In a strange series of events, a consumer microwaves his cell phone instead of a burrito, a lab worker drops his mobile device into a vat of toxic sludge, and a commuter throws her phone into the backseat of a departing taxi. Horrible mistakes? No. As becomes clear at the end of this Virgin Mobile TV commercial, these phone owners are all intent on “accidentally” destroying or losing their devices, thus necessitating an upgrade purchase. Is this simply a humorous advertisement, or can knowledge about the availability of product upgrades actually lead consumers to mistreat the products they own? Together with Josh Ackerman of the University of Michigan, we conducted some research to find out.

Sticking with cell phones, we began by examining an international dataset of about 3,000 lost Apple iPhones. We found that consumers are less likely to look for their lost phones when a new model is available in the market. Importantly, this finding holds even when controlling for the total number of Apple iPhones sold worldwide, a significant element to consider. And in a more controlled online study of several hundred mobile phone owners, we again found that consumers are particularly careless with their phones as soon as a new model becomes available on the market.

Read the full article "Why We Are So Careless with the Things We Own?" at Harvard Business Review.