In the world of branding and advertising, products carry a certain message to potential customers. Through purchase and possession of a product, the message is transferred to the consumer, labelling them with social status and personalities that the object originally implied. Researchers from Australia and Malaysia have termed this phenomenon “Product Effect” and investigated to what extent different models of cars influence perception of the owner by a third party.

Product Effect: A high-class car also makes your status high? Credit: morganglines/ Flickr

Using an internet survey, Dr Raja Ahmad Effendi of Universiti Putra Malaysia and Professor Allan Whitfield of Swinburne University of Technology, Australia asked respondents to rate the owner on scales representing three characteristics: physical attributes of age, height and weight; social attributes such as income, employment and education; and personality. The survey depicted male and female, Caucasian and Asian owners along with two brands of cars, Mercedes Benz and Proton.

Results showed the Product Effect was present as far as the physical and social values are concerned. However, transference did not reach the owner’s personality. Furthermore, the effect was only apparent with male Caucasian owners and to a lesser extent on the female Caucasian owner.

The researchers suggested that the absence of personality could have been due to the absence of personality differences in the car models themselves. Another possible explanation was that a car personality might not be a transferable quality.

If status was transferred to the male Caucasian owner, why was it not transferred to the male Asian owner? Inevitably, any answer to this is speculative, and may reflect the way cars are internationally advertised and displayed in both print and digital media. The researchers argue that in nearly all cases, these cars are advertised alongside Caucasian owners/drivers.

The cultural origins of the respondents (109 countries represented, with the USA, India, and Australia accounting for 47% of responses) may more accurately explain why product transference proved more pronounced for the Caucasian images used in the study. Images of Caucasian owners would be familiar to American and Australian respondents, and probably to Indians, but these nationalities may be less familiar with images of Malaysian owners. Perhaps Indian respondents would have identified with Indian owners more readily. Perhaps Vietnamese and Chinese would respond better to their own nationalities of owners.

While the study affirmed the Product Effect, these hypothetical explanations leave room for further research into the subject in terms of gender, nationality, culture and product type on the effect elicited.


For further information contact:
R. A. A. Raja Ahmad Effendi
Faculty of Design & Architecture
Universiti Putra Malaysia

T. W. Allan Whitfield
Faculty of Design
Swinburne University of Technology, Australia