Sunday, January 19, 2014
Free Food? Go On Then
This quite well known Graze Box advert deploys one of the strongest weapons of social influence: reciprocity. I think i speak for most when i say: everyone loves a freebie, if it be a taster in the supermarket or a free drink at a bar, one simply cannot resist. However, we all know nothing in life is free. Social obligation plagues us all and this is the weakness that reciprocity attempts to exploit. As soon as someone pays us a favor we feel automatically obliged to repay a favor, in kind, to the provider (Ciadini, 2001). Graze Box utilities this by offering a free box, once an individual receives the box they are likely to feel indebted in some way and to ease that uncomfortable feeling they are likely to repay the favor, by say... buying a graze box?
The rule of reciprocity is frequently seen in social situations, an acquaintance gives you a birthday gift, despite never previously even considering getting them a gift, when their birthday comes around with out doubt you'll be in body shop thinking whether they'd prefer the mango body butter or the strawberry hand cream. Kunzz & Woolcott (1976) illustrated this effect by sending a set of complete strangers a Christmas card, to their surprise they were inundated with replies, many not even questioning their identity, just simply repaying the kindness.
Supermarkets are famous for using this technique, one supermarket, reported in The Hidden Persuaders (1957) by Vance Pakard, left a slab of cheese out and let customers help themselves, once customers tried the cheese they felt obliged to buy some, leading to over 1000 pounds of cheese being sold in a few hours.
Many of us know of this effect, we see it coming a mile off, in some situations we show restraint, for example not accepting a drink off of a guy at a bar because we don't want to feel obliged to give them anything in return. Recognising this obligation can have astounding effects for example a woman, Diane Louie, refused to partake in a cult mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, because she had previously refused favors from the leader, Reverend Jim Jones, and therefore felt she didn't owe him anything.
So before accepting the next offer of free food or a free sample remember the scripture Jim Jones probably shouldn't have taught Diane Louie:
"And thou shalt take no gift; for a gift blindeth them that have sight and perverteth the words of the righteous."- Exodus 23:8
Kunz, P. R., & Woolcott, M. (1976). Season's greetings: From my status to yours. Social Science Research, 5(3), 269-278.
Caildini, R. B. (2001). Influence. Boston: Allyn & Bacon
Packard, V. O. (1957). The Hidden Persuaders. New York, D. McKay Company.