Special Session Summary Hedonic and Utilitarian Motivations in Consumer Choice

Ran Kivetz, Stanford University
[ to cite ]:
Ran Kivetz (2000) ,"Special Session Summary Hedonic and Utilitarian Motivations in Consumer Choice", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 27, eds. Stephen J. Hoch and Robert J. Meyer, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 286.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 27, 2000      Page 286



Ran Kivetz, Stanford University

The work presented in this session focused on consumer preference toward hedonic and utilitarian stimuli. Consumers often need to tradeoff between pleasurable experiences (e.g., going on vacations) and more functional activities (e.g., paying bills). The participants considered a broad range of questions regarding how people balance between such hedonic and utilitarian motivations. Furthermore, the papers in this session point at various factors (e.g., mental accounting, prefactual thinking, and anchoring) that influence the evaluation and purchase intent of hedonic and utilitarian options.

First, field and laboratory experiments by Leclerc and Thaler show that consumers are more likely to redeem a promotion with the format "Save $1.00 off any item of your choice with the purchase of Brand X" than a promotion with the format "Save $1.00 off the purchase of Brand X." Although both promotions are economically identical, consumers perceive the former "Save $1.00 off any item" format as significantly more attractive. Why? Leclerc and Thaler propose that consumers enjoy the flexible mental accounting that this promotion suggests, allowing them to buy something expensive and hedonic that they would otherwise not buy, or make a small purchase seem free (and thus more enjoyable).

Second, Ariely, Prelec, and Loewenstein demonstrate that people display a combination of arbitrariness and coherence when they specify the minimum compensation required to be exposed to an unpleasant hedonic stimulus (an aversive noise that varied by length or tone quality). In particular, suggestive of arbitrariness, stated prices are strongly influenced by an arbitrary high/low anchor supplied to subjects at the beginning of the study. Suggestive of coherence, prices are systematically related to noise duration (or tone quality). This coherent arbitrariness effect was found both in an experiment conducted at the individual level and in an experimental multi-person market. Given that the value of hedonic stimuli is often ambiguous, these results expand our understanding of how consumers construct their preferences towards such goods and experiences.

Third, Dhar and Sherman also examine how consumers determine the value of hedonic (versus utilitarian) items. Specifically, they examine whether purchase intent differs systematically for hedonic and utilitarian products when consumers are allowed to generate alternative outcomes (prefactuals). Asking sujects to generate alternatives increases purchase intent for hedonic products by creating a contrast effect (since people tend to generate utilitarian uses for money) but decreases purchase intent for functional items (by increasing accessibility for other uses). In addition, Dhar and Sherman extend the results to the case where the prefactual generated is domain specific and where the purchase decision is far in the future or immediate.

Finally, Kivetz and Simonson propose that consumers often exercise "hedonic" self-control, whereby they attempt to avoid default forms of spending on utilitarian necessities in favor of luxury, hedonic purchases. The results indicate that substantial proportions of consumers actively try to force themselves to allocate money to hedonic experiences by choosing a luxury, hedonic prize (e.g., a cruise) over a cash amount of equal (or greater) monetary value. This tendency to precommit to hedonic consumption increases when consumers consider their "addiction" to necessities (e.g., by anticipating using the cash prize for utilitarian goods) and when they perceive the money as less costly (e.g., when the odds of winning are lower or when the reward is delayed).