How experience-based brands can use the secret of benign envy to drive consumer purchase intention

In this month’s Marketing Science Cheat Sheet for brands we explore how brands tap into the powerful emotion of envy to trigger purchase intention in consumers.

The Insight

Consumers purchase intention can be triggered when they experience benign envy.

Envy occurs when there is a perceived social gap. Consumers can experience two different types of envy (benign and malicious) but only one is found to increase purchase intention.

Benign envy occurs when the consumer is more focused on the experience another person is having, as they rationalise that this is the cause of social gap. They therefore are more motivated to purchase that experience themselves, as they believe that this will rectify the perceived gap and bring them back on to the same level as their peers.

Malicious envy is when consumers see a peer being socially elevated through an experience and believe that this is undeserved. They are therefore more focused on the idea of the person losing that experience, rather than how they can obtain it themselves to compensate for the perceived social gap.

The Science

Findings from “Social Media Envy: How Experience Sharing on Social Networking Sites Drives Millennials’ Aspirational Tourism Consumption” by Hongbo Liu et al (2018) highlight when consumers experience benign envy, their intention to purchase increases.

This has major implications for experience-based brands, as those that can master inducing benign envy when communicating with their target audience, will have a greater chance of triggering purchase intention.

Experience-based brands are brands which provide consumers with an experience, such as a hotel or restaurant. For example, consumers do not own the hotel room, but are able to experience it for a price.


Temple University in Philadelphia tested whether seeing others positive experiences triggered purchase intention. The research was published in the Journal of Travel Research, a bimonthly peer-reviewed academic journal covering tourism.

The report found that destination visit (purchase) intention increased when benign envy is triggered. Interestingly, the report also found that when a consumer is experiencing low self-esteem, their desire to visit the same destination as their peers increases.

The findings are supported by research conducted by Ruoyun Lin et al (2018), and Xiaoying Zheng et al (2018) as they found that experiential purchases, such as luxury travel experiences, triggered more envy than material purchases.

Research from Anthony Salerno et al (2018) also found that consumers’ mind-sets can be defined by two categories: Growth and Fixed. People with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their qualities and that they are adaptable when they put the effort in. By contrast, people with a fixed mindset view their personal qualities as defined and don’t think these can be changed even if they put the effort in. The findings revealed that consumers who have a growth mindset have a higher propensity to experience benign envy compared with consumers with a fixed mind-set.

Who can benefit

By eliciting benign envy through the amplification of desirable experiences, brands will be able to increase the target audiences purchase intention for experiential experiences/products.

These findings will benefit a wide range of brand types, including hospitality brands such as clubs, bars and pubs like Mr Foggs Tavern in London, hotel brands such as CitizenM, travel brands like British Airway, art brands such as the National Portrait Gallery, and restaurant brands including Nandos. The reports findings will also affect other industries including entertainment brands such as the National Theatre and experience based technology brands such as AirBnB.

Opportunities to Create Brand Magic

In order to capitalise on benign envy, brands can show how the peers of the target audiences’ engaged in a desirable experience that includes the brand to drive purchase intention.

Through working with StoryScience, The O2 was able to increase the brands online conversions by 573% by using behavioural science to induce benign envy across the brands social media profiles. You can discover more about the work StoryScience did by reading the case study here.

Another example of an experience-based brand utilising benign envy is Wimbledon. The entertainment brand keeps its followers up-to-date on its social media platform, regularly showing visitors enjoying themselves in the sun and cheering on the athletes as they compete.

In this instance benign envy is induced rather than malicious envy, as the majority of tickets are only available through a ballot. This ballot randomly assigns tickets to people who apply, and is not based on social status. Ground passes are also available on the day, however to secure these visitors have the queue for hours and are therefore deserving of the experience.

Another brand which successfully induces benign envy to drive consumer attendance and purchase intention is Hyde Park’s annual Winter Wonderland. The festival’s 2019 advertisement centres around visitors enjoying their experience with family and friends, increasing the likelihood the target audience will experience benign envy. This can cause the audience’s intention to purchase a ticket and attend the festival to increase.

About StoryScience

StoryScience is the UK’s first scientific strategic creative agency. Moving away from the traditional opinion-led approach, StoryScience’s guiding purpose is to pioneer scientific creative and deliver brand magic that audiences want and the results clients need. We deliver creative and strategic marketing solutions underpinned by a scientific creative thinking. In short, we use science to create brand magic.



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