Cold temperatures linked to high status
For decades, luxury retailers around the world have conveyed the message that cold temperatures are a sign of status with descriptions like "icy steel Swiss watches," "cool silk scarves" and "icy bling." But researchers have never studied whether people truly associate cold temperatures with status and luxury.
To investigate whether this association could be substantiated by evidence, investigators from England and Japan conducted a series of experiments, and their findings are available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. In the first study, the researchers asked participants to hold and inspect a small, decorative vase, and people in one group were given a vase that had been chilled in a refrigerator while the other group held one that was at room temperature.
Then the participants rated the extent to which the vase was a symbol of status, achievement and wealth. They also rated the vase for its uniqueness, exclusiveness, expensiveness, sophistication and luxury. Finally, the participants evaluated whether they liked the product based on how desirable, pleasant and favorable they found it. The results showed that participants who evaluated the colder vase felt that it conveyed more luxury and status than the warmer vase. They also found the colder vase more desirable.
The researchers posited that this association between cold and luxury could be traced to deeply ingrained perceptions. "From the time we are born, warmth is associated with closeness next to a mother's skin," said study author Rhonda Hadi, an associate professor of marketing at Oxford University. "Conversely, cool temperatures are linked to physical and social distance, which can make products feel more exclusive."
The researchers repeated the experiment with cold visual cues instead of tactile cues when participants viewed advertisements for a new fragrance. One group saw an image with a winter scene behind the fragrance bottle while the second group saw a spring scene. Again, the participants rated the fragrance with the winter scene as more luxurious and desirable than the fragrance with the spring scene.
To test whether cold temperatures could influence consumers who were more motivated by the performance of the product rather than its status, the researchers asked participants to evaluate luggage. One advertisement showed the luggage with the winter scene in the background while the other ad showed the spring scene. One group was looking for luggage designed to impress and command respect, while the other group was looking for luggage that was designed for quality and provides consistency and function.
The results revealed that the people preferred the advertisement with the winter scene when they were looking for a high-status item, but there was no significant difference between the winter and spring ads when performance was the goal. "This suggests that the benefits of cold temperatures do not apply to all categories of products," Hadi said. "If consumers are seeking something that is more conformist that would help them fit in at work or with friends, then they may not want to stand out from others."
For marketers, the findings suggest that small adjustments in the temperature of a store or the background of an advertisement could significantly influence the perceived value and level of luxury for a product.
"It seems like such a simple manipulation, but it could have profound implications for companies that are trying to draw consumers to their luxury products," Hadi says. "At the same time, consumers should be aware that momentary feelings toward a luxury product in a cold store might fade at home."