The Sway of the Fake Restaurant

I recently finished reading “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.” It shows how people frequently base a lot of their decision making on irrational ideas. Stock investors chase a loss, consumers value a more expensive product just because it’s more expensive, and students stick with their first impressions of teachers despite contrary evidence.

Carl’s Jr.’s recent ad campaign illustrates this well. The book describes an experiment in which researchers gave two groups of people the exact same SoBe Adrenaline Rush drink, told them it has intelligence-enhancing properties, and gave them a word jumble. They also said they were charging them for the drink. The amazing thing is that the group who thought the drink was costing them $2.89 performed much better than the group who thought they were paying $0.89. The author says:

Once we attribute a certain value to a person or thing, it dramatically alters our perceptions of subsequent information. This power of attribution is so potent that it affects us even when the value is assigned arbitrarily. (p. 55)

The same thing happened with this ad campaign.

Sway cover Brafman Fake Restaurant web site

For the ads, the company created a fancy-looking fake restaurant with flowers on the table, nice silverware, cloth napkins, and hidden cameras. The chef and all the other people were actors. They would feed someone a Carl’s Jr. burger on a fancy plate, and charge them $16. People said the burgers were really great, and said that was a fair price. So the point of the ad is that the burgers are really good (and they are pretty good, I’ve had them once or twice). However, I think it’s the setting and the price that really makes people value the burgers more.

I would like to see an opposite experiment where someone goes to a dumpy little place, gets served the same exact burger on a paper plate, and charged $1.49. I wonder what their opinion would be then.

In another experiment explained in the book, a substitute teacher came to teach a class at M.I.T. and students were asked to evaluate how well he did. However, before the lecture began, students were given a little description of this teacher. It said, in part:

This is his first semester teaching Ee 70. He is 26 years old, a veteran, and married. People who know him consider him to be a rather cold person, industrious, critical, practical, and determined.

However, half of the students were given a different description that substituted the words “rather cold” with “very warm”. After the lecture, the two groups of students evaluated the professor completely differently. Even though they has sat through the exact same lecture.

This is why I’m always nervous about the very first day of class in a new semester. I think when I start class in the fall, one of the first things I’m going to tell the students is how much they are going to enjoy this class and how good of a teacher I am, to set their first impression really high. I may even post some of my good student reviews on the class web site before the first day.

8 Responses to “The Sway of the Fake Restaurant”

  1. CW Says:

    Can’t wait to read the book. Sounds amazing.

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