Wanna buy a fake Rolex?

I was watching Saturday Kitchen on Saturday (yes) and I noticed that the presenter, James Martin, was wearing a polo shirt with that wee crocodile logo on it. One minute on Google tells me it’s Lacoste. As I write this I remember a television series he did where he drove around the UK visiting various kitchens. The thing is, he drove around in an Aston Martin.  I noticed that in the credits to the programme, Aston Martin was thanked for providing the car. So it wasn’t James Martin’s car.

I’ve never really placed value on brands. I like to think that I prefer quality over brand value. If an item is high quality, I’ll have it, regardless of the brand. That’s why my favourite mp3 player is not Apple’s iPod.

The brand, if it has any value to me at all, is secondary.  Isn’t everyone like me?

Apparently not, as new research from Tilberg University in the Netherlands shows (Economist – April 2nd).

Rob Nelissen and Marijn Meijers of said university examined people’s reactions to wearers of clothes made by Lacoste and Tommy Hilfiger, two brands with perceived high value to some, apparently. Both display their logos prominently on their clothes.

In the first experiment, volunteers were shown pictures of a single person wearing a high perceived value branded shirt (Lacoste or Hilfiger) or a shirt with no logo or a shirt with a non-luxury brand, in this case Slazenger. The volunteers then rated the person on two scales – status and wealth. When the person in question was wearing the designer logo their status was rated as 3.5 (on a scale of 1 to 5), versus 2.91 when wearing no logo and 2.84 when wearing the bargain-basement Slazenger.  The relative scoring was maintained when assessing wealth (3.94 for designer logo, 2.78 for no logo and 2.8 for sleazy Slazenger).

I guess it’s time to ditch the Dunlop golf shirts….

Hmmm…OK. But does this make any difference?

To see whether the logos had any effect on the guinea pigs’ real behaviour, another experiment was conducted. A woman went to a busy shopping centre and asked shoppers to complete a survey. When she was wearing a designer branded sweater, she got 52% of those she asked to complete the survey. When wearing no logo – 13% completion. Wow.

It also worked when the experimenters knocked on doors seeking charitable contributions – 70% more was collected per answered door when a luxury label was worn by the experimenter compared to no logo.

Drs Nelissen and Meijers believe that people react to designer labels as signals of underlying quality in the individual wearing them.

When similar experiments were conducted but the volunteers were told that the clothing with the designer label had been given to the wearer by the experimenters, all advantage to the wearer was lost. (Take note Mr Martin – careful credit readers like me are not impressed by your borrowed Aston).

This work confirms a wider phenomenon. A work of art’s value, for instance, varies wildly depending on who is believed to have created it, although the work itself is unchanged.  And people will willingly buy fake goods, if they have the right label.

This behaviour is almost certainly an artefact of the “peacock’s tail” – we look for signs of health and good genes in our potential mates. The peacock cannot fake beautiful plumage.  So maybe we are programmed to react to anything that has been imbued with value, real or perceived.

I guess I always knew this. But I did not realise it extended to such a trivial level as a crocodile on an otherwise undifferentiated polo shirt.

I’m about to shoot some sales videos for a forthcoming product on productivity. Although I find it hard to envisage, maybe I need to choose my labels accordingly and wear them on the outside.

It would be crazy not to if the guys from Tilburg University are right.

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4 Responses to Wanna buy a fake Rolex?

  1. Badr Soliman April 12, 2011 at 8:33 am #


    As usual what you share is really valuable. How you share it makes it even more interesting :-)

    Regarding the label phenomenon, this is even more true in emerging markets than it is in mature ones; a lot of weight is put on labels versus the underlying qualities. I wonder what the numbers would be if they conducted the same study in Egypt for instance.


  2. Mark Nugent April 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Very good point. I agree and almost wrote about this in the post. I have some friends from emerging markets who get quite upset with me when I go against their absolute certainty that Mercedes make the best cars in the world!

    And my Japanese friends all wear Rolex – they simply would not consider anything else.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. Keith Plumb April 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    Hi Mark,

    Some comments:

    1. The worst car I have ever had was a VW, I would not want to have another one.

    2. I worked in Milan and was determined to buy a good quality Italian jacket. I walked past all the also ran shops like Prada and Gucci and then found one selling real quality. I have no idea what the name of the company is now although the jacket looks just as great after 12 years. When I said that I was pleased that there was no branding on the outside of the jacket. The two gentlemen serving me (yes two with a lot of sucking up) looked most upset. In so many words they said “Good grief sir, we would not stoop so low”. You do not pay much to have branding on you jacket but you pay to NOT have it. Good quality speaks for itself.

    3. I forgot to comment on your blog on multi-tasking. What you describe as multi-tasking is not mult-tasking but spinner plates.

    As humans we are good at multi-tasking providing the activities have a level of hierachy. When you drive you are truly multi-tasking. The top level activity is keeping your eyes on the road and reaching to the events as they unfold. In a semi-automatic way you change gear – a true multi task since all four limbs are doing something different simultaneously. Semi-consciously you may be listen to some music. Meanwhile your brain is looking after a pile of automatic processes – you are breathing, your heart is beating, digestion is working etc. When you are driving are probably carrying out more than 20 tasks simultaneously.

    In the case of spin plates the tasks are not carried out simultaneous but in parallel. This parallel operation is only of any use if the task can continue without your attention as with spin plates.

    A good chef may multi task by stirring two pots at the same time but in reality they are spin plates. You can let some thing boil, whilst cooking something in the oven and stirring a pan at the same time. The other two operations will continue without the chef’s immediately attention. The trip is to know when attention is required. A good chef can have a lot of plates spinning without ruining any of the food.

    The kind of project work that I am involved with at present requires skillful spinning of plates. When you have carried out you work you pass it on to someone and the process continuous without your attention. I comment on a drawing and send it back to a vendor who incorporates the comments and sends it back. I can be doing something else whilst they are adding my comments.

    Like all forms of spinning plates there is an optimum approach. You have to spin the plate long enough to stop it falling off but if you spent too much time on one plate another plate falls off. You need to parcel up your work so that you do enough to finish it and pass it on, you must get if off you desk or else it will fall of the pole. At the same time you need to working efficiently.

    I tend to have a long task running and run with this to a logical cut off point. I then stop that task and take a short task to completion and pass it on so the process keeps going. I then go back to the long task and take it to another logical stopping point. Pick up another short task and complete. Once I have completed the long task, I start another one and keep the process going.

    I have my computer set so that it tells me when I get an e-mail. I read most e-mails as soon as they arrive. If the e-mail is urgent I answer it straight away, if the answer is quick I also answer it immediately. If the answer is more time consuming and not urgent I flag the e-mail and pick it up later as short task to fit in with my long running task.

    Using this approach I can usually stop the plates falling off even in a very busy project.

  4. Keith Plumb April 14, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Sorry about the typos. Most remember to write comments elsewhere first.

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