How to encourage frugality: make it a contest

Paul Raven @ 06-02-2009

sad face and happy faceThe New York Times reports on an intriguing – and apparently effective – method of encouraging consumers to curb their energy habits. A Sacramento utility company printed comparisons of energy use on their bills, and rated the consumers by comparison to their neighbourhood’s averages and best figures, labelling their success or failure with a happy or sad face respectively.

When the Sacramento utility conducted its first assessment of the program after six months, it found that customers who received the personalized report reduced energy use by 2 percent more than those who got standard statements…

Some clients complained and the utility stopped deploying the frowning faces, but the idea has apparently been taken up by other companies elsewhere. It’s interesting to note that this method is apparently more effective in encouraging efficient energy habits than emphasising the financial benefits or environmental impacts.

But of course, it’s playing on the urge to conformity, and there will always be those who react against such angles of attack. And while the end in this case is benign, it’s a strong reminder that anyone with a psychology (or marketing) degree has a lot more power to manipulate you than you might suspect. [story via WorldChanging; image by Emmaline]

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One Response to “How to encourage frugality: make it a contest”

  1. JasperPants says:

    I would live for Ontario Hydro to do this! I would go for the longest record of unhappy faces, just to vex the Man!