It seems that the days when Glenroe accurately depicted the vast majority of the Irish population are well and truly gone. In 2015 Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse found that over 50% of Irish adults qualified as “middle class” (i.e. a wealth exceeding €45,000), (Kelpie, 2015). We now live in an age where expensive suits, comparing overpriced cars and postcodes is becoming very, very common…is that a tiger’s roar I hear? Notions!

As our notions grow, so does our spending. Irish consumer spending rose by 9.7% in 2016 compared to 2015, (Visa Europe, 2016). On the whole Visa Europe found that we are splurging on luxuries a lot more than we were. For instance with a hypertrophy of notionism one often sees a rise in recreation and cultural outings (trip to the theatre anyone?) and Ireland has been no exception with consumers spending 20.7% more than they did in 2015, (Visa Europe, 2016). The spike in spending is depicted in the CSO’s statistics below, (CSO as cited by TradingEconomics, 2016).

 

ireland-consumer-spending@2x

 

This is big news for Irish businesses as it means accounts are growing and there is money to be spent on luxuries consumers have deprived themselves of for years. The only question is: how does a business move these extra funds from the consumer to themselves? In this post we are going to examine the science behind marketing to an emerging middle class.

Keep it Complicated:

For centuries luxury items have been seen as sophisticated, complex and refined, but why? Turns out its all in the name. Psychologist Adam Alter coined the term “disfluency” which essentially means when consumers have to think about a product for longer than usual it creates a mystical feeling towards the product and a drive to consume it, (Wilcox, 2013). The best way to do this is through naming as it is often the first aspect of a product a consumer comes into contact with. Wilcox, (2013) describes names like Louis Vuitton and Häagen Dazs as perfect examples of disfluency as consumers have to think about how the product is pronounced leading to a sense of the product being sophisticated. I think, therefore I buy.

Taxing a consumer’s brain just the right amount might just boost sales as who wouldn’t feel smug showing off a pair of shoes from a fancy and impossible to pronounce designer? Shut up and take my money!

 Help them climb the Status Ladder:

The emerging middle class in Ireland is just that: emerging. They are not well off just yet but they aspire to be. Researchers have been dumbfounded by the fact that that those who are less well off tend to spend a larger proportion of their income on luxury goods compared to those with six-figure incomes. We may finally have the answer to why this happens, recent research has shown that the consumption of luxury goods boosts self-esteem significantly (Sivanathan & Pettit, 2010) which is often needed by all of us not in the 1%. Consumers constantly seek methods to boost self-esteem or dissipate vulnerability and a product that promises high status (maybe it is endorsed by a very well known rich and powerful celebrity?) becomes a necessity on an emotional level, (Tuttle, 2010).

I can’t help but recall a recent advert for a well-known cologne brand featuring a man in a perfectly tailored suit, a brand new shiny executive class car and a refined accent. The advert was about everything BUT the fragrance; it was homage to a better lifestyle that the stuff in the bottle was simply being associated with. They could have been advertising vinegar and I probably would have bought it. Show the growing middle class that your product is a stepping stone to a real life of excess and you might just be on to something.

Make Them Feel Smarter:

Now the term “notions” really applies. According to Willcoxin (2013) presenting seemingly complex information to consumers in a way they can easily grasp very quickly makes them feel like experts and a lot more in-the-know. He points to Nespresso as being a perfect example: consumers must learn a seemingly complex system of coffee types (in reality quickly learned) which makes them feel like regular coffee experts! This sense of mastery no doubt builds a sense of intelligence and in turn confidence. All key attributes of an ambitious and successful person (or so we are told).

Intelligence and refinement have long been associated with success and the upper portions of the middle class. Advertising a product in a way that ensures consumers a massive brain boost may be a magnet for Ireland’s aspiring middle class.

Ensure they are Keeping up with the Joneses:

Spending a large part of my life growing up in rural Cavan, I heard this expression more times than I care to mention (of course expressions like “it was far from X they were reared” and naturally “notions” quickly followed). Every time somebody in the area got a new car or wore a certain brand they were deemed to be trying to outdo the legendary “Joneses”. It turns out there is some science behind this expression.

