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Increase Customer Desire Through Rejection

If you've ever spent a good part of your holiday season wending from store to store seeking out that must-have toy of the season, only to find it sold out everywhere you go, then the following conclusion from new Stanford Graduate School of Business research won't come as a surprise:

Facing rejection can increase people's desire to ultimately obtain a hard-to-get object.

Whether they cop to it or not, companies have long been aware of artificial shortages as a way to create desire for new products. However, the research shows that this approach can eventually backfire.
"For many people, wanting and liking are two separate things that can become contradictory," says researcher Baba Shiv, a Stanford marketing professor, in a press release. "When someone is thwarted from obtaining his original desire, he, in fact, comes to find the attractiveness and appeal of his target to be diminished. Yet, perversely, he may feel he wants it even more. The thrill becomes the chase."

Shiv's co-researchers were Uzma Khan, an assistant professor at Stanford, and Ab Litt, a current Stanford MBA student.

Some other notable findings from the study:

  • The less emotionally a person reacts to rejection, the more susceptible he will be to desiring it more and enjoying it less once he gets it.
  • People who are more emotional about being denied will more often in turn deny their desire. "Their attitude becomes 'it's not so great, and I don't want it anyway,'" says Litt.
  • Women were more likely than men to desire something more and like it less once they received it.
All in all, the researchers believe artificial shortages can be a useful marketing tool, as long as they fall within reasonable limits.

"The study shows that this approach will be effective as long as people get the item without a good deal of problems," says Shiv. "But if they're constantly frustrated, having to stand in line or return to the store only to find the item still not there, they may desire it more but quickly lose interest in it once they have it. The long-term success of the product will be doomed."

Whiteboard image courtesy of Flickr user friendsoffamilyfarmers, CC 2.0