What is Social Comparison Theory? | Consumer Impact & Social Media Application

Social Comparison Theory is a psychological concept that we, humans, determine our personal worth and values by evaluating ourselves to others. Initially proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, this theory highlights how we decide our own social and personal ‘worth’ based on how we stack up against others. In marketing, it’s leveraged to influence consumer behaviour. For instance, a company might showcase how their product or service is superior to competitors, nudging you to choose their offering imagining yourself in a better position. Through such comparisons, they strategically guide your purchasing decision, using your inherent drive to improve your social standing.

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Understanding Social Comparison Theory in Marketing

Social Comparison Theory is a psychological concept that explains how individuals evaluate themselves by comparing their own attributes and abilities to those of others. In the context of marketing, Social Comparison Theory suggests that people tend to make purchasing decisions based on how they perceive themselves in relation to others.

For example, individuals may compare their own clothing choices to those of their peers and feel motivated to purchase certain brands or styles in order to fit in or gain social approval. This theory suggests that people are influenced by the desire to maintain a positive self-image and avoid feeling inferior to others.

The Role and Impact of Social Comparison Theory in Consumer Behavior

Social Comparison Theory plays a significant role in consumer behavior. It affects consumers’ attitudes, preferences, and purchasing decisions. By comparing themselves to others, consumers seek validation, social acceptance, and a sense of belonging. This theory also influences consumers’ perception of product value and quality.

Marketers can leverage Social Comparison Theory by creating marketing campaigns that tap into individuals’ desire for social acceptance and self-improvement. By highlighting how their product or service can help consumers achieve status, recognition, or social approval, marketers can influence consumer behavior and drive sales.

Application of Social Comparison Theory in Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing provides a perfect platform for businesses to apply Social Comparison Theory. Social media platforms enable individuals to showcase their lives, accomplishments, and possessions, creating opportunities for others to compare themselves. Marketers can leverage this by showcasing their products or services in a way that taps into individuals’ desire for social validation and recognition.

For example, a clothing brand can partner with influencers who showcase their products on Instagram. By utilizing influencers who have a large following and are admired by their audience, the brand can create a desire among consumers to emulate their lifestyle and purchase the same products.

Case Studies: Successful Marketing Campaigns Using Social Comparison Theory

Several marketing campaigns have successfully utilized Social Comparison Theory to influence consumer behavior:

  • The Dove Real Beauty Campaign: By challenging traditional beauty standards and showcasing real women with diverse body types, Dove tapped into individuals’ desire for self-acceptance and challenged the societal norm of comparison based on appearance.
  • Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” Campaign: Apple’s campaign featured stunning photos taken by ordinary iPhone users, creating a sense of inclusivity and showcasing the potential of the iPhone camera. By highlighting the achievements of ordinary individuals, Apple appealed to consumers’ desire for recognition and social validation.
  • The Nike “Just Do It” Campaign: Nike’s campaign featuring professional athletes and ordinary individuals pushing their limits tapped into individuals’ desire to achieve greatness and be seen as successful. By highlighting the accomplishments of others, Nike motivated consumers to believe in their own potential and purchase their products.


Social Comparison Theory influences consumer decisions by tapping into individuals’ desire for self-improvement, social approval, and social validation. People often make purchasing decisions based on how they perceive themselves in relation to others.

Yes, Social Comparison Theory can be applied across different platforms, including social media, advertising, and even brick-and-mortar retail environments. The desire for social comparison is a fundamental aspect of human behavior and transcends specific platforms.

When using Social Comparison Theory for marketing purposes, it is important to consider ethics. Marketers should ensure that their campaigns do not exploit individuals’ insecurities or promote unhealthy comparison. Honesty, transparency, and a focus on empowering individuals should be prioritized.

Social Comparison Theory and influencer marketing are closely intertwined. Influencers often serve as a point of reference for individuals, who compare themselves to the influencers’ lifestyle, appearance, and possessions. By partnering with influencers, brands can leverage Social Comparison Theory to influence consumer behavior.

Some examples of successful marketing campaigns that utilized Social Comparison Theory include the Dove Real Beauty Campaign, Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” Campaign, and the Nike “Just Do It” Campaign. These campaigns tapped into individuals’ desire for social acceptance, self-improvement, and recognition.