Special Session Summary: Factors Affecting Consumer Choices Between Hedonic and Utilitarian Options

Ran Kivetz, Columbia University
Michal Strahilevitz, University of Arizona
[ to cite ]:
Ran Kivetz and Michal Strahilevitz (2001) ,"Special Session Summary: Factors Affecting Consumer Choices Between Hedonic and Utilitarian Options", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 325.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Page 325



Ran Kivetz, Columbia University

Michal Strahilevitz, University of Arizona

This session consisted of three papers that took distinct approaches to examining how consumers choose between hedonic, luxury consumption and utilitarian, necessary consumption. Using diverse methodologies, such as laboratory experiments, field studies, process measures, and surveys, the papers shed new light on consumers’ perceptions of and responses to a wide range of promotional tools, including coupons, free gifts, frequency programs, rebates, and sweepstakes. Each paper provided insights into underlying psychological mechanisms, such as justification (to the self and to others), accountability, guilt, mental accounting, and categorization.

The first paper by O’Curry and Strahilevitz examined the effects of the probability of receiving a chosen outcome and mode of acquisition (e.g., as a lottery prize or as a purchase) on choices between hedonic and utilitarian alternatives. The results suggest that the lower the probability of receiving the selected item, the more likely individuals will be to choose the more hedonic alternative in a choice set. Mode of acquisition was also found to affect preferences, even when probability of acquisition is held constant. The data suggests that hedonic options are more popular as prizes than as purchases, whereas utilitarian options appear to be more popular as purchases than as prizes. The mediating roles of anticipation of pleasure and accountability for frivolity were discussed.

The second paper by Kivetz and Simonson examined how consumers sometimes constrain their purchase and consumption of hedonic luxuries because such expenditures are difficult to justify and may evoke feelings of guilt. The authors proposed that the completion of a long effort stream may serve as a compelling reason for pleasurable consumption ("earning the right to indulge through hard work"). For example, consumers who participate in frequency (loyalty) programs are more likely to prefer luxury over necessity rewards when these rewards are contingent upon the completion of relatively effortful consumption requirements. On the other hand, consistent with the authors’ theoretical framework, increasing the monetary costs of obtaining rewards shifts preferences away from pleasurable luxury rewards. These propositions were investigated and supported in a series of studies in which the amount and type of efforts were systematically manipulated and respondents’ chices between hedonic and utilitarian rewards were observed. Potential rival accounts were discussed as well as different moderators of the effects of effort on reward preference.

The final paper by Chandon and Wansink pointed out that when selecting a reward for a sales promotion, marketers tend to rely on utilitarian incentives more often than on hedonic incentives. The authors argued that the effectiveness of a consumer incentive is ultimately determined by the utilitarian or hedonic nature of the benefits it delivers, and by the congruence these benefits have with the task, product, and decision-maker. Three compelling studies were presented that supported this benefit congruency hypothesis, demonstrating that hedonic incentives can, in fact, increase brand choice and improve brand image when they are targeted at hedonic products or consumers.

The session ended with an extremely insightful and thought provoking discussion by Drazen Prelec.