Does peer pressure make people buy products they don’t need? (short version)
The modern world is one of materialism, marketing and branding. Across human history this era, above all others, relies upon and promotes the use of reputation in the relationship between consumer and seller. Part of this relationship relies upon peer pressure persuading customers to buy a product, but it is not the only concept in a complex process.
Whilst the want for some products grows organically, rising from a genuine need, the first interaction between customer and brand is often advertising, not via peers. Advertising, particularly for luxury goods, often deliberately veers away from the idea of being ‘common’ and instead sells a dream. The heart of this marketing strategy is actually to not make people buy products because their peer group is purchasing them, but to make the customer believe that the product will result in a rise in his/her social band. Packaging and the illusion that celebrities and models use products is more important than whether a customer’s neighbour does.
Where peer pressure does have an effect is in turning the advertised illusion into mass consumption. The virtual world, where companies such as Facebook have become the social norm, is a simple example of people using a product because others do, yet it is certainly not the only one. Indeed, in almost every circle of retail there are instances of mass consumption being driven by peers’ perspectives of quality: from the ‘loyalty’ of a stadium of football fans wearing the same shirt, to the entire idea of designer brands displaying wealth, once quality has been established in the consumers’ minds, what others think and say creates sales.
Of course there exist people who deliberately seek to go against the crowd; these ‘individuals’, however, are really following the same psychological process of buying to belong to a group (rather than consuming x, they attain -x). In fact, it is only when purchases are entirely necessary – such as in buying everyday groceries – that the illusion and opinion of peers is reduced. One does not think too hard when buying a lettuce.
All this considered I would conclude that it is undeniable that there are cases in which what others buy affect our purchases, whether to fit in with the crowd or to spite the trends, although the role of advertising in ‘teeing us up’ should not be ignored. In short, when it comes to shopping for anything that isn’t a necessity it is a mixture of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ and chasing a dream.