A free Kiss beats a truffle

Valentine's Day is a long three months away, but what would you rather have: the American classic Hershey's Kiss or the Swedish treat, a Lindt chocolate truffle?

For my money, I'd rather have a chocolate truffle. But if price is an issue, then a Hershey's Kiss chocolate will still satisfy my sweet tooth.

But in an experiment on consumer psychology, a group called Research and Markets in Dublin, Ireland, found that more people wanted a free Kiss over a discounted truffle, but chose the truffle over the Kiss when the Hershey chocolate cost a penny and the Lindt truffle cost 14 cents. In other words, they took free stuff over a more costly item, but when both items cost some amount of money, even 1 cent vs. 14 cents, they picked the more expensive item.

Here's how the study on how illogical forces skew reasoning abilities of consumers put it: "Participants in one group were given two options: a Lindt truffle for 14 cents or a Hershey Kiss for one penny. Seventy-three percent chose the truffle and 27% chose the Kiss. Then, for participants in a second group, both chocolates were discounted by the same amount, by one penny. So costs went from 14 cents and 1 cent to 13 cents and zero. This time, only 31% chose the truffle, while 73% chose the free Kiss."

Something to think about when you see similar items at the store, but the product with the higher approval costs 13 times what its competitor does. Or when something is free. That's savvy marketing to be aware of.

As Professor Dan Ariely writes in the report, "Free is a good price. If I offer you something for free, it's better than one penny. The question is are you reacting to 'free!' or are you overreacting to it? Everybody wants this deal! But when something is framed as free, it has an extra appeal."

In reality, a Lindt truffle costs about 44 cents. It's worth the cost, but not an indulgence that I'd want an entire bag of. (let alone the calories.) Now if they offered the truffles for free, that would be an experiment I'd want to be a part of.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com

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