Too much of a good thing?

Marketing researcher finds that the way to avoid consumer burnout is paying attention to details
Two people with ice cream cones and

They say variety is the spice of life, but what if eating, listening or watching the same thing on repeat, rather than constantly switching among them, actually prolongs your enjoyment of a favorite snack, song or video? 

“It’s supposed to be the more the merrier, right?” said Jinjie Chen, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business. “The literature tells us that people like variety and they think variety is going to lead to more enjoyment. But it seems like that is not always the case.”

Chen, who studies consumer experience and enjoyment, found people’s enjoyment declines more slowly when presented with blocks or clusters of the same product — versus a mix of products. He and his co-author, Joe Redden of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, published their findings online in The Journal of Consumer Research in late 2023. 

Chen wanted to study the “hedonic decline” of products. Whether called satiation, habituation, or burnout, hedonic decline is “the idea that your enjoyment of something is going get less and less over time, like your favorite restaurant,” Chen said. “At some point, you’re going get tired of it.”

He wondered how would different sequences of the same set of experiences affect how people’s enjoyment change over time.

To test this, he asked participants to eat a plate of Hershey’s Kisses, caramel rice cakes, and gummy bears. One group had to eat all the Kisses, rice cakes, and gummy bears and rate their enjoyment of the snack. The other group alternated snacks and was asked to rate their enjoyment. 

In the end, the group that ate the snacks in clustered groups rated their enjoyment at 70 versus 62 of 100 for the mixed sequenced snacks. 

“But here is the kicker,” Chen said, “everybody had the exact same thing and amount. Regardless of which (sequence group) they were in, they ate the same thing. The group who ate snacks in a clustered sequence had 8 points higher enjoyment.” 

Further experiments showed participants enjoyed clustered consumption for longer because they noticed the details of what they were consuming — instead of jumping to a new sensation. 

This effect disappeared if participants were in an overly distracting environment, meaning attention to detail is the key to the phenomenon, Chen said. 

For consumers, one of the takeaways is we need to slow down to get the most out of the things we enjoy, Chen said. 

“We move on too fast,” he said. “We think we’ve extracted everything we can from an experience, and we just move on … Something I’m interested in learning is how do we enjoy what we already have for longer. I fully acknowledge that, at some point, you will be satiated with a product or experience and will have to buy new things. But can we postpone that?”