In the land of the consumer, social proof — the notion that some things are better than others because our peers like them — reigns supreme. We consistently see better products left behind for good products because of the simple fact that peers have preferred the latter. It comes from the need to belong to a community; if the community accepts the good or service, then our judgment, our personality, our being is therefore accepted by the community.
AdLand loves to use social proof. The power of referrals and showing people that they can belong to certain communities if they adopt different products or beliefs has been extremely effective.
But it seems that we are only looking on the positive side of the social proof concept. Looks like there is a negative one, too.
A study done by the University of Sussex shows that showcasing social proof and telling people that they can be cool and disruptive in order to be popular could pose some negative consequences for children and young adults. Yes, in this study, the University followed 1,000 youths over three years, and those teens that displayed significant effort to live the ideals of the "consumer culture" actually had friendships and other peer relationships worsen over time. They also saw events where teens were rejected by peers and later adopted these kinds of ideals. Relationships went even further downhill.
What does this mean? Should AdLand be to blame for advocating social proof and the consumer culture? Should AdLand be more responsible when showing what types of behavior are socially acceptable?
Not easy questions. We don't have answers to that, but we'd love to be a part of that conversation.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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