The Rule of Reciprocity
by Maria Lin, Real Simple, Dec. 2011 issue
About 40 years ago, Disabled American Veterans, a Kentucky-based nonprofit, had a bright idea: The charity decided to send potential donors free personalized address labels. After the labels arrived in mailboxes across the nation, contributors to the group nearly doubled – jumping from 18 percent to 35 percent of those solicited. Why was this marketing gimmick so successful (and copied by countless others)? Because of a phenomenon called the rule of reciprocity.
The concept is simple enough: When people are given something for free, they typically feel obliged to make a gesture – or even a purchase – in return, says Steve Martin, a coauthor of Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive (Free Press, $15) and director of Influence at Work UK, a consulting company in Luton, England. The principle applies even when the free item is unsolicited and inexpensive, as Cornell University psychology professor Dennis Regan learned in 1971. In his seminal study, he found that when people were offered a free soda by a student, they bought almost twice as many raffle tickets from him as did those who had received nothing. That’s why you’re so often besieged by offers of free samples, complimentary gifts with a purchase, or amenities like chocolate or bottles of water just for entering a store. The acts of generosity may seem like good, old-fashioned customer service, but they actually prompt you to lay down cash, according to Martin.
So remember this counterintuitive piece of advice the next time you’re at the mall or the grocery store: If you want to stay on budget, say no to free stuff.
This Simple Saturday post was contributed by Cindy as was the amusing cartoon below.