Stop Flaunting Your Upscale Brands

Mar 12, 2018

Women Leading Research: Rosellina Ferraro

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it. That’s the conclusion Smith School researchers came to when they studied how people display the brands they use. According to the study, displaying brands in a conspicuous manner – such as name-dropping their designer handbag label or wearing Gucci sunglasses indoors – is a turnoff for many others.

The researchers found that these show-offs can reflect poorly on a brand and cause brand dilution. For consumers not connected to the brand, seeing someone flaunt it conjures up negative feelings toward the brand itself. But other consumers who are so bonded with a brand that they consider it a part of their self-concept easily dismiss the behavior, says Rosellina Ferraro, associate professor of marketing and co-author of the study. She did the research with Amna Kirmani, professor of marketing, and Ted Matherly, a Smith PhD graduate who is now an assistant professor of marketing at Oklahoma State University.

The researchers tested participants’ reactions to two well-liked brands, Apple and Tiffany, in a variety of situations that showed subjects either flaunting or inconspicuously using branded products. For example, one test had subjects reacting to a mock Facebook post of a man showing off his iPad in a specially designed T-shirt with a chest pocket for the device.The research raises a warning for companies, whose future customer base lies in the people who are currently not connected to their brand. “With the prevalence of social media, now everybody is a brand ambassador. and companies are trying to get everyday users of a brand to promote it,” Ferraro said. “While companies want to encourage this behavior, they don’t want people to do it a way that’s going to potentially turn off other consumers.”

So what’s a marketer to do? Getting people so connected to a brand that they can forgive and forget any fellow consumer’s behavior is agoal of all companies, says Ferraro.  She recommends brand managers focus on trying to build a self-brand connectionby  using messages about how the brand relates to self on a personal level. One effective example she points to is Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” that challenges beauty stereotypes with messaged aimed to make women reexamine their own images.

The bottom line: Companies can’t control how consumers use – or flaunt – their brand, but they can control their own brand messages, she says. “It’s in a brand’s best interest to try to discourage flaunting behavior, but also encourage people to get excited about the brand,” Ferraro says. “It can be a fine line to walk.”

Read more: Look at Me! Look at Me! Conspicuous Brand Usage, Self-Brand Connection, and Dilution, Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. L (August 2013), 477-488

Rosellina Ferraro is an associate professor of marketing and the associate chair of the marketing department at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She received her PhD in marketing from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in 2005. 

Research interests: Consumer behavior, specifically the effects of social influence on choice and preference and the effects of external threats on consumption behavior. 

Selected accomplishments: Finalist for the John D. C. Little Award 2013; Marketing Science Institute (MSI) Young Scholar 2011; and Honorable Mention for the Journal of Consumer Research 2009 Ferber Award. Her work has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, and Journal of Marketing. She has presented research papers at the leading consumer research conferences. And she serves on the editorial review boards of four journals.

About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2018 in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Daily faculty spotlights support activities from the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, starting with the seventh annual Women Leading Women forum on March 1, 2018.

Other fearless ideas from:  Rajshree Agarwal  |  Ritu Agarwal  |  T. Leigh Anenson  |  Kathryn M. Bartol  |  Christine Beckman  |  Margrét Bjarnadóttir  |  M. Cecilia Bustamante  |  Jessica M. Clark  |  Rellie Derfler-Rozin  |  Waverly Ding  |  Wedad J. Elmaghraby  |  Rosellina Ferraro  |  Rebecca Hann  | Amna Kirmani  |  Hanna Lee  |  Hui Liao  |  Jennifer Carson Marr  |  Wendy W. Moe  |  Courtney Paulson  |  Louiqa Raschid  |  Rebecca Ratner  |  Debra L. Shapiro  |  M. Susan Taylor  |  Niratcha (Grace) Tungtisanont  |  Vijaya Venkataramani  |  Janet Wagner  |  Yajin Wang  |  Yajun Wang  |  Liu Yang  |  Jie Zhang  |  Lingling Zhang



About the Expert(s)


Professor Ferraro received her Ph.D. in Marketing from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in 2005. Her research focuses on consumer behavior, and specifically, the effects of nonconscious social influence on choice and preference and the effects of external threats on consumption behavior. Her work has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research and Journal of Marketing. She has presented research papers at the Association of Consumer Research and the Society for Consumer Psychology conferences. She teaches consumer behavior in the undergraduate and MBA programs and information processing in the PhD program. Professor Ferraro serves as the Associate Chair of the Marketing Department.

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