[Mind] Games

Innumeracy and Advertising Manipulation

Do you ever feel like a commercial has duped you into buying something? This book, 200% of Nothing, explains the ways in which advertising companies are able to fool the public by twisting numbers and statistics to make a product seem more beneficial. This sort of mind game works on many consumers because of the increased rates of innumeracy in today's world. According to Dewdney, the author, Innumeracy is the inability or unwillingness to understand basic mathematical ideas involving numbers or logic as they apply to everyday life. It's possible that innumeracy is a bigger threat to consumers than illiteracy. For example, you could state a false claim in a commercial and easily exploit a consumer's innumeracy. How would they know you were lying when you said that was a 95% customer satisfaction rate? It could really be less than 5% and a horrible product, and the consumer wouldn't know the different until it was too late. With illiteracy however, how could they be exploited by an ad when they can't read? In this way, innumeracy exploitation is more common and is capable of affecting a much larger group.

"Caveat Emptor" : Latin for "Let the Buyer Beware". Consumers today have to face many tricks and deceiving promises by advertising companies. While most of these have a very small individual impact, the public would be surprised and angry at how many purchases are made and how much of their money is wasted due to number manipulation in advertising.

Dunkin Donuts: "FREE 3 Muffins when you buy three at the regular 1/2 dozen price!"
This was a coupon recently issued by Dunkin Donuts. It appears that the buyer will be getting 3 free muffins right? WRONG. Look more closely. When you buy 3 muffins at the price of 6 muffins... you are supposedly getting 3 free muffins. However, what you are really getting is 6 muffins for the price of 6 muffins! So how is that a discount? Exactly, it's not. This is one way that advertisements trick you into buying more than you need or want.

Coupon and "Discount" Design
Everybody loves coupons. Sometimes, the discounts they offer can be irresistible. The picture to the left is an example of some coupons. What is the first thing that pops out at you? $10, $20 and $30 off.... right? Seems like a great deal. What people aren't as quick to notice is the smaller letters underneath. In order to get $10 off, you need to spend $50. To get $20 off, you need to spend $100 and so on. The fact that these details are written in smaller letters is no mistake or coincidence. By designing coupons and discounts this way, advertisers and manipulate consumers to spend more money. For example, let's say someone went to the store planning to buy one item. They would see this coupon and then think to themselves "What else could I use?". They would most likely end up buying more and spending more just to get the $10 off. However, they would have saved money if they had just bought the one item instead of buying more and getting a discount.
Another way numbers are used to trick consumers are by using nines. Have you ever been in a store and wondered why the prices are all $4.99, $9.99, $299.99 or something to that effect? When I was little would always wonder why they went through all the trouble to put all those digits when they could just write $5, $10 or $300. By rounding down 1 cent, merchants can make the product seem cheaper to the buyer. This is a sound claim because, take 299.99 for example, people would much rather see the two in front of that big number than a three. The problem with this is that the retailers usually don't lower the prices to reach the "magic" number nine, they raise them. For example, they will change something that is $18.20 to $19.99 but they probably wouldn't make a $20.18 product $19.99. Some intelligent shoppers like to add up prices in  their head as they go, making sure they don't spend too much. However, the ".99" at the end of every price item makes it extremely difficult and confusing to do this. This is an advantage for the store owner because if people are not paying attention to how much they spend while they're in the store, they will most likely end up spending more. When they hear the final price at the register, most people (with some exceptions of course) would just make an excuse and say "Oh, I really do need that anyway. A few extra dollars won't hurt." In this way, consumers are tricked into spending more. A way to avoid losing track of what you put in your shopping cart is by rounding up to a whole number. This way, it is easier to add up your total and not lose track of how much you are spending before you get to the register.
"Percentage- pumping formula": Northeast Utilities offered a rebate on their new, energy efficient light bulbs and fixtures. The rebate ranged from $4 to $50. This offer was appealing and solid; it was simply money given back to the consumer. Then, the offer got ridiculous. If the consumer also installed a metal hallide fixture, they received the rebate AND savings of "200 percent on energy". Let's think about this. A bulb that saved only 100% on energy would burn without using any power, an impossibility. So how can it be plausible for the advertisement to claim that the consumer would save 200% on energy? Saving 200% would mean that the light bulb actually produced an extra 100% of energy. Another impossibility since energy-producing lightbulbs have yet to be invented. The ad agency however continued to claim that the mathematics behind this offer was all correct.
    Percentage pumping is obviously something that consumers need to watch out for. Mathematicians can manipulate formulas and percentages to make a product seem better than it really is. The problem is, most people wouldn't investigate these claims like Dewdney did. Most people would just take it as the truth.