26 June 2008

coozies, breadmakers, and our irrationality

Free stuff makes us completely crazy. Discounts may be even more dangerous.

I spent a little bit of time at a professional association convention over the last few days and the way that people fawn over the logo-emblazoned pens, totes, coozies, and other assorted crap is beyond astounding.

How many of us have signed up for a credit card in order to get a free Spurs beach towel or Cubs blanket? We love free stuff even when we have no need for it at all.

Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational looked at the freebie phenomenon and concluded that people's desire for a good economic deal often completely overwhelmed rational, logical behavior. What we fail to do in these situations is measure the amount of increased joy we might get in a product. We get too caught up in getting something free (or at a discount) to ever wonder if the product will even improve our lives one iota.

Now this whole thing is pretty silly when discussing coozies and golf tees, but what if this same irrationality bled into our more important decisions. Evidence suggests that it does. Many of us drive "more" car than we intended to, simply because the dealer made us a great deal. It happens all of the time, sometimes in the most subtle ways.

For instance, upmarket homeware purveyor Williams-Sonoma was having trouble selling a $295 breadmaker. They solved the problem not by dropping the price of the breadmaker, but by introducing a $450 breadmaker to display next to the slow-selling model. Consumers, sensing that the $295 breadmaker was a great deal, snapped them up in record numbers. Looking for evidence - how many of us have dusty breadmakers in the cupboard? The evidence of our irrationality lays quietly gathering dust next to the food processor and the juicer.

Now if anyone needs a tote-bag full of crud, you know where to find me.


  1. first of all, do i see a hacky sack in that pile of nonsense? if so, sweet! best freebie i have seen in a while. aside from that, what you need to do is go to the first drawer to the right of your kitchen sink. open it up and start dumping all of the stuff that you get at these conventions in there religiously. while you are at it, find an empty butter tub and place all rubber bands and twisty ties in it. very handy to have around.

  2. I saw that. Mom!