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Subtle Signals of Inconspicuous Consumption

  • Jonah Berger
  • Morgan Ward
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    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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    Article provided by Oxford University 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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