Envy Sells: The Psychology of Instagram Marketing

Envy Sells: The Psychology of Instagram Marketing

As I aimlessly scroll through my Instagram feed, past the endlessly narcissistic #wanderlust and #foodporn snaps I begin to notice some pretty aggressive advertising crammed into my phone’s tiny screen. What triggered my curiosity was how unique this advertising is, nothing like other platforms like Twitter or Facebook, advertisements almost blended in with my feed of food snaps and annoying travel pictures. When Insta first became popular in Europe, I was skeptical about how successful it would perform as a marketing platform. My skepticism was evidently unfounded. 


If I don’t Instagram it, did I even have hot chocolate? 

In recent years, Instagram has seen phenomenal growth, with over 600 million users and over 8 million businesses using the site, (Lister, 2017).  Instagram is evidently an effective marketing tool, with 60% of users saying they have discovered a product through the site and over 120 million users have reported making direct contact with a company based on an advert they saw on Insta.

The increasing number of businesses jumping aboard the heavily filtered gravy train shows no signs of slowing. Research conducted by Nanigans has found that the number of companies advertising on Instagram is rising steadily, (Waber, 2016), pointing to significant marketing success. 

The Power of Envy:

So why is marketing on Insta so successful? My theory and the theory of many others is that is can all be traced back to one single human emotion: envy. As I scroll through Insta I am guaranteed to come across someone’s recent indulgences or gifts. The flood of a certain brand of watches on Christmas day with the tags #boydidgood and #spoiled are my personal favorites. The comments sections are of course usually filled with comments akin to “OMG, so jealous”.


How much envy do we feel while scrolling through Instagram?

The feeling of envy has three parts: we must be confronted with a person who has a greater quality than us, we must desire this quality and finally, we experience some negative feeling as a result, (Burton, 2014). Do we all want to be surprised by a shiny new watch at Christmas? Maybe not originally, but when its put in your face, a tinge of envy is a likely side effect. 

The pain of envy is not caused by a desire for the advantages of another but rather by the frustration caused by our sense of lack, (Buron, 2014). “Why don’t I have a huge spread on the 25th that I can slap a filter onto?” This is far from a nice feeling and can drive consumers towards purchasing the product to make these feelings go away and to rebuild a sense of pride (and of course upload a slightly better composed photo than Sarah did). 

So how can a brand sell envy?


By now readers may note that I find the whole Insta craze a little amusing and I met the idea of “influencers” with some major reservations. Despite my amusement, influencers have a major impact on sales. Influencers are essentially individuals with a large group of followers who promote products based on the deals they get, (Soldsie, 2015).


 Could #Wanderlust be a major marketing tool for travel companies? 

After some reading I quickly discovered that Instagram has its own ecosystem. Although celebrity advertising is commonplace on Instagram, what we might consider typical celebrities don’t have quite as much advertising power as expected on the social media site. Research by Djafarovaa & Rushworth (2017) found that although celebrities on Instagram do influence the purchasing behaviour of young women, “Instafamous” social media posters have a greater effect. This is because the interviewed users found Instafamous users more relatable and credible than traditional celebrities. Being envious of a celebrity may be considered normal and may not really impact users too much, but being envious of an influencer who seems more in reach and similar to ourselves could, hypothetically push consumers harder to buy a product. 

This may be because it is evident right away that a celebrity is being given a hefty cheque to sell skin cream whereas an influencer may be slightly better at hiding this fact. Either way, influencers appear to be a excellent method of driving sales.

Building a Brand Army:

Who hasn’t been mentioned in a comment under an Insta post at some point or another? Many Insta users either knowingly or unknowingly advocate for their favorite brands.


Build your #brandarmy

Previous research has found that consumers on social media are much more active compared to those exposed to traditional media, (Chu 2011; Kozinets et al. 2010 as cited in Kwon et al., 2017). At the touch of a button consumers can like, share, comment and invite connections to engage with a brand. My theory is that this has the advantage of adding familiarity to a brand. If a friend is invested in a brand, it removes any potential anxiety of the unknown. There is a real sense of trust evident. 

What makes a consumer provide a brand with free advertising? Kwon et al., (2017) found that social media advocacy behaviours were influenced by three perceived benefits: self-enhancement, community belonging and delivering benefits to others. So if a brand has enhanced my life, made me feel like I belong to something and I can share this to help others, then I am likely to pass the brand name on. Of course these perceived benefits are mediated by where the brand stands in society and individual factors.

On the other hand it was found that advocacy behaviours are less likely to occur when consumers fear social judgment from others and disapproval of behaviours undertaken as an advocate. Even though I love this brand of cologne, if I think people are going to tell me to get lost, then I won’t exactly jump at the chance to promote a brand.

