Consumers don't always want bigger, better, more

A study in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that some people don't go for products marketed as better or more effective than its rivals. Individuals who focus on potential gains will go for a product advertised as far superior to its competitors. However, those concerned with potential losses will disregard such campaigns in favor of comparisons that claim a product is similar to or just as good as established brands.

"Our results are novel in suggesting that prevention-focused individuals might process information…based on the uncertainty or 'possibility of loss'," explain Shailendra Pratap Jain (Indiana University), Nidhi Agrawal (Northwestern University), and Durairaj Maheswaran (New York University).

The researchers distinguish between maximal and minimal comparisons, and their study is the first to show conditions in which maximal conditions are less persuasive than minimal ones. Maximal comparisons claim that brand A is superior to brand B, while minimal comparisons claim that brand A meets conventional expectations. According to the researchers, whether you are more provoked by maximal or minimal comparisons depends on whether you are focused on advancement or maintenance.

Consumers interested in promotion and moving ahead in the world are more interested in brands advertised with maximal comparisons. However, those more focused on prevention are more comfortable with claims that a product meets – but does not exceed – the status quo.

"A robust finding that emerged across two different contexts for promotion-focused people is that 'more is better'," explain the authors. For prevention-focused people, however, 'more' was not always better. Sometimes, 'more was less.'

"Most research assumes that maximal comparisons might always be more persuasive," write the authors. "Our research shows conditions when maximal frames may be less persuasive than minimal comparative frames."


Shailendra Pratap Jain, Nidhi Agrawal and Durairaj Maheswaran. "When More May be Less: The Effects of Regulatory Focus on Responses to Different Comparative Frames" Journal of Consumer Research. June 2006.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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