Study: Victoria’s Secret Bags Have Sexy Side Effect
By Paul Kix
(Sept. 23) — Transporting thongs and push-up bras isn’t the only purpose for a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag. Some women turn theirs into a purse. Others store their lunch in them. And now new research hints at a universal rationale for the bags’ second lives as accessories. Women feel sexy simply holding it.
The study, to be published in December, is the work of Deborah Roedder John, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. In one of four experiments, John and a colleague approached 85 women in a mall, asked them to fill out a survey — embedded in which were questions about their self-perception — then gave the women one of two shopping bags to walk around with for an hour. One of the bags was from Victoria’s Secret. The women in that group reported to the researchers that they felt more sensual and glamorous simply for the carrying.
Women walk past a Victoria’s Secret store on Lexington Avenue in New York.
Brands can influence people in other ways as well. The study also notes the curious case of some M.B.A. students asked to take notes for six weeks using a pen embossed with the MIT logo. Those who did reported feeling smarter at the end of the term. “Many people are surprisingly receptive to brands,” John tells AOL News.
Many, but not all, it turns out. The literature in which John bases her own study shows that the world is divided into two kinds of people, who, despite such a grand distinction, are labeled with small and opaque terms.
Specifically, people are either “entity theorists” or “incremental theorists.” Entity theorists believe no action of their own can change who they are. They know their failings and their limitations. Incremental theorists see no limits to what they might accomplish, see no end to how they might improve themselves.
For a long time, these terms have been used in psychology, as a way to explain why, say, some kids succeed in school and others fail. John became aware of the terms as she herself tried to understand her own children’s educational successes and failures. She thought maybe they could apply to marketing.
It turns out that entity theorists — the ones aware of their own limits — are also the ones most susceptible to feeling sexier carrying a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag or smarter holding an MIT pen. And yet that seems antithetical to their worldview, no? After all, if they’re bound by their limitations, why should these people believe anything can influence them? Well, although they’ve given up on what they alone can achieve, they haven’t given up on what an outside agent — say, a multinational corporation selling sexiness — can bring to them.
In other words, entity theorists believe their attitudes can change as long as they’re not the ones doing it. “They need a crutch,” John explains.
John believes that in spite of the taxonomy’s rigidity, most people are probably a mixture of entity and incremental theorists. She envisions a future for advertising that slices itself into ever finer niches to appeal to our disparate mind-sets. For the incrementalists, maybe Victoria’s Secret pushes makeup kits, so that a woman is in charge of how beautiful she becomes. For the entity theorists, well, there are those racy TV ads, which we know have a way of transferring their mojo to a plain paper bag.