The Narcissistic Consumer's Brand Relations in the Postmodern Society

Signe Nette Blond Andersen & Gunilla Guldborg Hansen

Student thesis: Master thesis


“In the case of the narcissistic consumer, short-term gains are likely to result in long-term losses due to increased marketing costs of constantly attracting new consumers. Even if brand-oriented narcissistic consumers seem to be loyal now, they will not likely be loyal forever,” (Lambert & Desmond, 2013, p. 706). Lambert & Desmond (2013) concludes that brand managers should not focus on narcissists because of their disloyalty to brands. But since narcissism is a rising phenomenon in today’s postmodern society we find it problematic just to neglect this consumer group. Therefore, the purpose of the thesis is to generate in-depth knowledge of narcissistic consumers to understand the underlying mechanisms that lie behind the consumer behavior of a narcissist. Previous studies of motivational theory concluded that narcissists in general are more approach than avoidance motivated, but whether that counts for the narcissists’ consumer behavior too is not proven. The notion of anti-consumption is included in the exploration of the narcissistic consumer to generate knowledge on how narcissists choose and remove themselves from brands. Narcissists are proven to place extensive focus on positively distinguishing themselves. The narcissists’ need for uniqueness is viewed in contrast to authenticity to investigate how an authentic feeling might influence the narcissists’ choice of brand. By that, this research seeks to clarify whether the narcissist values the feeling of authenticity or the need for uniqueness highest, and what this potentially means for the brand-consumer relationship. The methodology is based on the social constructivist paradigm. Thus we acknowledge that the reality is socially constructed and that we cannot provide one single truth. However, it enables us to create an in-depth understanding of the narcissistic brand usage. We base our findings on a qualitative data collection of semi-structured interviews with 10 males, i.e. 5 narcissists and 5 non-narcissists. The interviewees are divided into narcissists and non-narcissists by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory test (NPI40) and their level of self-esteem is tested via Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale (RSE) in order to categorize them as grandiose or fragile narcissists. Via a thematic analysis and discussion it is proven that the narcissists are more loyal than the nonnarcissists. 4 out of 5 narcissists see themselves as loyal. The main reasoning is that the narcissists find it convenient to purchase from well-known brands due to the already accepted symbolic meaning combined with the assurance of high quality and good service. The narcissists will stay loyal until the brand ‘disappoints’ them, which entails that they are not searching for ‘the better deal’ in the same sense as previous studies conclude that narcissists does. The narcissists in our research are just as avoidance as they are approach motivated. They act strategic both when choosing and removing themselves from brands and the symbols connected to them. This might be part of the reasoning for why the narcissists are more loyal than the nonnarcissists – it is simply easier to continue purchasing brands ‘that works’ rather than trying new unpredictable ones. The most important for the 3 narcissists with lowest NPI-scores is authenticity and the internal feeling of the brand representing something “real”. Whereas, the 2 narcissists with the highest NPI-scores are more focused on distinguishing themselves driven by the external motive of being unique. Therefore, the level of narcissism might influence the consumer behavior of the narcissists, since these differ in motives, i.e. internal versus external driven. Moreover, it is proven that the feeling of authenticity improves the loyalty, i.e. if the narcissist finds a brand authentic he is more loyal to it. Since the interviewees were randomly selected according to self-esteem the data collection ended up being based on only grandiose narcissists. Though, it might be relevant to further investigate the phenomenon with the inclusion of fragile narcissists. Further, this qualitative in-depth research has the potential to function as foundation for a greater quantitative investigation of the narcissists’ consumer behavior, which could increase the knowledge of this rising consumer group and enlighten the potential consequences it might have for brand management.

EducationsMSc in Organisational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages268