Does Wearing Marni Make You Feel Smarter? An interview with Consumer Psychologist, Peter Noel Murray, PhD


Marni has been described as the smart women’s fashion label.  I’m a fan, I confess.  It’s quirky, bold and colourful, which resonates with me.  I’d also like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent, though I never consciously bought the brand with that intention.

Think about the brands in your wardrobe.  Do those of us who purchase labels do so because the brand’s story aligns with who we are, or who we aspire to be?

If so, it might help to explain why are so many of us willing to dish out the dosh for designer.

Intrigued, I asked Peter Noel Murray, PhD, who works with brand marketers as principal of a consumer psychology practice in New York.  He is also a contributor to Psychology Today.

Dr. Murray, do consumers use fashion and luxury brands to create self-identity?

I recently conducted a study of consumers’ psychological relationships with luxury brands.

Our objective was to identify the emotional and attitudinal factors that motivate the behavior of luxury brand purchasers.  We conducted interviews among wealthy consumers, as well as those with average financial resources.

Many people think of fashion and luxury primarily in terms of self-identity and making impressions.  While this often is the case, there are other psychological relationships to luxury that are important as well.

Like what?

Consumers frequently construct a mental reality of “owning” a product or brand as part of the shopping process. In our study, we found some consumers who did this with luxury brands.

Can you give me an example?

A woman shopping for a designer dress to wear to an upcoming party will create in her mind the reality of how she will look.

This is not about self-identity; and it is not directed toward how others will view her wearing the dress.

It is an act of self-appraisal.

Her mental construction enables her to experience how the dress will make her feel.  And it is this emotion that drives her purchase decision.

So we imagine how we’ll feel wearing a particular item – a designer frock, for instance – and we buy based on that feeling?  (for example, this dress makes me feel smart, sexy, confident, sassy, etc).

Basically, yes.  The critically important consumer factor that is common to all relationships with luxury brands is emotion.

We humans experience emotion as a result of an appraisal of an object, an event, or ourselves.

Consumers who create a mental reality that includes a luxury brand can experience an emotion that results from an appraisal of the self united with that brand.


And is there a difference if you’re wealthy, or less than wealthy?

Some wealthy consumers we studied experienced emotion from appraisal of a luxury brand itself, in terms of its quality, uniqueness, and timelessness.

For many consumers, emotion results from appraisal of how they believe a luxury brand changes the perceptions that other people have about them.


How do we identify with brands?  Is there a reason we are attracted to some fashion labels and not others?

Research reveals that consumers perceive the same type of personality characteristics in brands as they do in other people.

And just like with people, they are attracted more to some personality types than others – attractions which are emotion-based, not rational.

Brand personality is communicated by marketers through packaging, visual imagery, and the types of words used to describe the brand.


So we buy into a carefully crafted brand story that we associate ourselves with…

An important foundation for a brand’s emotions can be found in its “narrative” – the story that communicates “who” it is, what it means to the consumer, and why the consumer should care. This narrative is the basis for brand advertising and promotion.

This explains why brands can help to shape our style.  Like me and my Marni…

One of the powerful forces driving consumer behaviour is the need to support our goals of self-identity.

Greatest satisfaction comes from purchases that either are consistent with who we are, or send signals to others about who we would like them to think we are.  More on that here.


So we buy to feel good.  As a consumer psychology expert, what takeaway can you give us to ensure we’re spending wisely?

I wrote ‘Understand the “Why” Before You Decide To Buy,’ in Psychology Today, this section of which might be helpful:

‘The first step is to put aside the illusion that you are an objective, rational decision-maker who makes purchases based on expected utility or some other quantitative evaluation of value.

Once you accept that emotions are a powerful influence on your behavior, you can take steps to bring that influence under control. Some emotional end-benefits are valuable. Others, less so.

The goal is to understand the emotions that are influencing you so that you can choose which to accept or reject.’


So the next time you are about to hand over your credit card, consider what is really driving your desire.  Whatever your brand of choice, consider why you identify with it.  How does its story jive with your own personal style?  Maybe, just maybe, Marni might make those who love it feel more intelligent.  It gives dressing smart a whole new meaning.


Read Dr. Murray’s blog, Inside the Consumer Mind, to learn more about our buying behaviours.


Like this?  Last week, How to Find Your Style: An Interview with Dr. Karen Pine, Psychologist & Professor of Fashion


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