This chapter is based on Michael J. Silverstein and John Butman's 2006 book, Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer, published by Portfolio.
It was coming up to Christmas, and Alice Nelson wanted to make the holiday very special for her family. The Nelsons had not bought a new TV in 12 years. Alice's husband, Ben, was sick of the old television with its 27-inch screen and mediocre sound. Their three children looked with envy at the big flat screens of their friends and neighbors. Everybody in the family was tired of mediating who would get to watch what and when.
“We needed a new television,” Ben says with conviction. “Especially me. I work a 75-hour week. Watching sports on television is one of my few luxuries. Alice and the children wanted a vacation as a Christmas gift. But I knew that if I could convince them to go with the TV as the family gift, we would get years of pleasure from it, rather than just a few days of vacation.”
It was an unusual decision for an unusual family. Ben Nelson holds two jobs: one as an engineer; the other as a barber. Alice is a part-time nurse with health issues of her own to attend to. The Nelsons have three children—two girls and a boy—aged 18, 16, and 14. They live in a middle-class suburb. Alice drives a gas-guzzling Durango SUV and Ben tools around in an aging two-seater. He works hard, ...