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At UBC Sauder, innovative ideas are hatched every day. Our professors challenge students to think differently and to make change in the world of business and beyond.

Professor Darren Dahl is a well-known name among consumer behaviour researchers and ranks second in the world for publishing in top marketing journals. One of his discoveries confounds the old adage that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar: his study shows that for luxury brands, the ruder the sales staff the better the sales.

The Journal of Consumer Research study reveals that consumers who get the brush-off at a high-end retailer can become more willing to purchase and wear pricey togs.

Dahl“It appears that snobbiness might actually be a qualification worth considering for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci,” Dahl says. “Our research indicates they can end up having a similar effect to an ‘in-group’ in high school that others aspire to join.”

For the study, participants imagined or had interactions with sales representatives – rude or not. They then rated their feelings about associated brands and their desire to own them. Participants who expressed an aspiration to be associated with high-end brands also reported an increased desire to own the luxury products after being treated poorly.

The effect only held true if the salesperson appeared to be an authentic representative of the brand. If they did not fit the part, the consumer was turned off. Further, researchers found that sales staff rudeness did not improve impressions of mass-market brands.

“Our study shows you’ve got to be the right kind of snob in the right kind of store for the effect to work,” Dahl says.

The researchers also found that improved impressions gained by rude treatment faded over time. Customers who expressed increased desire to purchase the products reported significantly diminished desire two weeks later.

Based on the study’s findings, Dahl suggests that, if consumers are being treated rudely, it’s best to leave the situation and return later, or avoid the interactions altogether by shopping online.

The study, “Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand,” was co-authored by Assistant Prof. Morgan Ward of Southern Methodist University.

Dahl, the Senior Associate Dean of Faculty at UBC Sauder and director of the Robert H. Lee Graduate School, is currently ranked second in the world for publications in top marketing journals. Specializing in product development, creativity, social marketing and emotions in consumptive contexts, he teaches in the MBA, International MBA, PhD in Business Administration and Executive Education programs at UBC Sauder.

Challenging Ideas