Don't let a brand name sway you into an impulsive purchase

By Sarah Damon

A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research asked, "Can a Victoria's Secret Shopping Bag Make You Feel Glamorous?"

Some brands convey a personality that can affect how people feel about themselves, according to the study. Nike makes wearers feel athletic, for example. Apple products convey trendiness and being up on the cool gadgets, Mercedes vehicles signal luxury and wealth, and Harley-Davidson bikes make owners feel a sense of rugged freedom.

Whether we want to admit to it or not, the personalities of the brands we use, wear and drive have an effect on our self-perception. The JCR study found that this is true for some consumers even if they have only temporary contact with the brand.

The logo effect

In the initial study, women in a shopping mall were allowed to shop for an hour while carrying one of two types of shopping bags. One type was pink with no markings, and the other was a Victoria's Secret shopping bag. When the hour was up, the women were asked to rate themselves on certain personality traits, including traits specific to Victoria's Secret branding.

On average, shoppers who carried the brand-name bags thought of themselves as "more feminine, glamorous, and good-looking" than those who carried the plain bag.

Interestingly, the shoppers "most affected" by the brand-name bag also believed that they did not have the ability to change their personal qualities. The researchers concluded that these shoppers attempt to convey their good qualities to others through the brands they buy.

These consumers don't think they can improve themselves or change their personal qualities, so they reflect who they are with a logo. Women who were less affected by carrying the bag viewed their personal qualities as more flexible and that it was possible to improve themselves if they gave it the effort.

Further studies showed, among other things, that participants who carried a pen with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) logo made them feel smarter, even after they were led to believe they scored low on a math test.

Being a mindful consumer

Studies like these reinforce the idea that consumers aren't making their purchasing choices as freely as they like to think. All consumers are influenced by marketing to some degree.

But when projecting an image causes people to overspend, it's a problem. One of the best ways to prevent overspending is by learning how to identify impulse buy excuses and curb rushed spending decisions.

There's really nothing wrong with preferring Nike to Adidas or a sleek Mercedes to the sporty Xterra, so long as you have the income to cover the expense, and you're already hitting your savings account and retirement fund goals. Rather than thinking you're the exception to the rule, use the information to evaluate your own habits (and possibly save more money)!