Product Attachment

Product Attachment

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4984-0.ch004
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Although the study of emotional feelings that consumers' nurture toward products (or material possessions) has largely attracted the interest of marketing and consumer behavior scholars, research dealing with product attachment is still at its nascent stage. This statement is confirmed by the result of a systematic literature review on product attachment that is reported throughout this chapter. After providing an updated picture of the state of the art of research on product attachment published to date, the chapter reports multiple conceptualizations and operationalizations of the product attachment construct. This is followed by thorough analysis of the antecedents and consequences of product attachment included in published empirical research. The analysis concludes by suggesting possible issues that might be of interest to those doing or planning to do research on product attachment. This is the first systematic literature review on the construct of product attachment published to date.
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Product possession and the relationship that individuals establish with material objects (i.e. products) constitute one of the most important areas of consumer research. Important studies have in fact demonstrated the existence of a strong connection between consumers and the products in their possession and the influence of this connection on consumers’ behaviors (e.g. McCracken, 1986; Belk, 1988).

In particular, in the stream of studies known as ‘consumer culture theory’ (CCT), several studies have analyzed product possession in anthropological terms. Among the constructs, concepts, and theories developed in this research stream, the idea that material possessions can be regarded as extensions of individuals’ selves (Belk, 1988) is one of the most corroborated and important innovations in the frame of consumer studies. As Belk (1988) writes, “a complete ensemble of consumption objects may be able to represent the diverse and possibly incongruous aspects of total self” (p. 140). And again – quoting Tuan (1980) – Belk supported the powerful statement “we are what we have and possess”.

Hence, in this perspective, possession pervades the three basic states of our existence: having, doing, and being (Belk, 1988). Put differently, to possess concerns not only having an object available when needed but also – and primarily – using that object to enact one’s identity and/or to show one’s identity to others.

In the academic debate on possession and the emergence of feelings of attachment to material objects – named ‘product attachment’ – scholars have first looked at the existence (if any) of the relationship between objects and identities. They have then looked at how these identity-salient objects may lead to the formation of feelings of attachment.

The pioneering works by Sirgy (1982) and Belk (1988, 1990) on this matter have shed much light on the use of material objects by individuals to extend their selves. Although this will be examined thoroughly in below, scholars agree that people have a tendency to consume products or to possess items that are congruent with their self (private and/or social, actual and/or ideal). (Sirgy, 1992).

Then, if this identitarian fit exists and is salient, it is likely that these material objects can become attachments because of the emotional connection that consumers establish with them. However, as Schultz et al. (1989) note, this should not lead to the conclusion that every object/product possessed by an individual has to be congruent with her/his self; nor that every product judged to be congruent with one’s self (selves) is an attachment. Rather, it entails that consumers are keen to make more or less formalized/structured hierarchies of their favorite things, and that these favorite things have generally a high rate of congruity with their selves (see also Arnould and Thompson, 2005).

In this book, I acknowledge this point of view and consider the ability of some products or material possessions to be elected as extensions of the self by consumers as a concept different from product attachment.

Put differently, in line with Schultz et al. (1989) and others (e.g. Schifferstein and Zwartkruis-Pelgrim, 2003), I recognize that self-extension and attachment are constructs which are somehow related but do not overlap. Both are rooted in the idea that individuals have a general tendency to expand their selves through possession (see the self-expansion theory of Aron and Aron (1996)), but I will purposely avoid merging these concepts and constructs.

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