Opinion piece
26 February 2021

The Person in the Purchase: Trying to be unique?


Recent studies revealed that millennials are more narcissistic than previous generations (specifically, Gen X). The millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, commonly designate a person who reached adulthood in the early twenty-first (21st) century and born between 1980 and 2000. While traditionally diagnosed as a personality disorder, narcissism in the current environmental landscape is regarded as a normal personality trait.


Narcissistic individuals are characterised by a positive and exaggerated view of themselves, including their physical attractiveness and importance. Narcissists strive to positively distinct themselves and have the inclination in differentiating themselves through numerous ways. Moreover, with the technological advancement, social networking sites serve as the engines that power this generation to immerse in their narcissistic behaviour. TikTok and Instagram, for instance, seem to capture exponential growth of subscribers since their inception due to the stickiness especially amongst the Gen Y and Gen Z.


The sentiment of narcissism is manifested in a song (IDOL), sang by one of the most popular K-Pop group that rose to global stardom in recent years: “I do what I do… You can't stop me lovin' myself”. The international group just won the 2019 Billboard Awards for Top Duo/Group and Social Artist.


The rise of social networking sites has led to changes in social relationships, as well as how one presents and perceives oneself. These websites offer a gateway for self-promotion via status update frequency, pride via picture posts, and large numbers of superficial relationships via invites, each of which is potentially linked to the narcissism trait. Research also uncover that respondents who scored higher on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) listed more Facebook friends.


Social networking sites offer a gateway for self-promotion via status update frequency, pride via picture posts, and large numbers of superficial relationships via invites - each of which is potentially linked to the narcissism trait.



Narcissists hold an inflated view of themselves, believe they are special, unique and need to be different. Most commonly, being different among a larger group often results from indicators conveyed by the possession of products that narcissists choose to display. Narcissists are attention seekers and strongly motivated to make a good impression on their social relationships. They will build their unique image through material objects they buy and are very much motivated by what others perceived of them.


Validating their positive self-views by displaying prestige or exclusive products and associating themselves with high-status individuals are common tactics employed by this group for looking good. In doing so, they will regulate their self-esteem by increasing their apparent status and consequently earning social admiration and envy. Social media sites have been capitalised as the effective vehicles to further protrude themselves. 


Research shows that higher exhibitionistic tendencies in narcissists could motivate them to use consumption as a means of signalling and showing-off to impress their circles of friends and network. Hence, purchasing and consumption of products, is an excellent opportunity for narcissists to elevate their self-positivity. They would seek for brands that impart unique value and demonstrate greater interest in exclusive and bespoke products.


From a marketer’s point of view, the need for uniqueness or differentiating themselves from others can be used to segment this millennial generation and to strategically position their products and services. Hence, narcissism plays a sensible role in shaping various marketing decisions and anticipating millennials’ purchase intention. The way millennials assess a product’s uniqueness and symbolic value has a significant managerial implication for critical areas in the retail business such as segmentation and positioning using narcissism profiling, brand image, store image management, product packaging, and merchandise pricing.


Even though millennials are the digital generation, it is worth noting that research has revealed an “out-of-expectation” outcome: when it comes to shopping, millennials are still interested in the in-store experience. Let’s embrace the fact that millennials have commenced their prime spending years and they definitely will be an increasingly important consumer group due their collective brand decision-making and spending power. Brands needs to put in more marketing efforts in engaging the millennials in a more relevant, exclusive, and personalised manner through their promotional campaigns. “Storifying” a brand’s image probably a unique approach reaching out to these unique persons in the purchase? 



Associate Professor Dr. Nurlida Ismail teaches modules in marketing at the School of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Business & Law. Her research interest is in consumer behaviour and marketing of higher education. She has secured research grants and published articles in international journals and has successfully mentored her business students in national and international competitions, who have won numerous awards.


Ms. Yen Mee is a senior lecturer at the School of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Business & Law. She is currently teaching management and marketing modules and supervising final year and entrepreneurship accelerated projects for undergraduate programmes. She is currently a PhD candidate at Taylor’s University. Her research areas encompass organisational and team performance, as well as knowledge management.

Associate Professor Dr. Nurlida Ismail
Associate Professor, School of Management & Marketing
Leow Yen Mee
Senior Lecturer, School of Management & Marketing