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Tuesday, Apr. 28, 2009 at 9:14 am

Why the Action Flick Always Gets Watched First

By Jeff Sexton
April 28th, 2009

So I’m at the local Block Buster, holding a typical 3-movie stack:

  1. a serious or respectable drama or film classic,
  2. a romance or chick-friendly movie for the wife,
  3. and some guilty pleasure action movie or low-brow comedy.

Guess which movie gets watched last or returned unwatched?

You betcha, it’s usually the drama/classic.  Oh the shame!

The thing is, unless I had added the high-brow movie to my “menu,” I’d likely have forgone the guilty pleasure of the action flick and just picked up the semi-respectable romantic comedy to watch with the wife.

Seems like recent scientific research shows it’s not just me and not limited to movies, either.  Apparently, diners given the option of salad are 3 times more likely to order french fries than if salad wasn’t on the menu.  Kind of counter-intuitive, when the healthy option spurs more unhealthy behavior.

But when you think about it, it kind of makes sense.  The fact that you thought about ordering the salad – and intend to order the salad at the next meal – helps you justify the french fries now, just like renting Touch of Evil helps me justify actually watching X2.  ‘Cause aren’t we all interested in eating desert now and working out later?  Would drinking be nearly as popular if the hangover came before the high?

So how can this apply to your business? Lots of ways, I’d guess, but the 2 that come to mind are as follows:

1) Charging the self-aware more money for the privilege of being restricted to the straight and narrow.  Chip and Dan Heath have an excellent article on this very strategy in the last issue of Fast Company.  People want to offload responsibility and even choice in order to circumvent their own “desert first” tendencies, and they’ll often pay you to help them overcome their own worst tendencies.

2) Front loading the exciting stuff while reassuring prospective customers that the good-for-you stuff is available/on its way. Amazon Prime is so incredibly seductive because 2-day shipping is within most people’s impulse-buy time horizon.  And it’s justifiable because, hey, shipping is free, and I’m sure I’ll get around to actually reading these books at some point, right?  And thus my antilibrary grows.

If you sell services, give some thought on how you can implement these techniqes, both from a business strategy and a web copy standpoint.

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Comments (14)

  1. Jeff,

    It’s even more extreme on the web.

    With a video you have a rough idea of the subject, the quality, and how “nutritious” the contents will be.

    And at the moment of decision you can cover all bases by selecting instant gratification and worthiness at the same time.

    But on the web you have a much more vague idea of what a link will deliver – and you can only click on one link at once.

    If you click on broccoli then you can’t click on ice cream.

  2. John,

    It’s not so much being able to actually click the links as to be able to fool yourself into thinking that “broccoli” is still an option even while you actually click on “ice cream,” which is pretty easy to do if you open the links up as new tabs – then you can read the ice cream link while you’ve got the broccoli tab open as pure potential. Trust me, I’ve got this procrastination of broccoli thing wired ;)

    - Jeff

  3. Jeff,
    I’m having trouble with this and was wondering how it would apply to our family business (residential remodelling).
    Offer a vanilla package, but showcase the super-deluxe package for a new kitchen countertop?

  4. Deb,

    If you follow the first link you’ll find that that article links to Decoy Marketing and Compromise Marketing articles. Both of those ideas work off of the same (or very similar) psychological principle. should contains some good ideas. Basically, you can have the vanilla package, the super-deluxe, and then the not so expensive deluxe that keeps the showy extras (the fries, or in this case the granite counter-top) but drops the price by changing some of the good for you stuff (a stainless steel oven that’s not as “professional grade” as your super-deluxe package). People will feel better about getting the middle/deluxe package because it has the look they really want and at least they’re not being so extravagant as to buy the super-deluxe package.

    Or you could sell them the flashy appliances they really want under the guise of “energy efficiency” (for the fridge) or “green” (for gas vs. electric oven and range).

    Those are my off-the-cuff ideas, but really, you should spend some time thinking about the psychology of kitchen remodels. Why are they really doing it vs. the reasons they think they’re doing it? What elements really make their eyes light up, vs. what parts of the remodel are done only because it’s how they justify the cool parts?

    I’ll put it this way: my wife and I just partially enclosed our garage because the upcoming addition of a 3rd child means we need more room and we don’t feel like moving. From this added space we got a play-room, home office-space, and a walk-in pantry. Which part of that do you think most excited my wife?

    The walk-in pantry, of course. Out of all proportion to the actual space involved, that’s the one that sent her over the moon. You probably have similar experiences in doing remodels – the little things which garnered the biggest compliments or praise, or that got clients the most excited. Then there are the things you know your clients should do, but that are harder sells. Consciously identifying both categories will allow you to better package, sell, and leverage both elements. And without a proper uncovery, that’s the best advice I can give you.

  5. I think the point is digressing to the adage if you give them option A lower price, B- basic C high end, they choose B because they don’t want to be seen as “A” – cheap or C tell you they cannot afford not to buy.

    But this article really brings out the instant gratification and ability for us to be guilt-free in ordering ice cream now as we have good intentions later. This is very powerful, and if you can grasp the concept it because a very high conversion increase tool.

    Re-read the “salad later” part again. You’ll see that this is a deeper proposition than what the comments reference. My apologies for being so philosophical but the point is so strong!

  6. Peter,

    I agree, but it’s a bit difficult to figure out how to apply “salad later” to kitchen redesigns. First you have to know which part is the salad and which would be the french fries. Then you have to know how to enable clients to feel like they still have the option for salad at some later date. Without investing too much time in this, I’m assuming the show-off factor is the fries and the “how it really works” is the salad. At best you could design a kitchen that looks luxurious, but use appliances that could be upgraded later, but then again, for a lot of people, the appliances ARE the fries. That’s why the best advice I could give Deb is to do the hard thinking about this based on her own customer insights.

    Of course, the ultimate “salad later” strategy is to offer financing. Get the kitchen today and pay for it later. In fact, I’d imagine that prior to the housing collapse, financing a remodel off of rising home values/home equity was exactly how things worked. How they’d work that into the equation in today’s market is a different story…

    - Jeff

  7. Show me a salad but give me fries but don’t mess around with my anti-library … now I have switch off NPR and listen to a crap-rock station to balance my karmic load.

  8. @ John

    If you click on “Ice Cream” you know that you can go back and click on “Broccoli” later.

    But most of the time you probably won’t, because you find another interesting “Ice Cream”.

  9. I guess that you could apply this to any market by offering a alternative payment plan that deferred payment until after a significant event (Christmas, tax payment date etc). Even better if you can claim that the additions will add more value to you (your home goes up in value) before you have to hand over the cash.

  10. good article
    i agree you
    it brings us the satisfaction when ording the ice cream.
    And if you grasp the idea,it’s gonna be a high conversion increase tool.

  11. As an action movie fan, I totally get why they are watched first!

  12. Like the article. I do have to agree, most people will choose the middle option or sometimes the cheap option just to see how things go. If you provide a service that they don’t understand then they do not like to part with their hard earned cash. If you provide a good service then most consumers will up the pricier options.

  13. Most services that could be considered “voluntary” could be considered the french fries. They are something we want but don’t need. The payment could then be considered the salad, if it’s financed.

  14. You know the kind of surveys I’m talking about, the ones that ask you to rate something on a scale of 1-5, they are called Likert surveys. I doubt if anyone actually likes them, but I truly loath them.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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