The Self-Conscious Context Of Car Shopping: What It’s Like When You Know Too Much and Buy The Luxury SUV Anyway


This weekend I made the plunge into new vehicle ownership for the first time in 8 years.

Some history: The first car I ever “owned” was a leased, bottom-of-the barrel Toyota (color: aqua!) that I got in grad school and that moved me up to the great Northeast for my first job.  Then I spent several years in New York City where a car was neither required nor desired nor affordable.  Upon moving to a “driving city” several years later, I bought a Jeep liberty:  it was on sale and what my girlfriend at the time decided we needed: in addition to being in my price range and NOT being a brand that offended my sensibilities.  These were my only requiremetns at the time.

This weekend, I purchased a “luxury vehicle” that has hybrid technology and just about every stupid feature a car can have and have been trying to gleefully recite the L’oreal slogan to reinforce my happiness with the purchase – although I am still wrestling with it.

By way of context:

For the past 13 years of my career, I have spent a significant amount of my time studying and developing brand strategy for the consumer automotive industry.

I am conscious of the fact  the past year of my life spent considering purchasing a new car and then actually going out and buying one has been a gut-wrenching experience to say the least.  I know too much and (likely by virtue of my professional context) have a very polarized attitude towards brands in this space.

On the one hand, I know about all of product trends and competitive issues that manufacturers deal with.  I know what they can do, can’t do and what everyone is going to do next.  I am aware of all of the cultural and psychological implications of vehicle design as well as the critical and ultimate sell-in requirements for consumer targeting and branding.

Therefore, on the other hand, I am prone to scrutinizing whether or not my choice in vehicle is based on a cultural pre-disposition  – or aversion – to a particular vehicle’s brand message and what my choice of that brand will say about me  – whether I want it to or not.  Then I have to decide whether or not I care.  Finally, i have to decide if I am okay with the degree to which  my brand choice is based on value (e.g. reputable brand, resale, cost-benefit of features and performance) versus some sort of esoteric measure.

I have listened to people tell me which brands are appropriate for “someone like me”, which brands are most / least reliable, what their personal experiences with their own vehicles has been like and their ultimate rationale for their choices.  I have actively scrutinized who’s points of view I relate to most.  I have gone over the numbers.  Finally, I went to battle with my ego.

And lets not even go in to the fact that I am so hyper-conscious of the state of social inequality in the world and pervading / emerging macro-social values that even considering a luxury vehicle made me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit.

In the end…I am not really sure who won and how I feel about it.  Did I just cave in and get what my wife wanted (like the last car, where I cared so little that I just let my girlfriend pick)?  Did I submit to my ego?  Did I jut by the expensive toy because I can or because it is really a great value?  Did I indulge in something that  and has everything I could ever need / want in it because I feel entitled by virtue of the years of  hard work I put into building a successful career?

In any case – I find the situation baffling at least and ironic at best.I welcome comments of both empathy and good natured ribbing.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Narcissists, Participant Observation, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “The Self-Conscious Context Of Car Shopping: What It’s Like When You Know Too Much and Buy The Luxury SUV Anyway

  1. Carrie

    I want to know what kind of car you bought! Then, I will know whether I should be empathetic, giving you a good natured ribbing, or totally appalled…

  2. Jamie, you earned it, you deserve it, so enjoy it. Love You Mommy

  3. Interesting, I may do a post about a Subaru commercial, but now I’m a bit self-conscious by the amount of knowledge you have about the industry! (Also, I’m having trouble embedding the YouTube video in the post) Anyway, I’m sure your decision was a peppered with many elements, but either way it sounds like you ended up with a great product. The struggles of an anthropologist 😉 #anthropologistproblems

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