People have strange ways of judging underlying quality

Strange as it seems, when buying clothes people likely will look at the designer’s label before examining the merchandise.

Customers seem to believe that wearing fancy clothes, fancy because of the label, creates an air of wealth, sophistication and high status. What is the reason for that rather bizarre occurrence? Is it the creative genius for conceiving and devising something so unique that people will take notice and stare?

There is a recently released report by Rob Nelissen and Martin Meijers of Rilburg, University of the Netherlands, that is very significant. It reviewed people’s reactions, testing whether or not wearing clothes by well-known fashion experts had an unusual effect.

A person wearing clothing with a designer’s label then had more appeal than the identical article without the label showing. Respondents overwhelmingly favoured the one with the label.

In another experiment, volunteers watched two men interviewed for a job. The one person questioned who had a shirt with a logo was rated as the more suitable for the job in contest.

Then, in addition, researchers discovered that donations to charities were affected by people wearing designer clothes. They brought in nearly twice as much as the other person who was not similarly attired.

What is the reason for that irrational behaviour? Does the label indicate underlying quality? From the above-cited examples, it appears there is sort of a placebo effect, as many people seem to believe something even though it is not true.

All of that confirms a wider phenomenon. A work of art, for example, can be valued very differently, depending on who is believed to have created it. That is despite that it can be exactly the same piece of work.

Some consumers appear to be willing to purchase something just because of the label, regardless of its usefulness. They apparently fail to see beyond the superficial. Thus, the “status assessment” takes hold.

Presumably, if “everyone” agrees something is worthy of high status, then intrinsic logic disappears. There is a transfer from the article in question to the label.

Perhaps that explains why so many people believe the economy is on the mend, or that a well-known company’s shares are selling for more than is justified.

Eventually, one should assume that reality will intrude and intelligent scepticism will replace false beliefs.

Bruce Whitestone