Predictably irrational customers

That consumers’ purchasing decisions are irrational is old hat: an abundance of examples across industries attest to it. Fortunately, for marketers much of that irrationality is predictable; which could lead to rational planning on the marketing front. 

An oft-found instance of it is the irrational fear of the number 13 driven by a combination of myths and religious lore known as triskaidekaphobia, a name derived from Greek.  It comes up again for scrutiny in The Wall Street Journal in a feature on high-end residential buildings in New York City. A slew of upmarket condos have steered clear of the 13th floor, not that it doesn’t exist; just that it often gets (mis)numbered as the 14th. 

Gotham’s hotels are no different with a mere handful (eg:The Pennsylvania, Hilton’s Doubletree and the Renaissance) fielding a 13th floor. Airlines too have learned that 13 does not add up. Brussels Airlines started out with a logo featuring 13 balls only to relent to customers’ (irrational) fears and add a 14th. Curiously, thus far, that has not extended to row 13 in airlines’ cabins.

A current example of quirky and arguably irrational hooks to drive customer traffic is Copenhagen’s efforts at inbound tourism. The  Danish city, which last week celebrated  the Little Mermaid’s 100th birthday, has attempted to drum up business by playing on many people’s belief in superstition. Copenhagen’s city council has made plans to “wed couples during the coming alignment of Venus
and Mars”; an idea some critics have derided as “ridiculous” and “freaky”.

The promo is premised on the notion that the astrological charts at 10:35am  on Saturday,  7th September 2013,  Venus and Mars
will be aligned in such a way as to virtually guarantee wedded bliss to
couples who choose the date and time to get married. The city went so far as to commission an astrologer who  put together a chart “promising eternal
happiness to couples who get married on September 7th” and dispensed with the need for an appointment; promising anyone wanting to get married on the magical day that they can simply walk into City Hall to tie
the knot.It appears to have worked as hotels in the city were filling up.

Few have expounded on consumer irrationality more lucidly than Duke University’s Dan Ariely, the author of numerous articles and books directed at marketers but also at trying to alter consumer behavior that “repeatedly and predictably results in the wrong decisions being made”.   Nevertheless, Copenhagen and a host of other instances shows that he has his work cut out.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.