Marketing

Made a mistake during product development? Customers are fascinated by accidents, so be up front

Martin Kovacs /

Companies could potentially engage better with cutsomers by being transparent about product design and manufacturing mistakes, recent research shows.

The research, conducted by Yale assistant professor of marketing Taly Reich, along with Boston University’s Daniella Kupor and the University of Georgia’s Rosanna Smith, points to a consumer preference for products made by mistake over identical, mistake-free products.

The researchers conducted a number of experiments. Firstly participants were provided with a choice between a new type of chocolate and extra money, with one group being told that the beans to make the chocolate were deliberately roasted longer than usual, while another group was told that the additional roasting time was accidental.

Those who read that an element of the production was accidental were more likely to choose the chocolate than those who were told it was intentional, the researchers found.

In order to determine if consumers would prefer a product knowing there was a fault, the researchers presented consumers with a drawing with a mark on it.

The consumers were either told the mark was made by mistake or intentionally, with consumers more likely to purchase and willing to pay a higher price for the artwork with the mistake.

“These findings suggest that consumer interest in products made by mistake is not restricted to cases in which a mistake enhances the product,” Reich says.

When examining the underlying reasons for these preferences, the researchers found due to intentionality bias, consumers perceive mistakes to be less likely than intentional choices, leading to a perception of the product as being more unique.

In another test conducted by the researchers, consumers learned about a hip-hop song that included the sound of the producer’s breath, with participants who thought the sound was accidental expressing more interest in buying the song.

A third condition told consumers while the sound was accidental, the mistake itself was not unique to that particular song. This test did not generate a greater purchase intent, pointing to a consumer preference for mistakes making products unique.

“In this way, consumers are consuming not just the product, but also its creation story,” Reich says.

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Martin Kovacs

Martin Kovacs is a journalist with experience covering the IT, consumer electronics, retail, finance and energy sectors.

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