The Scoop on Ice Cream and Persuasion

I’ve traveled a lot this year and have a lot
more trips coming up. If my travel schedule plays out I’ll have been on the
road half of the weeks this year and spent at least 50 nights in hotels. Think
about that– 10 weeks away from my family! Some days have entailed hitting the
road by 4 a.m. to catch early morning flights and arriving home close to
midnight. If you travel you know if can be tiring!

Last month, as I waited to catch an evening
flight home I got a text from my daughter, Abigail, asking if I wanted to get
some ice cream at Graeter’s when I landed because she wanted to tell me about
her first days of college. Despite being tired I agreed because I don’t view
such times as a sacrifice; rather it was an investment in her and our
As we waited in line I tried to decide what
flavor I was in the mood for and whether I’d go with a single scoop or a double.
If you’ve been to Graeter’s you know the ice cream is great but you pay a
premium for it!

As I looked at the menu I saw a single scoop
cone was $2.95 and a double was $4.25. I thought, “I just bought a half gallon
of really good Homemade ice cream for just over $5,” so I was reluctant to get
two scoops at that price. The other thought that raced through my head was,
“That’s almost twice as much.” When you do the math, you know it’s not twice as
much, but my mind quickly registered the $2.95 and $4.25 as $2 vs. $4 because
those are the numbers each price started with.

Something else that came into play as I
decided what to do was the fact that I was still a little full from dinner a
few hours ago. I decided to skip the cone to save a few calories so I asked for
a single scoop in a cup. The server said, “Would you like a second scoop for
just 50 cents more?” I recall thinking, “For 50 cents why not, that’s a good deal?”
because in my mind the option of going from one to two scoops was twice as much
ice cream but not at double the price.
As it turns out, the single scoop in a cup was
$3.75 and two scoops were $4.25…the same prince as the two scoops in a cone
that I’d just decided to pass on! It was only a 50-cent difference but in the
end I got two scoops…no cone…and paid the same amount I’d mentally rejected
moments before!
I read lots of books on the subject of
persuasion, pricing, etc., and yet I ended up in the very place I was initially
trying to avoid. Before you chuckle, I can assure you I could probably spot
similar inconsistencies in some of your decision-making.
So what happened to me? My focus shifted from
“two scoops for nearly double the price” to “a second scoop for just 50 cents
more” when in the end, the price was $4.25 in each case!
When we make decisions we rarely do so in a
vacuum. To assess a “deal,” we’re always making comparisons to other things. My
first thought was two scoops for about the same price as a box of ice cream is
not a good deal. However, knowing the first scoop was pretty expensive, getting
a second scoop for just 50 cents more seemed like a great deal. My mistake was
that I didn’t pay close attention to the price of a single scoop in a cone vs.
the price of one scoop in a cup. I mistakenly assumed getting ice cream in a
cup would be less expensive, certainly not more, because I couldn’t eat the cup.
So here’s the “scoop” next time you’re faced
with a similar decision.
  1. Try to remove your emotions from the decision.
    Many behavioral economics studies show people are emotional creatures that
    occasionally make rational decisions (i.e., We have five TVs but I want a 66-inch
    flat screen!).
  2. Recognize you’re always making comparisons to
    other things. Make sure you’re comparing to the right thing and don’t just look
    for something that will confirm what you emotionally want (i.e., I know we
    don’t need another television but it’s 50% off!).
  3. Take a moment to consider the value of the
    thing you’re considering regardless of what you’re comparing to. Value is
    subjective but oftentimes we ascribe too much value to things we believe will
    make us happier or more fulfilled (i.e., What will the 66-inch screen, even if
    on sale, really add to your life?).

Follow these simple steps and you’ll probably
make better decisions; the kinds you look back on with pride, not regret.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


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