The nature of meaningful consumption



The consumer behavior literature is replete with demonstrations of the various ways hedonic and utilitarian consumption differ.  Although the hedonic versus utilitarian distinction has been quite generative for advancing consumer science, treating hedonic and utilitarian consumption as the two primary dimensions along which consumption varies overlooks a substantive class of consumption experiences: those primarily centered on the pursuit of meaning.  As a result, marketing theorists and practitioners alike run the risk of operating with an incomplete understanding of the nature and requirements of meaningful consumption.  In this paper, we propose five key distinctions between meaningful and pleasurable pursuits.  First, we propose that meaningful consumption is more cognitively engaging compared to pleasure-oriented consumption.  Second, we propose that the benefits associated with meaningful consumption are long lasting, whereas the benefits derived from pleasure-oriented consumption are fleeting.  Third, we propose that successfully finding meaning in consumption requires a greater time investment, whereas the minimum time investment needed to find pleasure can be quite short.  Fourth, we propose that benefitting from meaningful consumption requires more prior knowledge and expertise, compared to pleasure-oriented consumption.  Last, we propose that sources of meaning tend to be more idiosyncratic, reflective of unique customer preferences, compared to sources of pleasure. Pushing beyond the hedonic-utilitarian distinction provides an opportunity to better understand the nature of the utility consumers derive from market goods and services.