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We’ve all leafed through a glossy magazine at some stage or other and felt the familiar grip of envy when we’ve seen a handsome man posing by a luxury car, or a beautiful model with a designer handbag. Getting people to desire what they don’t have by comparing themselves to others is one of the old tricks of the trade of marketers.
But these days social media is setting a new cultural context for envy. If you don’t want your Facebook newsfeed overrun with content to make you ‘envious’ on a daily basis, then you have to get serious about hiding posts from certain people or limiting your usage.
Which begs a couple of questions in terms of marketing: 1.) does the envy strategy still work for brands? and 2.) do brands even really need it?
Yes and no.
Historically envy marketing has been quite successful at provoking a reaction in consumers to buy goods.
But apparently, according to a recent Canadian study, it all depends on a consumer’s self-esteem or lack thereof. The study involved 500 to 800 people who were tested on their emotional reactions to other participants possessing a popular brand-name product.
The outcome of the study was that for a brand to effectively use the envy strategy, people viewing the advertising material have to be confident. The participants in the study who had high self-esteem were more motivated to buy the goods because they felt envious.
The opposite occurred when the ad was viewed by the participants with low self-esteem. When they felt envious, they felt worse about themselves and were less motivated to buy the product. In fact, to make themselves feel better they rejected the product outright.
Study co-author Darren Dahl believes that “If you have low esteem, the tactic of using envy (for) a company doesn’t work really well…People generally say, ‘Screw it, I don’t want it.’”
Since there is a large risk that many people might end up disliking or shunning your brand if you make them feel bad, is envy marketing really the right way to go about advertising a product?
Yes, says Chris Breikss, co-founder of 6S Marketing, if you do your research on the different demographics.
His agency found that envy marketing is perceived in different ways by different cultures. Canada’s Chinese community, for instance, are very open to envy marketing because the culture and society in general is an aspirational one.
So does envy marketing have any place in an advertising campaign, and can a brand still be successful without it?
Even though envy is the new cultural norm, and there will always be people who are motivated by it to obtain things that they don’t have, so yes it does have a place. But brand values are an important part of your business, so you need to be careful that you’re not bringing negative attention to yourself and turning off the majority of consumers.
Barry Lowenthal, president of the Media Kitchen, suggests marketers need to look beyond creating negative feelings of jealousy and shame in people, and do something different to stand out from the crowd.
“One answer,” he says “is to consider the power of opposites, or opposing ideas which create tension that can make brand marketing communications stronger and more effective…Talking about kindness amidst envy takes communication to a whole other place.”
Focusing on creating a customer journey that encourages the virtue of kindness is a concept that not many marketers are taking on board but some are embracing the concept, see Procter & Gamble’s #LoveOverBias campaign celebrating moms for the Winter Olympics.
Could ‘kindness marketing’ be the answer to boosting up peoples’ egos and getting them on board with your brand? Kindness after all is far better for the nation’s mental health than the destructive emotion of envy…
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