Think of some of your favorite brands. Cell phones. Cereals. Fast-food restaurants. You probably have a deeper relationship with these brands than you’d like to admit, but what would happen if they were suddenly unavailable? A new study (draft PDF here) in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests you’d probably shrug and move on to an alternative. Sorry, favorite brand!
Over five studies, the authors studied how much consumers missed, liked, or wanted to consume something they could not have. In one study, participants were asked to stop using Facebook for three consecutive days. During this time, they were allowed to use other social media platforms like WhatsApp.
Consumers who were allowed to use another social media platform wanted to use Facebook less by the third day. However, the opposite was true for consumers who did not use another social media platform and their desire to use Facebook was higher on the third day than at the beginning of the study.
In other words, how much a consumer desires a product is based on the length of time that passes before they can either find the original product or a suitable replacement to satisfy their craving. The authors note that the best time for brands to use persuasive messages such as “When was the last time you had a Snickers bar?” to increase cravings is when the craving is outside of the realm of a person’s self-control.
However, a “limited supply” message (“While supplies last!”) can also backfire if the consumer cannot find the product. “If a company restricted the supply of a product in a way that someone could not find the product at all, they would likely develop new tastes for a substitute product and desire the original product less over time,” the authors conclude.
It’s almost as though a lot of these brands don’t actually offer anything all that special or unique when compared to their competitors, but that they trick us into thinking they do. Almost.