Blurring of Symbolism

Marketers have always catered to consumers who were looking for something to give then an edge, whether real or imagined, over their peers. The key to status symbols is their scarcity and social desirability. As such, they are marks of distinction, setting their owners apart from others.

This need or prestige to be admired, praised, envied, and acknowledged by others is vital in humans. Marketers should recognize that the use of prestige appeal rests on the following assumptions:

1) The need for prestige or self esteem is universal (e.g. 76 % of Americans in a recent poll said what they wanted most was respect from others).
2) Prestige is related to and satisfied by one’s product or service purchases.
3) The manifestation and satisfaction of this need vary across culture.
4) A company’s multinational success depends on communicating and embodying product prestige in a way that is culturally appropriate for target segments.

The effectiveness of a product or service prestige appeal is conditioned on the basis of five factors.

1) It is relatively expensive – you’re one of the select few who can afford it.
2) It is of high quality – you made a wise purchase decision and have shown your good judgment and impeccable taste.
3) It is in limited supply—not everyone can obtain it.
4) Not everyone qualify for it – only a select few meet the standards for ownership.
5) It is purchased by a respected and admired group of people – you will be associated with these people and worthy of respect and admiration.

At one time class differences in status and its symbols were an accepted fact of life in clothing, housing and furnishing, food drink, speech, and even religious affiliation. Today, however, views of status symbols are changing. Rapid advances in technology and communications have spread the desire for and availability of these material pleasures through all social classes. And as Americans have become more affluent even those with moderate incomes are able to own their own homes,, color televisions, boats, and all sorts of home appliances and to take exotic vacations. Consequently if ordinary people can display expensive cars and fancy appliances, then these things obviously have lost much of their effectiveness as status symbols.

The luxury goods market is being supported by middle class people with upscale tastes. Although luxury goods marketers attempt to create the impression that only millionaires buy their products, it is the pseudo affluent – those in the $40,000 – $80,000 income range who are purchasing these upscale indulgences. The genuinely affluent actually have many of the common man’s consumption habits. Those who are truly rich view many of the luxury goods as toys for people who have not had very much financial success they are repulsed by their behavior.

A recent fashion phenomenon is the designer label and status emblem on everything from shirts, dresses, sweaters, underwear, and socks to luggage, cologne, and automobiles. Products marketed by LaCoste (Izod), Gucci, Pierre Cardin Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Halston, and Oleg Cassini among others, exact high prices, yet they find ready buyers. The mass marketing of these items results in less than clear distinctions between the social classes. Thus, people today cannot be sure of who is dramatizing what sort of status what sort of symbols. According to one writer, Order Gucci loafers and you only risk winding up shod the same as the boy who delivers them. A Cadillac today signifies nothing about the owner except that he might well pull in at the next Burger King.

Such a situation usually results in new symbols being adopted by higher social classes. In addition many Americans have lost interest in showing of status. Others have picked unconventional symbols to reflect values other than social rank. For instance, some professional and artistic Americans have downplayed the traditional symbols of economic standing.

In addition, many of the status symbols of today have not filtered down from the upper class to middle and working classes, but instead have percolated up from the bottom. Recent styles such as blue jeans are indicative of this. Another confusing element is that traditional status symbols are available today even to those who are not wealthy. For instance, art and sculpture can be rented, inexpensive opera and ballet offerings are available are available, and tennis, skiing and sailing can be pursued on a relatively low budget.

Thu, traditional status symbols are no longer the clear indicator of social class they once were, and marketers must understand these trends in order to take advantage of consumer changing values. It should also be noted that what is in one region of the United States may be out in another. Consequently, status symbols can vary geographically.