OPINION3 December 2020

The same but different

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Behavioural science Impact Opinion

In his latest Impact column, Rory Sutherland writes about the different impacts of the same objective information on consumer behaviour.

Speedometer car driving_crop

One of the most valuable contributions consumer research can make is to probe the remarkably different effects on consumer behaviour that may be obtained by presenting the same seemingly objective information in different ways.

In the UK and the US, a car’s fuel efficiency is typically presented in miles per gallon. In other words, what distance you may drive for a given unit of fuel. This has significant unintended consequences on consumer perception of fuel efficiency.

It means that, at first glance, replacing a car that does 15 miles to the gallon with one that does 25 seems no more significant a decision than replacing a car that does 50 miles to the gallon with one that does 60. Yet, the first is proportionately far more important than the second – for both the environment and the motorist’s wallet.

In other parts of the world, by contrast, the measure used is litres per 100 kilometres; this arguably presents a much more accurate ...