communication, this article examines the utility of subtle signals. Four studies demonstrate that while less explicit branding increases the likelihood of misidentification (e.g., observers confusing a high-end purchase for a cheaper alternative), people with more cultural capital in a particular domain prefer subtle signals because they provide differentiation from the mainstream. Such insiders have the necessary connoisseurship to decode the meaning of subtle signals that facilitate communication with others "in the know." Consistent with the notion that these effects are driven by outward communication, they are stronger in identity-relevant product domains and situations where consumption is more public. This work highlights the communication value of less explicit signals and discusses the implications for branding, signal persistence, and the communication of identity. (c) 2010 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc..

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Consumer Research.

    Volume (Year): 37 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 4 (December)
    Pages: 555-569

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    Handle: RePEc:ucp:jconrs:v:37:y:2010:i:4:p:555-569

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    Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JCR/

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    Cited by:
    1. Shrum, L.J. & Wong, Nancy & Arif, Farrah & Chugani, Sunaina K. & Gunz, Alexander & Lowrey, Tina M. & Nairn, Agnes & Pandelaere, Mario & Ross, Spencer M. & Ruvio, Ayalla & Scott, Kristin & Sundie, Jill, 2013. "Reconceptualizing materialism as identity goal pursuits: Functions, processes, and consequences," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 66(8), pages 1179-1185.
    2. Simona Romani & Giacomo Gistri & Stefano Pace, 2012. "When counterfeits raise the appeal of luxury brands," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 23(3), pages 807-824, September.

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