Self-Esteem and Consumption

For some, what you buy reflects who you are.

The notion that customers use products to feel good about themselves is a fundamental tenet of marketing (Stuppy et al., 2019, p. 956). However, alongside the motive to self-enhance, customers also hope to confirm their views of oneself (i.e., self-verification). Even though self-verification offers self-related benefits, its role in customer behavior is poorly understood. To redress that gap, Stuppy et al. (2019) took a deeper look at a dispositional variable—trait self-esteem—that estimates whether customers self-verify in the marketplace. They proposed that low (vs. high) self-esteem customers gravitate toward inferior products since those products substantiate their pessimistic self-based perspectives.

Five studies supported the authors’ theorizing: low (vs. high) self-esteem participants were inclined toward inferior products (study 1) because of their reason to self-verify (study 2). Low self-esteem consumers gave preference to inferior products only when those products identified pessimistic (vs. positive) self-perceptions, and they may thus be self-verifying (study 3). Notably, low-self-esteem consumers’ tendency to select inferior products vanished after they were persuaded to perceive themselves as consumers of superior products (study 4) but stayed in the wake of negative feedback (study 5) (Stuppy et al., 2019).

The authors’ investigation therefore highlights self-esteem to be a boundary condition for compensatory consumption. By targeting factors that estimate when self-verification directs consumer behavior, this study enriches our understanding of how products work to serve self-motives (Stuppy et al., 2019).

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Stuppy, A., Mead, N.L., & Osselaer, S.V. (2019). I am, therefore I buy: Low self-esteem and the pursuit of self-verifying consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 46(5), 956­–973.