Thursday, January 10, 2013

Status displays - I've got you labelled

An interesting passage from an old Economist article (March 2011), finally copied out so I can throw the paper copy away.


"Rob Nelissen and Marijn Meijers of Tilburg University in the Netherlands examined people's reactions to experimental stooges who were wearing clothes made by Lacoste and Tommy Hilfiger, two well-known brands that sell what they are pleased to refer to as designer clothing. As the two researchers show in a paper about to be published in Evolution and Human Behavior, such clothes do bring the benefits promised: co-operation from others, job recommendations and even the ability to collect more money when soliciting for charity. But they work only when the origin of the clothes in question is obvious.

In the first experiment, volunteers were shown pictures of a man wearing a polo shirt. The photo was digitally altered to include no logo, a designer logo (Lacoste or Hilfiger) or a logo generally regarded as non-luxury, Slazenger. When the designer logo appeared, the man in the picture was rated as of higher status (3.5 for Lacoste and 3.47 for Hilfiger, on a five-point scale, compared with 2.91 for no logo and 2.84 for Slazenger), and wealthier (3.4 and 3.94 versus 2.78 and 2.8, respectively).
 
To see if this perception had an effect on actual behaviour, the researchers did a number of other experiments. For instance, one of their female assistants asked people in a shopping mall to stop and answer survey questions. One day she wore a sweater with a designer logo; the next, an identical sweater with no logo. Some 52% of people agreed to take the survey when faced with the Tommy Hilfiger label, compared with only 13% who saw no logo.

In another experiment, volunteers watched one of two videos of the same man being interviewed for a job. In one, his shirt had a logo; in the other, it did not. The logo led observers to rate the man as more suitable for the job, and even earned him a 9% higher salary recommendation.

Charitable impulses were affected, too. When two of the team's women went collecting for charity on four consecutive evenings, switching between designer and non-designer shirts, they found that wearing shirts with logos brought in nearly twice as much—an average per answered door of 34 euro cents (48 American ones) compared with 19 euro cents when logo-less. It seems, then, that labels count. The question is, why?
The answer, Dr Nelissen and Dr Meijers suspect, is the same as why the peacock with the best tail gets all the girls. People react to designer labels as signals of underlying quality. Only the best can afford them."

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