The Contrast Principle

The contrast principle (or contrast effect) says that when you experience two similar things in succession, your perception of the second is influenced by the first.

For example, when you pick up a heavy box and then a light one, the second one will feel lighter than it really is. Or to quote a colorful example from Robert Cialdini’s excellent book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

If we are talking to a beautiful woman at a cocktail party and are then joined by an unattractive one, the second woman will strike us as less attractive than she actually is.”

(Sorry guys, the same holds true when women look at us.)

So why is contrast principle as the name of this blog?

Foremost because I find it to be an interesting insight into the way we perceive and experience the world. It’s a good example of how our perceptions are shaped and influenced by external experiences in ways we’re often only vaguely—or not at all—aware of.

I also like it for the title because my intention is to primarily write about marketing-related topics, and the contrast principle is applied in salesmanship. When you’re quoted a high price and then a lower one, the second seems lower than it really is.

An observation of this principle in the wild:  Costco’s watch case.

At my local Costco, the case always contains a handful of watches in the $5,000 – $10,000 price range. These watches are placed at the side of the display case near the main aisle, so they’re likely the first watches most consumers see as they approach the case.

Between their location and appearance, you can’t help but look at the $5,000, $6,000+ watches.

The $950 Tag Heuer you see two steps away looks surprisingly inexpensive. “I can afford that,” I always hear myself thinking. And the $89 sports watch? Why not pick one up for weekend hikes and working out — they’re almost giving them away.

I doubt there are many impulse purchases of the small selection of high-end watches, but my guess is that their main value to Costco lies in the comparison.

My local Costco store isn’t an anomaly — I saw the same set-up in other branches, including one in another state.

Lastly in terms of choosing “The Contrast Principle” for the blog name, I just like how it sounds.

If you read a post on this blog and then a post on another blog directly thereafter, hopefully the quality of my post doesn’t make the other one seem better than it really is. But if so, it’d be the contract principle in action, in both name and effect.

3 thoughts on “The Contrast Principle

  1. Pingback: How to Summarize Your Business Strategy in Fifteen Words

  2. Pingback: How To Have Influence, Part 2: The Contrast Principle - Ethos Communications

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