The ad breaks grab my nine-year-old son’s attention much more than the cartoon series he watches on TV. He wants to have every product that engages him through compelling marketing pitches dominating his chosen media. In one way or another, the same story holds true for so many of us inhabiting the marketing world; rightly or wrongly, we all would love to have it all.
But alas! Unless you are the famous founder of a big tech firm from Silicon Valley or someone who owns a multi-story house piercing through the Mumbai skyline, you would probably have limits to your budgets and thus forced to prioritise your consumption. Given the limits to the kitty at your disposal, your strategic goal should be to spend your pennies to maximise your well-being or happiness.
Given that you always have multiple needs, how should you prioritise your spending in order to maximise your consumption-derived well-being? Should you buy that luxury dress you have been eyeing for sometime? Or, should you finally take that Himalayan trek that you have been planning? Or, should you pick up that electric guitar to practise your favourite tunes?
Consumer psychologists throw some light on the types of consumption and the extent of well-being that may accrue to the consumers. In general, consumers are better off investing in life experiences rather than material possessions as positive life experiences tend to provide greater well-being. If you spend your precious pennies on taking that Himalayan trek, it is likely to bring you rich well-being dividends. Compared to material possessions, investing in life experiences result in greater well-being. Experiences lend themselves better to subjective interpretations that become increasingly positive over time – as time passes, we sub-consciously de-emphasise the negative elements of our experiences thereby focusing only on the positive ones, and such life experiences are also inherently social; they are often lived, shared or recalled in the company of others. Surely you would love to tell your friends and colleagues tales from your Himalayan trek as well as fondly remember the moments you shared with others during the trek. To summarise, our life experiences better satisfy our psychological needs of self-expression and our fundamental need to connect with other human beings. Therefore, do invest in gaining life experiences such as eating out with your loved ones, going for a concert and travelling -- they are a key to your happiness and well-being, and that too, over extended periods of time.
Hey, but would you be worse-off if you were to buy that electronic guitar rather than opting for the trek? Let us de-construct the guitar. Though it is a material product, it also has an intangible element to it – that of being an enabler of an experience of learning and playing music. Same would perhaps be true of other experience enabling products such as videogames, a 3D television, sporting goods and so on. All such products help create and enable distinct life experiences. Research by Darwin A. Guevarra from University of Michigan and Ryan T. Howell from San Francisco State University found that such ‘experience products’ may also generate as much consumer well-being as intangible life experiences. Much like non-material life experiences, such experience products also lend themselves to positive recollections and enriching social engagements borne out of the experiences enabled by them. You are quite likely to cherish playing your favourite tunes, and recollect those musical evenings and social engagements made possible by the guitar.That leaves us with examining the possibility of you purchasing that
much-longed-for luxury dress. Oh God, you really want to have it. Most often material products, such as clothing, jewellery and accessories are purchased with the intention ‘to have’ as opposed ‘to do’. Purchases rooted in such intentions tend to emerge from and result in social comparisons or comparison with other products, and such extrinsic concerns can undermine a consumer’s well-being. Further, consuming such products may not result in social benefits such as those provided by life experiences (e.g., Himalayan trek) and experience products (e.g., electric guitar). It is not that material consumption cannot make us happy -- it may, but investing in life experiences or experience products is likely to bring us superior well-being returns.
Where does this leave you and me? A better understanding about the value of experiences embedded in consumption might help some of you to better draw or revise your spending list. As for me, the next time my son demands a new pair of jeans, a tennis racket and a visit to the zoo, I know as to which of his demands I shall give in at first.
Nimish Rustagi holds a PhD in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour from HEC Paris. He is a civil servant and the views expressed are personal.