Broken phone.jpg

Oops!  (not really)

You really wanted to drop your phone.

Thanks to our Olson Zaltman colleague Tim Bradley for sharing an article in the October 2017 Journal of Marketing Research that suggests that when presented with the possibility of purchasing an upgraded model of something we own, we tend to become more careless with the versions that we already own. In other words, when we know we can buy an iPhone 10, we’re more likely to drop and shatter our iPhone 8 and then say, “Drat!  I guess I have to buy a new phone.” (Here is a New York Times summary of the research.)

The authors explain this as our way of unconsciously resolving cognitive dissonance. We want that new product but we also feel guilty about ditching an older product that still works perfectly well. But if we break that old product – dilemma solved.

One of the experiments described in the paper – some people in a lab were given a mug. Others were given the same version of the mug but were made aware that a newer, better mug was available. The people who knew a better mug was available were significantly more careless than the control group when asked to place their mug atop a Jenga tower.

How to overcome this tendency? Think about donating your old items to other people. That makes you more careful again.

I wonder if there are limits to this tendency?  Mugs and phones are relatively low price-point, relatively low emotional attachment items. New car models come out every year but do we drive more recklessly as our cars become older? Will I be more reckless with a 75-year-old set of dishes that my grandmother owned than I would a set that I just bought last week?