My tip is that marketers should focus on creating some conversation around their brand that already loyal customers would be willing to pass on to their friends. Promotional offers that benefit not only the loyal customer, but also their friend could be an excellent way to achieve this (for example: 50% off each for referral). 

The Actual Photo:

Envy may be a major motivator on Instagram, but nobody is going to be envious of an obnoxious neon green post that screams “we hate to interrupt your scrolling, but buy this”What makes an photo stand out from the crowd just subtly enough so that it doesn’t cause consumers to think “ugh, another ad” and disengage? Waber (2016) suggests ensuring advertisements fit in with a standard Instagram feed by making them look organic, using minimal branding and sticking to the 20% rule regarding text.


Simplicity is the order of the day

Putting this into practice can take some research. Look at what your target audience is posting and come up with a text minimal, high quality image that stands out just a little bit. This may be through the higher quality or text, but ensuring it doesn’t scream marketing is key.


Instagram marketing has skyrocketed as a marketing platform, with 70.7% of US companies using the site to advertise, out taking Twitter for the first time, (Lister, 2017). It is forecasted that mobile ad revenues from Instagram will reach $2.81 Billion this year, accounting for 10% of Insta’s parent company Facebook’s global ad revenues, (Lister, 2017). It is uncertain how long this upward trend will last, but for now, Instagram is #marketinggoals.


Burton, N. (2014). The Psychology and Philosophy of EnvyPsychology Today. Retrieved 20 August 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201408/the-psychology-and-philosophy-envy

Djafarova, E., & Rushworth, C. (2017). Exploring the credibility of online celebrities’ Instagram profiles in influencing the purchase decisions of young female users. Computers In Human Behavior68, 1-7. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.009

Kwon, E., Ratneshwar, S., & Thorson, E. (2017). Consumers’ Social Media Advocacy Behaviors Regarding Luxury Brands: An Explanatory Framework. Journal Of Interactive Advertising17(1), 13-27. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15252019.2017.1315321

Lister, M. (2017). 33 Mind-Boggling Instagram Stats & Facts for 2017Wordstream.com. Retrieved 20 August 2017, from http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/04/20/instagram-statistics

Soldsie. (2015). Instagram Psychology: How Consumer Envy Can Drive SalesSoldsie. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from https://new.soldsie.com/blog/instagram-psychology-how-consumer-envy-can-drive-sales/

Waber, A. (2017). Instagram Advertising: What’s Working?Marketing Land. Retrieved 20 August 2017, from http://marketingland.com/instagram-advertising-whats-working-157977


Prosecco Pop! The Psychology & Future of Prosecco’s Success

Prosecco Pop! The Psychology & Future of Prosecco’s Success

As I sat in one of Dublin’s many new hipster bars a few nights ago (complete with frayed sofas and “aged” mirrors) I noticed a not so new trend. Five of the 10 tables had bottles of prosecco sitting on them with mandatory ice buckets and flutes. Customers were glugging the stuff bottle after bottle and no wonder, a bottle in this particular establishment was only €28 whereas the cheapest non-house chardonnay was coming in at €35. A bottle of champagne would have set me back €95 so when I want something a little more indulgent I proudly opt for prosecco to ensure my credit card won’t combust. Even in supermarkets this price gap is blatantly obvious with the cheapest champagne being €35 and the cheapest prosecco retailing at €8 per bottle.

Nobody seems to be able to pinpoint exactly when the prosecco trade began its boom in Ireland but one thing is for sure: business is booming. The 2015 grape harvest saw the equivalent of 450 million bottles of prosecco being produced with 70% of those bottles being exported to foreign markets, (Collins, 2016).

Fizzing to the Top:

Sadly there isn’t a huge amount of data out there on how prosecco is performing in the Irish market but if the UK market is anything to go by things are bubbling to the top (sorry) and will continue to do so. The UK drinks 35% of the world’s prosecco, which is significant when compared to the U.S. which only consumes 17%, (Collins, 2016). In an analysis of sales in major supermarkets between February 2015 and February 2016 research giant IRI found that prosecco sales saw a growth of 34% compared to champagne which grew 1%, (IRI Worldwide, 2016). The same analysis also found that supermarket’s own brand prosecco occupies 12% of sales whereas the most popular non-own brand prosecco accounted for only 6% of sales, (IRI Worldwide, 2016). Consumers are thirsty and not too fussed about brands it seems, making prosecco one of the wine industry’s leading products. Let’s see why.

