There's a fine line between chic and passé, especially when it comes to products that communicate identity, such as music and clothes. Consumers tend to abandon these products when they reach the mainstream or are adopted by certain social groups, found Jonah Berger of the University of Pennsylvania and Chip Heath of Stanford University. In Where Consumers Diverge From Others: Identity Signaling and Product Domains, appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research, the researchers asked Stanford undergraduates to name their favorite products in categories such as cars, clothing brands, dish soaps, and bicycle lights.
Weeks later, they were given information suggesting that their preferred brands were also popular with other students. When retested, students tended to change their preferences but typically only in "identity relevant" categories such as cars, clothing, and music. Another study found that students' favorable opinions of a digital music player declined when they learned that the player tested highly among business executives.