Study explores distinction between 'different' and 'uncool'

December 4, 2007

Just as some products reveal our aspirations, there are other products that consumers avoid, lest we be associated with a particular group. An environmentalist would never buy an SUV. Baby boomers avoid products associated with being elderly.

A recent Apple computer campaign framed PCs as bumbling and dorky. What’s the difference between products we actively avoid and those that are simply “not us”? A new study from the Journal of Consumer Research reveals an important distinction between non-membership in a group and groups with which we want to avoid association – and also highlights the mitigating effect of social pressure.

“Although past research has confirmed that consumers often choose products and brands that represent who they are, the current research suggests that consumers also choose products in ways that demonstrate who they are not,” explain Katherine White (University of Calgary) and Darren W. Dahl (University of British Columbia).

Through a series of studies, the researchers found that people are only motivated to avoid products related to “disassociative reference groups” – that is, groups with which the consumer seeks to avoid association. However, this avoidance tendency did not occur in response to products associated with an “outgroup,” or, a group in which the consumer does not belong, but is also not particularly motivated to avoid. For example, the baby boomer who avoids geriatric shoes might not be a basketball fan, but may be neutral about basketball in general and gladly wear basketball shoes.

“First, we show that not all outgroups are created equal and that dissociative reference groups have a stronger influence on consumers than do outgroups more generally,” the researchers explain. “We found that consumers evaluated more negatively and avoided choosing a product that was associated with a group they did not wish to belong to and this tendency was most pronounced when they were reminded of their own group identity.”

Specifically, in one of the four studies, the researchers had Canadian undergraduates choose among an “American” pen, a “Belgian” pen, and a “vintage” pen. The researchers found that the tendency to avoid the “American” pen was most pronounced among students who had just been reminded of their Canadian identity or for whom being Canadian was a strong part of identity

However, the avoidance of the dissociative option – the “American” pen – was reduced when participants were motivated to make a particular impression on the experimenter (i.e., when she revealed that was American, not Canadian).

“We believe the effects in the current studies are driven by a desire to avoid the negative associations of the dissociative referent,” the researchers write. “An additional implication is that when marketers utilize a differentiated marketing strategy that targets multiple and distinct markets, they should be cognizant that one market segment might have dissociative associations regarding another segment.”

Citation: Katherine White and Darren W. Dahl, “Are All Outgroups Created Equal? Consumer Identity and Dissociative Influence.” Journal of Consumer Research: December 2007.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Finding fake feedback posted online

Related Stories

Finding fake feedback posted online

November 30, 2015

How can you, the consumer, trust the customer feedback posted at online shopping sites when hoping to make a purchasing decision? Conversely, as the company running the site, how can it protect its reputation from false negative ...

Hackers may hit home for the holidays

November 22, 2015

It could be a merry holiday season for hackers, with millions of new and potentially vulnerable Internet-connected gadgets hitting the market.

Technology that lets self-driving cars, robots see

November 2, 2015

LiDAR, once used in the Apollo 15 lunar mission, has shrunk in size and cost, making it easier for researchers and product makers to bring the 3D vision mapping technology to smart devices.

Recommended for you

Four pre-Inca tombs found in Peru's Lima

November 27, 2015

Archaeologists in Peru have found four tombs that are more than 1,000 years old in a pyramid-shaped cemetery that now sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Lima, experts said.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.