John L. Lastovicka, Nancy J. Sirrianni; Truly, Madly, Deeply: Consumers in the Throes of Material Possession Love; In Journal of Consumer Research; 2011-08; 20 pages; DOI: 10.1086/658338.
Our treatment of material possession love expands an understanding of the role that discrete emotional attachment forms play in identifying commercial value for marketers and in enhancing consumer well-being. Employing a mixed-methods research design—relying on both qualitative and quantitative data—we develop and empirically test a three-factor, but seven-faceted, conceptualization of material possession love in four separate consumption contexts (automobiles, computers, bicycles, and firearms). We find love-smitten consumers nurturing their beloved possessions, in part, by buying complementary products and services. We also find that material possession love is empirically tied to loneliness and social affiliation deficits, which suggests a compensatory basis of consumer well-being. We distinguish possession love from the construct of attitude and empirically demonstrate the distinct functionality of each. Our concluding discussion considers our mixed-methods findings and their implications for consumer research.
<quote>The fatuous love found with computer owners is colored by passion and commitment, but without intimacy, deep knowledge of the other is absent (Sternberg 2006). Therefore, this is fatuous—or considered foolish—as commitment is apparently made due to a love-at-first-sight infatuation, without deeply knowing the other. Fatuous love is often problematic with interpersonal relationships. For example, Las Vegas’s quick marriage laws likely facilitate Nevada having the highest divorce rate among residents of any U.S. state (U.S. Census Bureau 2008). In consumption relationships, however, we believe fatuous love typically has less serious consequences. Fatuous consumer love characterizes relationships likely born in an infatuation, when the consumer’s initial hands-on encounter with an object’s total sensory experience (i.e., its look, motion, feel, scent, taste, and sound) elicits a captivating aesthetic response. Objects eliciting such reactions rely on what industrial design theorist Donald Norman (2005) calls visceral design, meaning designs that do what nature does when eliciting biologically prewired emotive reactions. Consequently—at the visceral level—the look, feel, sound, speed, and other sensory experiences of initial reactions to products should be examined by future work.
We believe it is not a coincidence that the objects that we found devoid of fatuous love—firearms, bicycles, and automobiles—all originated in the nineteenth century or earlier and, as such, rely on technologies with visible moving mechanical parts. Hence, because such technology is relatively more accessible to the average consumer, we believe intimacy has more of an opportunity to develop. In contrast, today’s computers are based on early twenty-first-century microcircuits without visible moving parts and, as such, are undecipherable black boxes for many consumers. As a result, technology may be a barrier to intimacy for many, thereby facilitating fatuous love. However, romantic love was also detected with computer owners. Indeed, our qualitative work found some consumers illuminating their computer’s interiors by inserting clear panels and lighting the interiors of their computer cases. Such modifications likely served to facilitate intimacy.
Only one form of possession love detected in our data was devoid of passion. The companionate love we detected among cyclists and computer owners reflects committed relationships where consumers have intimate knowledge of their beloved possession. Companionate love is stronger than friendship because of the element of a commitment to keep; it is also similar to enduring romantic love, but without passion. While passion may have once burned hot, in companionate love, the passion has cooled. While enduring romantic love has more excitement, companionate love is more colored by warmth and compatibility; it reflects a steady, comfortable, and affectionate relationship, without the volatility of passion (Sprecher and Regan 1998). Although those in companionate love may have lost the thrill of having, for example, an exciting bicycle or the very latest computer, such consumers have an enduring and comfort able relationship with a possession that they know well and that they plan to keep and use into the future.
Our findings are circumscribed, however, in not detecting three additional nascent forms of love that are defined by only one love component; these forms are infatuation, friendship, and empty love. In particular, consider the absence of infatuation in our data. Our methods, while effective in sampling owners, omitted nonowners. Those nonowners in infatuated love—who are driven by a passion to possess a given object, but who are without first-hand intimacy or any years of ownership reflecting commitment—were omitted in our samples. Therefore, we urge future research to sample nonowners to study infatuated consumers and, in so doing, also assess both possession and brand love longitudinally. We speculate that brand love is most operant during infatuation, especially prior to owning, when largely only a love for an idea exists and not necessarily the love for some specific object. Moreover, we conjecture that as a material object becomes less of the marketplace, and becomes more appropriated by a consumer, then—among smitten consumers—possession love may over-shadow brand love.</quote>