Using Cheap = Feeling Cheap
Q: Who cares if I use cheap, generic products? What difference does it make?
A: Using cheap, generic products might have some cost benefits, especially if a person is on a tight budget. On the other hand, for better or for worse, generic products influence how people view themselves. They can even decrease performance on seemingly unrelated, but important, tasks.
In a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103111000035), two experiments were done to see the effect of using generic products on two unrelated tasks – one was business-related, and one dealt with romantic attraction.
68 university seniors were recruited for a study that they believed was about “resume composition.”
The seniors were told to create a vita (resume) on an Apple iMac computer. The students were told that they would be evaluated on whether they were qualified to get a job based on their histories.
- Half of the students were put at computers with generic accessories (keyboard and mouse), and were told that the accessories were generic and had to be purchased for budgetary reasons.
- Half of the students were put at computers with authentic Apple accessories, and were told that the brand new accessories were purchased for this study.
After typing up their resumes, the participants:
- Rated their own performance by indicating how much salary they think they deserve.
- Did a survey on their beliefs about generic vs. authentic products.
- Rated how effective they thought the keyboard and mouse was for typing up their resume.
Participants with GENERIC accessories:
- Gave themselves a significantly lower “deserved salary.”
- Rated their keyboard and mouse as less effective for the task.
Participants with AUTHENTIC accessories:
- Gave themselves a significantly higher “deserved salary.”
- Rated their accessories as effective for the task.
- In other words, using cheaper, generic accessories (even for budgetary reasons) lowered the students' evaluations of their own work, and lowered the amount of money they felt they deserved!
This experiment sought to see if the previous effect made a difference in social interactions.
96 male students who were not in a romantic relationship were recruited.
Those students filled out a survey on their ideal romantic partner, and were then told that they were going to be set up on a 5-minute “get acquainted” phone call with someone who matched their preferences. In reality, that “someone” was simply acting as an undercover agent for the researchers.
The students were given an iPhone in order to contact their “get acquainted” partner.
- However, when they were given the iPhone, the battery was dead.
- The researchers offered to replace the battery, either with a generic battery or a genuine name-brand iPhone battery.
- Those who were given a generic battery were told that they were given a cheaper battery for budget reasons.
Then, the students met with their “partner” to talk for 5 minutes.
Afterward, the students rated themselves on:
- Whether they felt their “partner” would find them attractive.
- Feelings of self-worth.
- Those who used the GENERIC battery scored themselves significantly lower on self-worth, and lower on whether their “partner” would find them attractive.
- Those using the AUTHENTIC battery felt more attractive, and rated their self-worth as higher.
Like it or not, using cheaper, generic products (even to save money) may have a negative influence on feelings of self-worth, attractiveness, and confidence in evaluations of one's own work.
Does this mean we all have to bankrupt ourselves to use top-quality, name-brand products all the time? Not necessarily.
However, it does mean that buying a top-quality product can give us a “tactical” edge when we're in a high-stress situation, when we need to increase our own feelings of self-worth, or even when on a first date.
Chiou, W. B., & Chao, Y. H. (2010). Genuineness matters: Using cheaper, generic products induces detrimental self-evaluations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 672-675.