• Jun 9, 2022
  •  – 2 min read

Scientifically speaking it’s all about conspicuous consumption. In other words: why consumers buy and use goods of a higher “quality” (read: price) or quantity than what they really need. As a car salesperson, you might think of it in terms of “top of the line” or upselling.

This has in fact been the object of scientific debate and research for more than a century. So, before zooming in on the big spender in the automotive showroom, let’s start right there.

In 1899 an American economist and sociologist named Thorstein Veblein wrote a book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. Veblen identified two distinct characteristics of whatever we buy

  • What is required to get the job done, for example taking you from point A to point B.
  • The “honorific” aspect, i.e. the visible evidence of the owner’s or buyer’s status in society.

Veblen used words like “excess” and “waste” in a purely economic sense, and did not infer that luxury goods were in any way wrong or immoral. He viewed advertising as a natural and necessary “waste” in a modern economy with profit-making business enterprises.

Today, sufficiently affluent people continue to buy exclusive cars for a variety of reasons. Never mind the envious people harping about your wish to stand out in a crowd or blend in with your upmarket neighbourhood. And, not least, why not buy what you really like, if you can afford it?

They don’t get rich by wasting Their money

One interesting aspect of Verblein’s model is the recognition that the conspicuous element is not only evident in the consumption of exclusive fur coats or diamonds. Or, translated into 2021, high fashion, Rolex watches, and luxury cars. It is a factor influencing nearly everything that people buy. And, in many societies, the very fact that you own a car is a distinctive status symbol.

Today’s status markers can be more or less subtle, sometimes signaling environmental awareness (and affluence) or cultural sophistication (and affluence). Way back in the 1960s Volkswagen in the USA and Renault in Sweden launched extremely successful, outright anti-status campaigns.     

A few years ago The Sunday Times’ Driving section published an article about supercars and supersalesmen. Besides, some elementary advice on suitable men’s fashion the senior sales manager told the novice not to talk too much, but to make sure that all relevant facts are presented correctly. Never ever patronize or overwhelm the buyer with detail. And don’t expect them to pay too much. “These people don’t get rich by wasting their money.”


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