Benign envy sells iPhones, but malicious envy impels people to buy BlackBerries, new research has found.
A team at Tilberg University says that people will pay more for products that make them envious — but only when they're motivated by a positive, benign form of envy.
And they'll pay a lot more.
"Our studies showed that people who had been made envious of someone who owned an iPhone were willing to pay 80 Euros more on average," write authors Niels van de Ven, Marcel Zeelenberg and Rik Pieters.
"Benign envy exists if the advantage of the other person is deserved, and motivates people to attain a coveted good or position for themselves. This more motivating type of envy makes people pay an envy premium for the products that elicited their envy."
Malicious envy, they say, occurs when the other person is seen as undeserving, and creates a desire to cut them down to size.
Participants in the experiments were asked to imagine feeling jealousy and admiration for the iPhone owner, to imagine feeling jealous and begrudging, or just to imagine that they really liked the product a lot.
The researchers found that those in a benignly envious mood were willing to pay more for products that they wanted.
Maliciously envious people, on the other hand, were were more likely to pay more for competing products. For example, people who felt maliciously envious of someone with an iPhone were more likely to pay more for a BlackBerry.
All this has implications for the advertising industry, the authors say: companies need to be careful who they use in their ads.
"Advertisers should make sure that the celebrities they want to use in their ads actually deserve their status," the authors write. "If they do not, these celebrities might actually trigger malicious envy and the sales of products from a competitor could even go up."