June 01, 2011

Love-Smitten Consumers Will Do Anything for Their Gadgets

Research by Nancy J. Sirianni

Does your car have a name? Do you prefer your iPad over live conversation? Do you spend hours polishing your gun collection?

You may be in love.

“Is it possible for consumers to be in love with their possessions?” ask Dr. Nancy J. Sirianni, Assistant Marketing Professor at the Neeley School of Business at TCU, and her colleague, Dr. John L. Lastovicka of Arizona State University.  When it comes to cars, computers, bicycles, and firearms, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

The way people treat their possessions looks like love, according to their study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.  Sirianni and Lastovicka began the study looking for frugal materialism by interviewing people at car shows and owners of classic cars. It wasn’t long before they noticed the strong emotions their interviewees had for their vehicles.

They visited five car shows and conducted hundreds of in-depth interviews with car enthusiasts (males and females aged 19-68). They found that love-smitten consumers were more likely to use pet names than brand names when describing their cars and that some people seemed to use their attachment to cars to remedy pain and disappointment in their romantic lives. Over the course of three years they found several cases of people expressing real love toward their possessions.

“Some even teared up when asked about how much their car meant to them,” Sirianni said.  

Sirianni said the study went beyond spending and materialism and was more about real human emotions.

“John and I knew we were on to something important, and the project then became about material possession love,” Sirianni said. “Material possession relationships may reduce the negative consequences of social isolation and loneliness, and can contribute to consumer well-being, especially when considered relative to less-desirable alternative responses like substance abuse, delinquency, and the side-effects of anti-depressant medications,” Dr. Sirianni said.

They found various combinations of passion, intimacy, and commitment in consumers’ relationships.

“Consumers felt a passion, or a relentless drive to be with their beloved possession, and this often manifested in gazing at and caressing their cars, and even some love-at-first-sight purchase decisions,” they write in the study.

People nurture relationships with their beloved possessions, investing time and money into improving them and becoming fluent in understanding their details.

“We found love-smitten consumers spent six times more on accessories and enhancements for their prized guns than firearm owners who did not demonstrate passion, intimacy, or commitment toward their guns,” they wrote.

These findings have significance for firms that sell accessories and after-purchase services such as cleaning, enhancements, and repairs.

“For those in the throes of material possession love, it should be no wonder that they so freely spend their time and money on their beloved,” they conclude.

“Truly, Madly, Deeply: Consumers in the Throes of Material Possession Love.” Journal of Consumer Research: August 2011. Further information:  http://ejcr.org

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