Reference Groups



So, lets consider some of the fashion trends that have recently engulfed our young generation, there has been that insistent wearing of hats; inside, outside, night-time or daytime, then there have been ‘skinny’ jeans, then those over sized t-shirts, so long that they come down to guys thighs like the dresses.

Now what do these items of clothing have in common? All of these trends I have initially ridiculed, only to later find myself stacking my wardrobe with them. So I asked myself, what made me so compelled to go out and purchase all these clothes, despite my initial dispositions? The answer; my consumer associated friendship group.



As young individuals, our sense of belonging is strongly connected to those we regularly interact with. According to Schiffman et al (2014, p.291) reference groups essentially serve as our point of immediate comparison in forming our personal values, attitudes and behaviour. We are concerned with conforming to those whom we seek approval and acceptance from. For young students like myself, there are two predominant reference groups that with we connect with, Contactual groups; which are those we come into direct contact with such as our friends and Aspirational groups; those who we aspire to belong to (Escalas and Bettman 2003). Jennifer Escalas and James Bettman (2003) agree with this notion in their study on reference groups that is aptly titled ‘You are what they eat’. They agree that reference group usage by consumers produces a range of advantages to consumers including psychological benefits, social approval, personal expression and outer-directed self-esteem. Moreover, the conspicuousness of the product has a significant influence on the ability of our reference groups to influence our decision to purchase a product. Visually high conspicuous products, such as fashion items, are often purchased with the intention of gaining a reaction or respect from others (Schiffman et al 2014, p.291).


fashion adfashion ad   Conspicuous product advertising Source:

Our sense of wellbeing is strongly linked to our consumer behaviour. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates this integral requirement of acceptance in our live. The third tier of needs, titled ‘Social Needs’ encompasses our need for love, belonging and acceptance, whilst the fourth tier, ‘Esteem Needs’ refers to our need for status, self-respect and confidence. (Schiffman et al 2014, p.91). To achieve our identity goals we will often make brand associations to those our reference groups utilise. To create our ideal self-image we will use specific products and brands to realise our self-esteem and need to belong, a set of brand associations todefine our identity (Escalas and Bettman 2003).


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Source:

Marketers understand this important of reference groups and brand association. We often perceive our constructed consumer reference groups to be a more reliable source of product information than official corporate advertising; therefore marketers use marketing strategies to give their products credibility (Grimsley, 2015). For example, marketers may use celebrity endorsement to appeal to our sense of aspiration group brand association, the may employ experts in the field to endorse the quality and performance of the product or their advertising may imply that your demographic prefers their product (Grimsley 2015).   How many times have you purchases products to fit in with your friends? Are you influenced by the current trends to purchase particular products you haven’t thought of before?


Escalas, J & Bettman, J 2003, ‘You Are What They Eat: The Influence of Reference Groups on Consumers’ Connections to Brands’, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Vol. 13, no.3, pp. 339-348.

Grimsley, S 2015, Reference Groups in Marketing: Definitions, Types & Examples, Viewed 20 May 2015,

Schiffman, L, O’Cass, A, Paladino, A and Carlson, J 2014, Consumer Behaviour, 6th edn, Pearson Australia, NSW.


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