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iPhone or BlackBerry?: Your Choice Lies In Gadget Envy

Not all smart phone envy is created equally.

Researchers in the Netherlands reveal a form of gadget jealousy called benign envy drives consumers to iPhones and increases their willingness to spend more on items, while another variety of covetousness called malicious envy steers buyers toward BlackBerries, a discovery that could help businesses market their products and services in ways to elicit a desired emotion and subsequent sales.

“If people are indeed willing to pay more when they are envious, envy acts as an economic lubricant. Such a continuing cycle, with envy as the ‘emotional multiplier,’ could indeed stimulate economic growth,” researchers at Tilburg University wrote in their study, “The Envy Premium in Product Evaluation.”

Consumers motivated by benign envy – caused by comparing oneself to another person who has obtained something desirable such as an iPhone – were willing to pay about $110 more on average for an iPhone, researchers said.

But people with malicious envy, according to researchers, look for products to differentiate themselves — and they are likely to spend more money for these alternatives.

“Consumers often want what other consumers have. We established that envy has important effects on consumers,” researchers wrote. “An interesting question that remains is which products are actually probable to elicit envy.”

If businesses want to spark envy, they can market their products to appear exclusive or create distinctive designs and logos, researchers said. Envy-eliciting products ideally get noticed by everyone, are not everyday items, are polarizing and tend to be somewhat mysterious, according to the study.

“Making something more expensive increases its exclusivity and its potential to elicit envy. Increasing the price of a product might therefore not only provide a better profit margin but could also boost sales as the lower availability increases its desirability by triggering envy,” researchers wrote.

However, they caution against inciting the more negative form of envy, which could repel consumers.

“Advertisers should make sure that the celebrities they want to use in their ads actually deserve their status. If they do not, these celebrities might actually trigger malicious envy and the sales of products from a competitor could even go up,” wrote Niels van de Ven, Marcel Zeelenberg and Rik Pieters in the study published online this month in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily staff writer Brian Anthony Hernandez at Bhernandez@TechMediaNetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter (@BAHjournalist) and become his friend on Facebook (BAH Journalist) to interact or stay updated on news about small businesses.