Bags and fetish. A little bit more about our irrationalism

I like bags. Really. I’m kind of indifferent to clothes, but bags…Sometimes bags are pieces of art.

Модные сумки на осень зиму 2012 2013

Роскошные клатчи осень зима 2012 2013

If you thing that a bag is only about a bag, you are seriously mistaken. Bag is a status; bag is a part of consumer’s personality. The most fashionable people do know that you may wear and combine any kinds of clothes, but expensive and beautiful bags and shoes really matter. Why do people buy bags which price is 3-fold higher than their month salary? Let’s sort things out.

Why the costliness is so important? Why high price equal high quality in the brains of customers. One of the most exciting studies, conducted by Baba Shiv, Hilke Plassamann, John O’Doherty and Antonio Rangel, was indented to discover how our brain responds to the factor of the price. Participants were asked to evaluate ‘different’ wines priced from 5 dollars to 90 dollars, while their brain activity was registered. When the brain activity from different price levels was compared, it was found that the activation of the media orbitofrontal cortex was higher when the wine was more expensive. The most interesting thing about this experiment is that it was the same wine that subjects tasted (An interview with Baba Shiv, Kardes et al., 2011).

At the lecture we discussed famous Pepsi paradox. Briefly, when brand information is introduced people tend to prefer Coke over Pepsi, although Pepsi is slightly sweeter and in blind test preferences divided into 50\50. So brand occurs to be more important in terms of the decision-making process rather than particular qualities of a product…Even when we are not aware of its effect on our behavior.

Hence brand of the product and its price are crucial for the perceived value of a product, our strong loyalty and attachment to the objects we buy, even though we do not actually need them and\or the price is inadequately high. There is another important side of the fetishism.

I was actually very surprised when I found out that Karl Marx in his famous economical work ‘Capital. Vol. 1’ explains his idea of commodity fetishism. The important point is that Marx’s interpretation of the term ‘fetishism’ is wider that it’s commonly known. Marx tells us that we make a fetish of the commodity by attributing characteristics of its own. That is to say, we take it as an independent and self-sufficient object. Marx emphasizes the ‘as if’ moment. It consists in the idea that when we consume we behave as if we do not know what we know, for example that it might not be the best choice or that this product is harmful for our health and\or for the environment etc (Marx, 1976).

Back to our bags, most purchasers of the Birkin bag act as they don’t know that a baby crocodile was killed just to make this fancy bag, not for survival. We actually all aware of the sweatshop conditions in which many things in a fashion market are produced, but we fell no regret while buying and wearing them.

So, would you change your opinion about one of those nice luxury bags you put an eye on?
If you are not too much environmentally-caring, the answer is obvious for me. =)


Marx, K. (1976). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin.

Kardes F., Cline T., Cronley M. (2011). Consumer behavior: Science and Practice. International edition: South-Western, Cengage Learning

This is the last blog… Merry Christmas!


2 responses

  1. I am also a massive fan of bags (if you check out my blog you can see them making a marc jacobs). Bags are definitely a social statement and can help people fit into their apirational group. People we want to be like. Celebrities and such have designer handbags and we want to be as pretty and as successful as celebs and so we think if we have the bag we will be that person. Sadly that is not true but at least there will be a gorgeous handbag hanging in the closet 🙂

  2. Interesting stuff about pricing. Griskevicius, Tybur and Van den Bergh (2010) found that consumer’s preferred more expensive, green, products over cheaper, non-green alternatives but only in when people were seen to be doing so. It seems then that if people purchase an expensive product, such as a designer handbag, they do so as a means of advertising their own wealth to others. This is why, I think, many designer brands do so well. The products may not necessarily be significantly better than other alternatives, but the premium price tag may give the illusion of superiority!

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