Research shows that consumers prefer products where an element of it was found by accident, for example a necklace made from gold from a previously unknown mine. Why? Learning about the accidental discovery of a resource makes consumers think more about how the resource might not have been discovered, increasing their appreciation for the resource by increasing perceptions that the discovered set.
Imagine you’re shopping for jewelry online, and the company’s brand biography webpage advertises that the gold mine it came from was discovered by accident when the company’s founder, a geologist, was out hiking. How does learning about the accidental discovery of a gold mine influence your interest in purchasing a jewelry company?
Previous research suggests that people tend to value effort and therefore may be more interested in shopping for the jewelry company if the gold mine is intentionally discovered. However, previous work examines the effort put into producing the product, not the discovery of existing resources. Our new research (soon to be published online at Journal of Experimental Psychology: General) found that communicating unintended discovery increases consumer preferences. Why? Because of fate.
The Role of Discovery
To examine the effect of inadvertent discovery, we first had consumers read about a fictitious jewelry company similar to the one introduced above. Consumers are shown a page from the company’s website, which includes information about how the company’s founder, a geologist, discovered the gold mine from which it sources all of its material.
A group of consumers read that the gold mine was discovered on purpose. Another group read that the gold mine was accidental. And the third group read the same biography of the brand but without the details about the discovery of the gold mine.
We found that consumers who read that the gold mine was discovered by accident were more interested in purchasing the jewelry company than consumers who read that the gold mine was discovered on purpose and consumers who read the brand biography no details about the discovery of the gold mine. . The latter two groups did not differ in their interest in purchasing the company.
This preference holds true even when we test the social media audience. Using Facebook’s A/B testing functionality, we exposed Facebook users to one of two versions of an advertisement for a university museum exhibit featuring a 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian tablet. Facebook users who read a version of the ad that said an archaeologist discovered the tablet by accident were more likely to click on the museum’s webpage showing the exhibit than Facebook users who read in a version of the ad that says the tablet is intentionally uncovered.
Simply put, because accidental discoveries are unexpected events, learning about the accidental discovery of a resource makes consumers think more about how the resource is not will actually be discovered, increasing their appreciation for the resource by increasing perceptions that discovery is destined.
What This Means for Marketers
Understanding these consumer preferences opens up new possibilities for marketers. At the simplest level, our research suggests that marketers can increase consumer preference for their products by telling consumers when an accidental discovery is part of a product’s narrative. A product may not appear to have an accidental element at first glance, but almost all consumer products use natural resources. Digging through the ingredients of a product to find a story of discovery can be a significant endeavor.
In addition, marketers in organizations that advertise historical resources, such as museums or auction houses, will clearly benefit from this research. Discovery is an element in every artifact’s biography, and making it a part of the public narrative can increase foot traffic to exhibits and boost auction sales.
In these ways and others, communication that is not intended in the biography of the discovery of the resource can create value for organizations without changing any tangible property of the resource itself.