That new watch really makes you less likeable
I am at that age where I am supposed to get a midlife crisis and buy myself an expensive sportscar. As the old joke goes: Nobody knows what middle-aged men are good for, but Ferrari dealers say we should let them live.
But in today’s world, it is not just about middle-aged men buying expensive watches and cars to signal wealth (and attract potential mates, I guess) but also about influencers and regular people showing off their stuff on social media.
Francesca Valsesia and Kristin Diehl created a series of tests on how people are perceived on social media when they are posting about their latest purchases. They differentiated between material purchases (e.g. “Today was a good day and is about to get even better! Guess who got a new awesome phone? #happyme”), experiential purchases (e.g. “Today was a good day and is about to get even better! Guess who got awesome tickets for the play? #happyme”) and non-purchase related posts (e.g. “Today was a good day and is about to get even better! #happyme”).
How much social media posters were liked
Source: Valsesia and Diehl (2022)
I don’t think I will surprise anyone when I say that the studies showed that people who posted about the stuff they bought were rated as less likable than people who posted without mentioning a recent purchase. But people who were showing off their material purchases also were less liked than people who posted about their experiential purchases. And, importantly, whether people were posting about material purchases or experiential purchases, they become less likable the more often they posted about their purchases. The people who posted without mentioning any purchases, on the other hand, became more likable over time.
Nobody likes a show-off, but when you show off stuff like a new watch, an expensive car, or the latest designer clothes you are becoming unlikeable very quickly. And that is a problem in the age of the influencer.
Many fashion companies nowadays use the reach of influencers to promote their products. Traditionally, this was done in the form of product placement where influencers would mention certain products in their posts without informing their followers about the fact that they were paid to mention these products. Today, regulators force them to mark paid-for content as such. And while fashion brands and other companies were initially worried about this requirement, it seems like it might help them. One of their experiments tested the impression users got from social media posts of people showing off their material purchases. When their posts were not marked as paid-for content, the likability declined with every post. But once posts were marked as paid-for content, likeability did not drop anymore. Users realised that influencers were doing this as part of their job and followers no longer were jealous of them and thus liked them a little bit more.