Media Relations 2020: Does Snobbery Actually Work?

In the world of viral marketing, the snob effect may seem dramatically out of touch with current trends. This marketing tactic builds a demand based on the pursuit of luxury and exclusivity, and is in sharp contrast to the bandwagon effect that sees people buying something because everyone else is.

In a world more media savvy and more concerned with saving their money, how can you use the snob effect to improve your marketing strategy? Does it still work, or is it out of date?

What Is The Snob Effect?

The so-called “snob effect” describes a situation where the demand for certain goods by those in a high income bracket is inversely related to the demand for the same goods by those of a lower income level. Basically, if a few people who are perceived as rich and powerful want a product or use a service, it makes those people in less powerful positions desire that product or service even more. This creates a demand for an often-expensive and unnecessary item.

People come up with different justifications for the purchase of unnecessary luxury items. They may believe that the more expensive something is, the better the quality. Or, they may buy into the idea of certain brands having a legacy that speaks to quality. But many of these items are sold at cut prices after their initial release, which devalues the object.

In reality, the air of exclusivity is a huge factor in how and why the snob effect works. The perception of quality is guaranteed with a price point, and people believe that they can purchase a lifestyle or element of elitism. Although those who fall victim to the snob effect are not those who can afford to live the lifestyle of someone in the upper echelons of society or a high income bracket, by buying the same products or services they can feel a connection to that world.

Good examples of the snob effect:

  • Gold-leaf menus
  • VIP lounges in exclusive clubs and events
  • Luxury sports cars like Ferrari and Jaguar
  • Original art or collector’s items

The British Royal Family is also a prime example of the snob effect in action. Before Queen Victoria allowed for more candid photographs, all photographs were posed portraits, and any glimpse into what the family was wearing, or what objects they surrounded themselves with was immediately considered desirable. Even to this day, anything worn by the younger royals or their children almost immediately sells out.

Snobbery As A Marketing Plan

In the 1980’s and 1990s snobbery was used as a marketing ploy in everything from commemorative Royal Family plates to designer clothes and handbags. The idea was to create an air of exclusivity and a sense that the buyer was part of an exclusive club that allowed few to enter. It was even common for some companies to print numbers on their products, denoting them as limited edition with only a certain number in existence.

But snobbery as a marketing ploy has its downsides. In today’s world of viral media, where accessibility is key, some of the more obvious appeals may come off as out of touch, and even distasteful. Content marketing trends[1] can be fickle, but there are things to keep in mind while you’re planning your strategy in order to not exclude what could well be a target audience. While you want to be seen as offering a quality product, you need to broach the subject of the snob effect carefully.

Corporate image plays a huge role in creating a snob effect. Typically, a company’s stated values reflect a commitment to quality, innovation, and one-of-a-kind style. Research shows that Millennials prefer brands that have a strong commitment to a cause, and Gen-X – the generation just coming into their buying power – tends to be more bargain-conscious than previous generations.

Placement is another important factor when we’re talking about price. Exclusivity is key here. Snob appeal means a product may have one or two endorsement deals with outside companies and then sell exclusively either at an online retailer, or a brick-and-mortar store. Since Millennials and Gen-Z do most of their shopping online through large companies like Amazon, the exclusivity of the individual item often gets lost by the consumer.

Price, especially if high, can usually still reliably signal higher quality. But this new generation of buyers has been shown to have less money to spend on luxury items[2]. Additionally, one of the major downsides to the snob effect is a perceived aloofness. In a world where community and fostering a sense of inclusion in your industry have become integral to marketing, especially when it comes to social media, the strongest message you can convey is one of inclusion rather than exclusivity. Customers want a brand they can count on, as always. But they also need to be able to count on the communication and transparency of your company, and that customer service will always deliver.

How to Use the Snob Effect In 2020

In some ways, the snob effect is a bit outdated. But some of the principles still apply, even if they require a bit more creativity to execute effectively. Hiring a freelance content creator or team can help you generate new ideas[3] and to bridge the gap between outdated trends and current options that attract and engage today’s generation.

Though this generation is less concerned with perceived elitism and ostentation, they’re still looking for exclusive experiences that put them closer to the world of luxury. Here are some tactics you can use to employ the snob effect to work in your favor in 2020:

Exclusive Pricing: Premium pricing and limited-time offers are a great way to foster a feeling of exclusivity and fear of missing out (FOMO) in potential customers. Offering tiers and packages for individual services can encourage a customer to opt for a higher tier that comes with more “exclusive” benefits. Limited-time pricing in your calls to action will also encourage customers to act quickly to avoid missing out.

Membership Deals: Offering membership deals is another way to provide free or low-priced offers that still maintain an air of exclusivity. Offer tiered membership works similarly to offering tiered pricing. It can be even more effective, since it involves staying connected and developing a long-term relationship with a customer, with very little effort on your part. This sense of belonging to an exclusive group provides a customer with a recognizable brand they will stay loyal to.

VIP Events: Giveaways and contests are becoming increasingly rare as customers become more media-savvy. Instead, many companies are opting for VIP events or offerings. These VIP events provide a healthy dose of glamour and exclusivity, and provide excellent marketing opportunities.

Because it’s not a contest or a draw, customers feel confident in the product and are more willing to pay extra for a chance at a VIP experience. This utilization of the snob effect lets people buy into something and feel special, all while generating added interest for product or brand.

Influencers Lead the Way

Research shows that the younger generation of buyers is less interested in celebrity endorsement. However, they do respond positively to influencers, YouTube stars, and other social media personalities who they feel are more relatable, and less likely to be personally involved in a product they don’t use. Using influencers rather than paid celebrity endorsements in your marketing allows your customers to feel closer to these stars, and helps build trust in your brand.


In previous decades, the snob effect made certain luxury items and brands must-have items for the masses, whether they could afford them or not. In our more media-saturated 21st century, the snob effect has taken on new dimensions.

Customers are more likely to expect a personal connection with a brand, rather than feeling aspirational towards it. Today’s consumers aren’t fooled by celebrity endorsements and are more likely to worry about missing out on exclusive experiences than about wanting to become someone else with your product.

To say the snob effect is obsolete in the world of modern marketing is an oversimplification. But it has had a makeover in recent years. Shifting focus away from ostentatious luxury items and towards exclusive experiences and VIP treatment keeps the snob effect alive and well, and is very effective as a marketing strategy for your business.

Cover photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash

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