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“An Emerald Green Jaguar, A House on Nantucket, and an African Safari:” Wish Lists and Consumption Dreams in Materialist Society

Becci Dive Paper Summary The key objective of the paper is to open up pre-purchase dreaming as a form of consumer behaviour, in particular where these pre-purchase dreaming activities manifest in consumer wish lists, exploring the status of pre-purchase dreaming as an act of consumption. Existing examples of pre-acquisition phenomena touched on are materialistic aspirations (Fournier and Richins 1991), wish-lists (Belk and Zhou 1987), anticipatory consumption experiences (MacInnis and Price 1990), consumption fantasies (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982) and vicarious consumption experiences (MacInnis and Price 1987). Fournier and Guiry comment that these pre-purchase dreaming activities flourish in materialistic cultures. Leiss et al (1986) recognise that the preoccupation with consumption that characterises these societies encourages cultivation of purchase goals, on-going entertainment of consumption dreams and the eternal search for suitable consumption prospects – activities that occur largely in the imagination. They also argue that marketing and advertising institutions encourage the imaginative ‘desiring mode’ by actively supporting the dream quality of consumption and purchase – they allow the consumer to entertain thoughts of ownership without making a commitment to purchase, developing the idea for ownership without payment. Campbell (1987) proposes that “longing” is so filled with enjoyable states of fantasy that the simple anticipation of consumption comes to serve as a desired end-state in itself; imaginary consumption activities enjoy superordinate status above actual purchase and usage experiences. The paper touches on the idea that society is conditioned to construct wish lists from an early age with writing to Santa, suggesting pre-acquisition dreaming is not only accepted but highly encouraged. There is a focus on fantasy in the paper but they are split into two different types; creative fantasies, planful forms of daydreaming grounded in future experiences (Singer and Antrobus, 1963) or pure daydreaming fantasies, in which highly improbable events or fanciful wishes are entertained. They recognised that with both forms of fantasy, the gratification can be so positive that the fantasy serves as a surrogate experience (Singer 1966). Literature shows that daydreaming and fantasy behaviours are widespread and met with positive public opinion being openly embraces for the enjoyment and stimulation they offer, and recognition of their positive adaptive functions. Fournier and Guiry’s study showed that generally speaking, lists were dominated for desires for material possessions; bigger houses, new cars, luxury items, travel and consumption experiences were all popular on wish lists. The data could only partially support Singers (1966) idea that consumers aspiring to move up the social ladder dream about the symbols of their target group. They did, however, note that consumers with greater levels of satisfaction may have garnered many of their desires, become more selective in constructing their lists, or learned the negative effects of wishing for unattainable goals. They conclude that pre-acquisitive dreaming plays a viable role in consumer culture – consumers entertain dreams of yet unacquired products and experiences for purposes of anticipatory consumption and purchase prioritisation, as well as for speculation and intrinsic enjoyment of the experience. They separate consumer wish lists into two different forms and functions; some lists are reflective of anticipated purchase goals, “want lists”, while others are manifestations of consumption dreams in the purest sense, “wish lists”.

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    Referring back to my comment on the Giambra paper, this issue of wishes and wants also relates to the possibility that desire exists on a spectrum and is not necessarily the only force driving our imagination. Papers that critique desire raise some intersting points – see Boujbel (2006) for instance.

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    Janice Denegri Knott


    In our forthcoming chapter on the transformative potential of DVC, this is what we say about wish lists.

    Similarly on many other websites, the consumer is invited to always upgrade; always see what is coming next that might fuel desire and lead to actualizing purchases. Amazon, for example, allows users the facility to create and manage a ‘wish list’ of digital virtual items, which may be purchased once finances allow. Yet even when they don’t, a user may add to the wish list those items that arouse their desire. The list is a space that partially actualizes a desire. It changes the status of an item from one that exists only in the imagination, to one that is a possession in waiting- just one click away. Videogames allow for similar ‘wish lists’. Gran Turismo allows players to accumulate a garage full of simulations of increasingly exotic and expensive cars. Here the difference is that they may also take them for a spin, win races with them, and earn digital virtual money to buy new ones. The desire to own an expensive car may therefore be actualized within the game. Although these cars may one day be purchased ‘for real’ (and this is no doubt the aim of the growing videogame brand placement business, see Molesworth, 2006), something like ownership has already occurred.

    To cite: Molesworth, M. and Denegri-Knott, J. (2012 forthcoming) DVC as transformative Space in Russel Belk and Rosa Llamas, The Digital Consumer, Routledge.

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Faculty of Media & Communication, Bournemouth University