Group of apples and oranges

Group Identity

As the weather starts (finally) to turn into real summer sun, we hope to shift into vacation mode here at EID as well. No, don’t worry that we will not be taking extended absences. But we will be digging up some more light reading for your beach reading pleasure.

With that in mind, I dug up a review article from last October on group identity. To establish a group identity, there are two components. First, you need to convince yourself that you belong to the group. That is a great source of self-delusion, but a topic for another day. The second is that you need to demonstrate some of the attributes of the group to others to convince them that you belong. This includes showing members of the group so that you are accepted and showing non-members of the group to show them that you are different. The review article covers this second component, specifically with regard to the logos that we wear on our shirts.

In 1899, Thorstein Veblen introduced his theory of “conspicuous consumption,” observing that people spent money to impress others. If pop lyrics are any indication, they still do. See Lorde’s song “Royals,” which notes the popularity of fancy champagne, luxury cars, and jeweled watches: “Everybody’s like, ‘Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.’ ”

My Take

I love the idea of the logo application because it is such a simple and direct route through which our group-identities can be seen. Think about your own t-shirts, polo shirts, baseball caps, or whatever logoed apparel you wear. Or if nothing you wear has a logo, think about the identity this implies. (A side note on this, there are apparel companies that have launched clothing lines for teenagers that don’t have logos. These are specifically targeted at teens who consider themselves “in that non-conformist group that doesn’t let brands insert themselves in their lives”. Not a brand, but still an identity.) After all, why else would a $100,000 watch be useful if not to tell everyone that you are a wealthy, indulgent, conspicuous consumer? Or if you are a plugger, a gritty, traditional, authentic brand on your baseball cap can make sure the world knows about it.

So here are some of the findings in the article:

  • People are more compliant with requests from people wearing a brand they respect. They give more to a charity that person is soliciting and offer more money to that person in economic games.
  • Cultures that have higher power distance and people who have higher trait power hierarchy beliefs are more impressed by people with luxury brand logos.
  • This can be primed through context manipulations. People who are made to feel a lack of social power are willing to pay more for higher status products.
  • There are some fascinating gender findings. Women are less likely to try to poach a love interest from a woman wearing a luxury brand. (I didn’t go find the original article he cites, but I would imagine this is a purely experimental manipulation). He speculates that this could be because the luxury brand unconsciously announces that the love interest must be really strong to give her this expensive item.
  • Group identities can shift over time. People with “old money” still wear luxury brand logos, but prefer more subtle designs that are smaller, less salient colors, simpler. “New money,” on the other hand, prefer more flashy luxury brand logos. These are the ones you hear inserted into pop music lyrics.

Your Turn

So here are my questions for you today:

  • Take a look at the logos on the clothing you wear. What identities do they say about you?
  • Did you notice that I didn’t mention any of the brands in this article? I did that on purpose. In part it was because I was not intending to promote or impugn any brands. But also, I fit that “non-conformist” group I mentioned earlier. No brand owns me!!!

Image Credit: MicroAssist

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