In an interesting new empirical research paper published in the Journal of Marketing entitled How Consumers’ Political Ideology and Status-Maintenance Goals Interact to Shape Their Desire for Luxury Goods by David Dubois, Associate Professor of Marketing at INSEAD, Jeehye Christine Kim of Hong Kong UST Business School and Brian Park of J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, these researchers propose that political allegiance has a critical role in the decision of buyers to purchase luxury goods.
Specifically, the study which was conducted in the US shows that conservative shoppers are much more likely than their liberal counterparts to purchase luxury items if and when they believe the purchase will help them maintain their social status.
Building on the fundamental understanding that people buy luxury goods to signal their status, Dubois et al. managed to affirm their hypothesis through sales data analyses and online experiments that when the motive to maintain one’s current status is salient, conservatives desire luxury goods more than liberals. In one of their experiments, the researchers found that the willingness of Republicans to pay for eyewear that emphasised status maintenance was significantly higher than that for the eyewear emphasising status advancement.
“This is because conservatives – but not liberals – tend to view these goods as strengthening the stability of their position,” said Kim. “This also indicates that conservatives’ greater desire for luxury goods does not stem from “keeping up with the Joneses” but rather from a strong urge to maintain their social standing,” added Dubois
The research demonstrates that political ideology, couples with distinction between maintaining and advancing social status provides a very powerful segmentation and targeting tool for luxury brands. And it’s there for the taking.
“This is a very accessible tool for luxury brands. Political affiliations can be determined along geographical lines – and there are tons of granular data easily accessible that enable brands to enact a segmentation based on political ideology”, said Park.
Recognizable digital footprints indicative of conservative or democratic beliefs may also be leveraged on online platforms such as social media or even search patterns.
“It’s easy to assess people’s ideology from what they’re saying online on social media– who they follow, the content they ‘like’ – and via their preference for different media outlets or platforms.” said Dubois.
“Making the connection between politics and audience segmentation might be new, but it is also a logical step,” said Kim.
Luxury and politics share in common being at the heart of stratifying societies for centuries, and though this study was focused on the US population, one can’t help but wonder if the same distinctions hold true in other countries as well, specifically in Asia where conservatism and liberalism look somewhat different than in western regions.