Read this blog post for less than the cost of your Starbucks coffee

Support the Winter is Coming fund with a silver stag a month — less than the price of your Starbucks!

OK, you got me.  This blog post is free.

But it’s a phrase you do see fairly often.  In fact, it had a hand in pricing one of the biggest products in recent memory:

“The iTunes Store would start with 200,000 tracks, and it would grow each day.  By using the store, [Jobs] said, you can own your songs, burn them on CDs, be assured of the download quality, get a preview of a song before you download it, and use it with your iMovies and iDVDs to ‘make the soundtrack of your life.’ The price?  Just 99 cents, [Jobs] said, less than a third of what a Starbucks latte cost.” – Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, emphasis mine.

But is there any science to this marketing snippet?  Or is it just something we’ve handed down without thinking about it?

Three researchers — Jennifer Savary, Kelly Goldsmith, and Ravi Dhar — looked at this very thing for donations.  Being researchers, they had to put it in less-accessible language, so they looked at it as positioning an ask amount versus that of a hedonic (related to pleasure, usually with no socially redeeming value) reference point and a utilitarian reference point.

Back in English, they asked people to donate $1 to UNICEF.  People who got the hedonic version had the ask followed by “One dollar is the cost of downloading one top-ten song off of iTunes, such as the current #1 hit ‘Hallelujah’ by Justin Timberlake.” (Which dates this paper very nicely).

People who got the utilitarian version got “One dollar is the cost of downloading one top-ten podcast lecture from iTunes U, such as MIT Professor of Physics Walter Lewin’s lecture, ‘Electricity and Magnetism.’”

Less than half (47%) of the control group donated, 57% of the utilitarian folks donated, and a whopping 88% of hedonic folks donated. 

This brings up three conclusions:

  • The hedonic positioning works really well
  • Positioning against any cost that makes your cost seem small works at least a bit.
  • Or, possibly, about 10% of the population finds a physics lecture to be a hedonic good.  Whoever you are, find me, as I long to be among my people.

They replicated that hedonic positioning works with donations of time, where two hours was either “how long it takes to watch the season finale of MTV’s Jersey Shore” (hedonic) or “to watch the season premiere of House” (utilitarian). 

Before I go to the results, I’ll say here that I will donate any amount of time you want if the only alternative is to watch Jersey Shore.

In this case, 12% of the control group volunteered, 14% of utilitarian folks volunteered, and 30% of hedonic folks volunteered. 

The researchers hypothesize that this works because we need to signal to ourselves that we take a right, virtuous, non-hedonic path in life.  We picture ourselves doing the self-focused thing and that picture makes us do the charitable thing, the same way picturing last night’s Ben and Jerry’s makes us push a little harder on the treadmill.

If you’d like to learn more mental fundraising hacks, check out our free Neuro-Fundraising® Lab course here.

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