Graphic of jelly beans and music notes

Jelly Beans, Music, and Consumer Behavior

Would knowing you will be offered a different flavor of jelly bean in the future make your current jelly bean eating experience better? How about a song from Grammy-winning crooner Sam Smith? Does knowing a different song—in this case Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars" “Uptown Funk"—is coming, make listening to Smith's “I'm Not the Only One" more enjoyable than knowing it's only Sam from here on out?

According to new research from Lundquist College assistant professor of marketing Jiao Zhang and coauthors Julio Sevilla and Barbara E. Kahn, the answer in both scenarios is a resounding “yes."

Zhang and his colleagues used music and jelly beans in their research studies to build on the established psychological theory that thinking about an upcoming pleasant experience makes current experiences better. The study “Anticipation of Future Variety Reduces Satiation from Current Experiences," appeared in the Journal of Marketing Research and was featured on the American Marketing Association's Scholarly Insights blog in January 2017.

“Until now, no one has studied how thinking about a future consumption experience can actually have an impact on current consumption experience," Zhang said.

In particular, the researchers were interested in testing if subjects tire of a particular experience less quickly if they know a differing experience is on the horizon.

He used the “Costco pack" as a real-world example. One will likely tire of a strawberry flavored yogurt before consuming all 36 containers, but knowing a blueberry yogurt is in your future (i.e., the variety pack) makes the current strawberry one more enjoyable, even if you have to eat a dozen of them.

“With the promise of more variety, consumption experiences in the present can heighten the desire for more in the future," the authors conclude.

They found this to be true only, however, if the planned future consumption experience is perceived to be as good as or better than the present experience. The future experience must also be in the same or a related product category.

The researchers said the findings imply an irony of which many aren't aware: Going to great lengths to conceal an upcoming surprise, say a vacation or gift, actually decreases the recipient's overall consumption enjoyment. This is because the anticipation, the savoring of the planned future enjoyment, adds to the consumption experience, and last minute surprises eliminate that aspect.

In terms of business, advertisers, in particular, can enhance their customers" overall experience by previewing certain aspects or even asking the consumer to imagine themselves in the experience.

It's interesting to note, Zhang added, that the opposite is also true: Anticipating a negative future experience decreases current enjoyment.

Zhang studies consumer choice and judgment and decision making, among other specialties at the Lundquist College.

Up next for Zhang is further study into brand logos and how brand logo design features evoke symbolic associations that influence consumers" evaluations of the branded products.

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