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25 Apr 2011

Labels Influence Our Evaluation of Content

Designer labels encourage us not only to believe that the wearer has status but also trustworthiness, talent and many other positive attributes. In fact, the label is more important than the clothes themselves.

In the article, “I’ve Got You Labelled”, appearing in the April 2, 2011 edition of The Economist, Rob Nelissen and Marijn Meijers of Tilburg University in the Netherlands reached this conclusion from their research. While initially far-fetched, we find that a piece of art can fluctuate enormously in value depending upon whom people think painted it even though the art itself does not change. It’s also why people persistently knowingly buy knockoffs; they want the label.

One of the needs labels address is security. As we saw in my posts, Is Freedom for Everybody? and People Follow Leaders Not Facts, not all people are comfortable making their own decisions; they want others to make them for them. Status labels do exactly that; they help people determine what is good. The attributes of what makes clothing good such as the material, stitching, design, fabric, dyes, thread, etc., can make a qualitative determination daunting.

What is fascinating from Nelissen and Meijers research, is that this qualitative stamp not only influences our perceptions of the clothes but also the wearer. The qualitative effect is transferable, and it occurs on a subconscious level.

From an intuitive perspective, this means we can upgrade ourselves simply by wearing the right labels. This is what politicians do when they try to tie themselves closely to their country’s flag. This is what manufacturers do when they invest huge amounts in the packaging of their products. Presentation strongly influences our evaluation of content; plating affects our food’s taste. Thus, this principle holds true for the presentation of our ideas.

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