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller argues that the consumer aspect of the human brain is underdeveloped and uses old school methods to pick out products, (Dooley, 2010). On the planes of a new world we wanted to appear “fit” so that our DNA could be passed down. However beating each other with clubs is generally frowned upon so Miller argues that we have simply adapted this desire to consumerism, (Dooley, 2010). Miller states that we buy luxury goods to show off how “fit” we are: we can consume the finer things and still remain in good condition which on an evolutionary level makes us more attractive, (Dooley, 2010). In a sense we have moved away from shouting the loudest and giving people the biggest clout to prove our fitness to ensuring we out do others and maintain our sense of “fitness”. From the caves to the high street tailor.

Products that are advertised to boost attractiveness, desirability and superiority all feed into this desire so it is little wonder why these luxuries sell so well. There is no logical basis for a €4,000 coat but that’s the trick: the primitive brain is anything but logical. Advertise it in the right way and logic is irrelevant.

Have a “Runner-Up” Prize:

I recently took a trip to a high end tailor where I browsed through suits, each one was finer than the last but with € 2,000 price tags I soon shied away from the racks and bought a more mildly priced t-shirt. I thought I was the only one but it turns out Prof. Barry Schwarz of Swarthmore College had a very similar shopping experience to myself which is recalled in the Wall Street Journal. Consultant Dan Hill weighs in by stating that consumers feel outrage at the high prices they have just been confronted with which damages their pride and leaves them feeling rather dejected, (Binkley, 2007). To remedy this, smart retailers will have some more “affordable” luxuries in place so that the consumer can soothe their damaged pride with a much smaller (but still branded) luxury, (Binkley, 2007).

Indeed branded accessories such as belts and sunglasses make up for a large part of the luxury market, (Binkley, 2007) so the importance of runner up prizes cannot be understated. The point made by Dan Hill is vital to reaching the aspiring Irish middle class who cannot yet afford the €2,000 suit but could maybe splurge on a €200 pair of sunglasses. Without the pride saving runner up prize they leave the store feeling dejected and are unlikely to come back.

Onwards & Upwards:

Feeding consumer’s drive towards what they feel they want to be reaches a deep psychological need. I believe that it feeds into Carl Rogers theory of self-actualization which states that humans seek to become their “ideal-self” and much of their behaviour is shaped by this drive, (McLeod, 2007). Advertise a product in a way that promises self-actualisation and it may just be a goldmine for businesses targeting the aspiring middle class. Growing up with shows depicting celebrities thinking nothing of $50,000 price tags, films that glorify excess and advertisements crafted towards black credit cards the aspiring Irish middle class wants a piece of the action. As our economy grows young professionals can now afford a bigger slice of the pie and businesses in the luxury industry can really cash in on this new found expendable income. Done correctly marketing in this area may bring massive growth.

References:

Binkley, C. (2016). The Psychology of the $14,000 HandbagWall Street Journal. Retrieved 29 July 2016, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118662048221792463

Dooley, R. (2010). Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer BehaviorNeuromarketing. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/spent-sex-evolution-and-consumer-behavior.htm

Kelpie, C. (2015). Half of Irish adults now qualify as ‘middle class’, says wealth survey. The Irish Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.ie/business/budget/news/half-of-irish-adults-now-qualify-as-middle-class-says-wealth-survey-34111412.html

McLeod, S. (2007). Carl RogersSimplypsychology.org. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html#self

Sivanathan, N. & Pettit, N. (2010). Protecting the self through consumption: Status goods as affirmational commodities. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(3), 564-570. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2010.01.006

Trading Economics, (2016). Ireland Consumer Spending. Retrieved from http://www.tradingeconomics.com/ireland/consumer-spending

Tuttle, B. (2016). Psych Study: When You’re Bummed, You’re More Likely to Buy. TIME.com. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from http://business.time.com/2010/05/07/study-low-self-esteem-makes-you-more-likely-to-buy-luxury-goods/

Visa Europe,. (2016). Visa Europe. Visa.ie. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from https://www.visa.ie/about-us/press-releases/visa-europe-s-irish-consumer-spending-index-9th-may-2016-55750?returnUrl=%2Fabout-us%2Fpress-releases%2Firish-consumer-spending-increases-by-9-7-in-april-as-ecommerce-fuels-growth-1398465.aspx

Willcox, M. (2013). Why a cognitive approach is key to luxury marketing. Luxurydaily.com. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from https://www.luxurydaily.com/why-a-cognitive-approach-is-key-to-luxury-marketing/

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