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Dr. Travis Tae Oh on Consumer Fun

Dr. Travis Tae Oh

Dr. Travis Tae Oh is assistant professor of marketing at the Sy Syms School of Business. He co-authored with Dr. Michel Tuan Pham, professor of business in marketing at Columbia Business School, “A Liberating-Engagement Theory of Consumer Fun” for the Journal of Consumer Research (Aug. 27, 2021).

Here is the abstract:

The experience of fun plays a major role in the consumer society. Drawing on a grounded theory approach, we advance a psychological theory of consumer fun. Through an integration of in-depth interviews, narrative analyses, controlled experiments, structural equation modeling, and a photo-ethnography, our multimethod investigation makes four main contributions. First, we show that the experience of fun rests on the combination of two psychological pillars: hedonic engagement and a sense of liberation. Fun is an experience of liberating engagement—a temporary release from psychological restriction via a hedonically engaging activity. Second, we identify four situational facilitators—novelty, social connectedness, spontaneity, and spatial/temporal boundedness—that promote the experience of fun through their effects on hedonic engagement and the sense of liberation. Third, we show that although the psychology of fun is not consumption specific, there is an intimate connection between fun and consumption. Finally, we clarify the relation and distinction between fun and happiness. We discuss implications for our understanding of consumption experiences, business practices related to the engineering of fun, and consumers’ own pursuits of fun and happiness.

“Considering the major role that the experience of fun plays in the consumer society,” said Dr. Oh, “it is surprising that this type of experience eluded systematic investigation and conceptualization in consumer research until now.” What the two authors wanted to do in this article is fill this void by advancing a psychological theory of fun with broad implications for our understanding of consumption experiences, business practices related to the engineering of fun,and consumers’ own pursuits of fun and happiness.

Future research would involve testing some of their applications in the field (especially in other cultures outside the North American focus of this study), finding additional factors that can stimulate the experience of fun, and exploring more deeply the relation between fun and happiness.

The authors conclude by saying that “we are hopeful that, in the years to come, this theory will be refined and expanded to eventually do full justice to the richness of the phenomenon as one of the experiences that make money worth spending and life worth living.”