Luxury at a Reasonable Price:

Historically champagne has always been a symbol of wealth, success and celebration. Advertisements for various champagne brands sell us a life of exclusivity and excess. As a society exposed to celebrities and TV shows and films that glorify excess we are conditioned to think that this is what we should aspire to. Champagne is a symbol of this lifestyle and is thus in high demand. I think that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to this situation perfectly. Maslow (1943; 1954) suggested that once we meet our most basic physical and psychological needs (food, water, safety ect) we develop a drive to become better, to achieve mastery, status and prestige. As a nation out of recession but still in choppy waters many of us are ready to move from keeping things ticking over towards a sense of self-actualisation. Here is where society kicks in: we are fed the idea that our lifestyle is vital and that indulging in the finer things moves us up the pyramid. Although our economy is healing, we are not out of the woods yet and spending €95 on our weekly fizz is not doable for the vast majority of Irish people.

So what are we to do? Dan Hill, an expert in consumer behaviour states that when consumers are confronted with crazy prices our pride takes a blow and in an attempt to salvage it we settle for something else that is still a luxury but doesn’t carry the debt-inducing price tag, (Binkley, 2007). Ever notice how prosecco is sold right beside champagne? I imagine marketers have caught on to this this idea and placed €10 bottles of prosecco a few shelves down from champagnes ranging from €45 – €300. The result is brilliant news for retailers as they can help consumers save pride and climb the pyramid by giving them a reasonably priced luxury drink (flutes and buckets not included).

The Power of Bubbles:

Investing in prosecco is a no-brainer for Irish retailers given the success the UK market has enjoyed. A further factor worth a mention is Brexit. Coldiretti, the association of Italian food producers has expressed concern that Brexit may seriously harm trade relations between Italy and the UK as Britain consumes 1 out of every 5 bottles of prosecco produced, (Sheffield, 2016). Despite being traditionally seen as a beer drinking country Ireland consumes a significant amount of wine glugging 24 litres per capita which given the differences in our market power is comparable to the UK at 30 litres per capita, (Marian, 2014).This may open up the Irish market as a more attractive import destination for producers and enhance the Irish prosecco market significantly.

For marketers, investors and retailers however the main question is will the prosecco craze last? In terms of consumer psychology it seems that prosecco is here to stay. The main reason for this appears to be the association consumers draw between champagne and prosecco. If you have ever witnessed champagne advertising campaigns they are truly amazing: they unapologetically glorify wealth, excess and are far from shy when it comes to celebrity endorsements. The adverts are never just selling champagne: they are selling a lifestyle. Our climb towards prestige (and its associated wants) is an emotional journey and emotions themselves play a massive role in influencing our spending, (Murray, 2013). Champagne is out of many people’s price range but giving consumers a taste of the life they crave by selling them an image of luxury by using an alternative and visually identical product such as prosecco is a solid marketing practice.. In line with this theory, marketers may need to do more to ensure that prosecco isn’t thrown onto the heap with the other trends that have come and gone in Ireland. Using a more luxurious and exclusive image for prosecco may prove very effective as it taps into many consumer’s desires. Unless human psychology changes suddenly and significantly it seems that prosecco is indeed here to stay!


Binkley, C. (2007). The Psychology of the $14,000 Handbag. WSJ. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118662048221792463

Collins, G. (2016). Prosecco 2016 Output Seen Up as Much as 20% as U.K. Sales Surge. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved 13 August 2016, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-07/prosecco-2016-output-seen-up-as-much-as-20-as-u-k-sales-surge

IRI Wordwide,. (2016). Prosecco keeps its sparkle as sales grow by a third in one year, with retailer own labels taking the- IRI. Iriworldwide.com. Retrieved 13 August 2016, from http://www.iriworldwide.com/en-SA/Insights/news/Prosecco-keeps-its-sparkle-as-sales-grow-by-a-thir-en

Marian, J. (2014). Wine consumption in Europe by country per year per capita. Jakubmarian.com. Retrieved 13 August 2016, from https://jakubmarian.com/wine-consumption-in-europe-by-country-per-year-per-capita/

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Murray, P. (2013). How Emotions Influence What We Buy. Psychology Today. Retrieved 13 August 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/inside-the-consumer-mind/201302/how-emotions-influence-what-we-buy

Sheffield, H. (2016). EU referendum prompts prosecco panic in Italy. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/eu-referendum-brexit-wine-prosecco-italy-exports-champagne-a7097166.html#gallery

Notions: Marketing to Ireland’s Aspiring Middle Class

Notions: Marketing to Ireland’s Aspiring Middle Class

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).




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.


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/