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Steven Chen, CSUF Mihaylo College of Bus/Econ  

Click here for Steven Chen's Bio

Thursday, July 15, 2010
Handling comic-book digitization
The Joneses have it all
The premise of the new movie, "The Joneses" is interesting for marketing students to consider. A new family moves into an upper-crust neighborhood, immediately capturing the attention of their neighbors. The Joneses have it all – beauty, success, charisma and the newest and greatest products, which they are more than willing to share with their newfound friends.

I am not giving anything away by revealing the concept. The Joneses are an “icon unit,” a model family strategically inserted into American neighborhoods by an unnamed marketing firm for the purpose of generating word of mouth for its corporate clients’ products.

Check out this new Mizuno Golf Driver. It gives you 40 extra yards.

These yummy, catered hors d’oeuvres? They are actually frozen foods. Don’t tell!

The Audi TT that my son is driving? Smooth ride and great acceleration.

Invidious consumption is the purchase of goods to inspire envy in one’s peers. It is a term coined more than 100 years ago by economist Thorstein Veblen in his critical "Theory of the Leisure Class." The corollary to invidious consumption is emulation. The Joneses know their invidious consumption, and they do it well. Wanting to be as cool as the Joneses, many individuals then go out and purchase the same products as the Joneses.

And that is the fatal flaw in the movie, because invidious consumption and its twin, conspicuous consumption, are obsolete. They no longer represent consumers’ purchasing strategies in our day and time. Let me illustrate.

People’s initial reaction to being introduced to a great new product by a friend is not “I want that too.” In fact, it is likely the reverse: “Oh … she’s got that, so I gotta buy something else.”

Ladies, isn’t it true that one of the most annoying things is to see someone in public with the exact same pair of shoes you are wearing? Isn’t it the most revolting feeling when one of your friends purchased the same Tiffany’s necklace as you, especially if that friend is someone whose taste you do not respect? Because that says something about you. …

Gentlemen, isn’t it awful when one of your best friends purchases the car that you’ve been dreaming about since you were in grade school? It’s horrible because now you can’t go and buy the same car. Even an alternate color will not be allowed. Your bud has crushed your dreams, and there’s nothing you can do but go into a corner and stew in anguish.

Products and brands are now tied to our very essence and identity. Everyone is now on a quest for distinction and individuality. To emulate signifies lack of identity, imagination and cultural knowledge. Emulation has no legitimacy in our social world. To do so is a cheap, low-brow Xerox strategy.

Let’s go back to the movie. Some audience members may be anxious that the Joneses may exist in real life. It is not outside the realm of possibility that greedy corporations could implement an insidious marketing plan such as the Joneses. Have no fear. It won’t work. "The Joneses" movie is operating on a faulty model that fails to recognize that it’s not necessarily emulation that is important for consumers, but how a product will aid consumers in their quest to distinguish.

That is the main motivation of consumption.