By: Dr. James McFarland, People Scientist

Okay, who here is familiar with the term “Masstige?” Don’t feel bad if you aren’t. It’s one of those five-dollar terms that makes you sound smart at dinner parties. A term that your Econ 101 instructor may have used at some point, but the passage of time (yes, let’s go with that) has since erased its meaning from your college memories. However, while trying to spell Masstige or using it properly in a sentence might be a challenge, all of us experience its effects on a regular basis in our daily lives.

A blending of the words “mass” and “prestige,” Masstige is a marketing term that refers to brands that offer a combination of prestige and affordability. Masstige brands are typically priced slightly higher than mass-market brands, but they are still more affordable than traditional luxury brands and are often targeted at middle-class consumers who are looking for products that offer a touch of luxury without breaking the bank. These brands are often seen as a way to “trade up” without having to spend a lot of money.

Studies show that beyond basic utility (e.g., food to eat, or clothes to wear), brand consumption often plays a key role in influencing consumers’ levels of happiness. This is where Masstige comes in. Like so much of psychology in marketing, this phenomenon is rooted in our perceived relationships with the people around us and the societies we live in and may be best understood as a function of relative deprivation and the relative income hypothesis.

In this context, the relative income hypothesis suggests an individual’s level of satisfaction and well-being is influenced not only by their absolute income but also by their income in relation to the income of others around them. In other words, it posits that people care (a great deal sometimes) about their income relative to the income of their peers or reference group, and this relative comparison affects their overall happiness and perceived social standing.

For example, individuals tend to compare their income to that of others, especially those in their social circle or community, to assess their economic well-being. If their income is higher than others, they compare themselves to, they may experience a sense of relative affluence and increased happiness. On the other hand, if their income is lower than their peers, they may feel a sense of relative deprivation, leading to reduced satisfaction and well-being, even if their absolute income is objectively high. In societies with significant income disparities, the relative income hypothesis suggests that those with lower incomes may experience lower levels of well-being, even if the overall standard of living in the society is relatively high.

As you can imagine, the perception of Masstige is uniquely situated to provide consumers with an increased sense of well-being and happiness contingent on their consumption of those products and services. Being able to afford a “higher” quality item or service than their “average” peer results in higher levels of satisfaction and happiness.

A recent study published in the European Management Review also confirms this, showing that purchasing from brands with higher levels of Masstige tends to result in higher levels of “brand happiness” among consumers (i.e., enjoying being associated with a brand). Particularly when the brands themselves are somewhat symbolic in nature, that is, they provide an outlet to express one’s personality, rather than serving a purely functional purpose (e.g., based on utility or simply focused on satisfying basic needs).

The interesting thing here is that nearly any brand can successfully incorporate this “higher than average quality” and symbolic messaging. Here are a few suggestions for leveraging Masstige in your own marketing strategy:

  1. Create a sense of exclusivity: Masstige brands offer a touch of luxury at a more affordable price point. Marketers can capitalize on this by emphasizing limited editions, exclusive collections, or special offers that create a sense of exclusivity and uniqueness. This approach taps into the human desire for distinction and the feeling of being part of a select group.
  2. Foster aspirational branding: Masstige brands often act as stepping stones for consumers who want to trade up without breaking the bank. Marketers can leverage this by showcasing aspirational imagery and associating the brand with values, lifestyles, or identities that consumers aspire to emulate. This taps into the power of social comparison and the desire to improve one’s perceived social standing.
  3. Focus on brand storytelling: Emphasize the brand’s story, heritage, and craftsmanship. Consumers are drawn to brands that have a compelling narrative and a strong connection to their roots, setting them apart from the rest of the field.
  4. Emphasize self-expression: Highlight how the brand’s products allow consumers to express their individuality and personality. Consumers often seek products that align with their self-concept and can be used as symbols to signal their identity to others. By tapping into this need, Masstige brands can create a stronger emotional connection with their target audience.

So, now you know all about Masstige. Using this newfound knowledge, you can effectively leverage the concept and enhance your brand’s desirability and overall appeal to your target audience while simultaneously contributing to their self-perceived happiness and satisfaction. Not to mention, now you can successfully weave the word Masstige into the group conversation at your next dinner party.

Happy Marketing!

-Dr. James

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