The Appeal to Vanity is a logical fallacy that consists of, well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin: appealing to the vanity, pride, or self-esteem of the person being spoken to, in order to get them to do something, buy something, or give something up.
It's widely used in advertising, most often by products perceived or presented as "elite" or "high end", but also by cutting edge technology, where implications that owning the product will act as an indicator of one's status in the social order are used. An integral part of Up Marketing.
However, it's not limited only to advertising. The Appeal to Vanity is an integral part of the Yes-Man's tool box and it's a common trope in folk tales, where a person is persuaded to do something against their best interests by another character who flatters them. In fact, it's Older Than Feudalism, with one of the earliest known examples, "The Fable of The Fox and The Crow", existing in its current form at least as far back as the 1st Century CE. It might even be Older Than Dirt, since a vase illustrated with what appears to be the story was found in an archaeological dig in India of a civilization that dates to around 2400 BCE.
- The Lexus commercials featuring Jonathan Pryce blend this with Celebrity Endorsement.
- Say this in your most snobby voice: "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?" Their early commercials played the "Snob Appeal" straight, but later commercials evolved into self-parody.
- Movado wristwatches.
- Played dead straight in an ad for a resume posting site. A man playing tennis is mobbed by uninvited spectators from the stands trying to get in on the game. Most of them are terrible players, and tennis balls are flying every which way. VO: "When you let everybody play, nobody wins." Apparently the first player's resume is getting lost in all the others on whatever site he's posting it. The tagline: "$100k+ jobs for $100k+ jobseekers". What a pity: Our Hero couldn't find his dream job because he was surrounded by hoi polloi!
- A junk mail ad for The Economist subscriptions listed some of the powerful, influential people who read it (especially heads of state or their cabinet members). The gist is that powerful people like them read it, and you're like them (i.e. powerful), so you should read it too.
- One of the Apple iPhone's applications was named "I'm Rich!" It costs $999.99 and all it did was show a ruby on your display. The message was pretty clear: only rich people (like you!) would buy something this useless! It managed to sell a few copies until someone claimed they bought it by accident and Apple removed it.
- The Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour chain had the "Accountant's Special" as a joke menu item: one scoop of plain vanilla ice cream for $99.99.
- The slogan of L'Oreal - "Because you're worth it."
- Wonderfully subverted by Les Luthiers: "You, who are used to success as just one more habit of life... You, who succeed with the same ease in business and in the most exclusive sports... You, who are used to being respected by men and admired by women... You... can you tell us how you do it?"
- Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People. Right there in the title, folks.
- Saturday Night Live neatly parodied this device with the "I'm #1" trucker's cap. "Lets everyone in the room know you're better than they are. Only $9.95, available at K-Mart and Caldor!"