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‘20% fat’ versus ‘20.3% fat’ – How Specific Numbers Make us Think and Buy Differently

Relevant topics Archive, Conversion

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Rounded numbers encourage people to focus on the comparison between options, while unrounded numbers encourage people to compare to a fixed and clear standard.
  • Application:
    Consider what you want consumers to focus on when presenting them with numbers on your packaging or promotion
  • A 1988 research article investigated consumer reaction to numerical comparisons, using the lean/fat composition of hamburgers at an 80:20 ratio. Framing of the question was found to be a major factor in perceptions. People were more likely to buy hamburgers advertised as 80% fat-free than those presented with a “contains 20% fat” label. It’s a perfect illustration of the human brain’s inclination toward a framing effect bias. But do we also respond differently when presented with rounded versus unrounded numbers? Keep reading to find out!

    Recently, several new and controlled study exercises were performed by a research team headed by Gaurav Jain and Gary J. Gaeth to determine the decision-making impact of non-rounded numbers in comparing the attributes of various subject options. The study found that subjects preferred to be offered round number figures like 85%/15% in evaluating options, and had difficulty applying more precise figures such as 73.2% vs 26.8% to justify their selections. The conclusion was that subjects' brain operations defaulted to fixed, rounded figures rather than tackle the more complex ratios of unrounded ones.

    More attention towards unrounded numbers

    The first controlled study offered subjects comparisons of 80%/20% lean to fat ratios in hamburgers and other similar fractional representations. The second study group was presented very specific percentages such as 79.56/20.44% fat: lean relationship. Study subjects tended to consider the non-rounded ratio product to be inferior to the rounded one and tended to perceive unrounded figures as being lower than they objectively were.

    The data suggested that test subjects tended to pay closer attention to data presented in unrounded numbers, which resulted in decreased emotional reactivity and a higher likelihood of comparison of data figures to 100% or 0% rather than the ratio of one to the other. The framing environment was altered by using unrounded numbers, and the resulting perception was changed as well.

    Unrounded numbers change the subject of comparison

    More studies were conducted to confirm the findings of the first. Subject attention to data was measured using eye-tracking equipment. Differing font presentation was also employed to test the effect of boldfaced data offerings. Six testing regimens were conducted and all results indicated a negative impact on evaluations for both large and small numbers in comparison exercises.

    Findings confirmed that the framing effect bias was still emerging but the subjects of comparison changed. When rounded figures were presented, subjects compared the two figures to each other. But when subjects were presented unrounded and odd figures, the brain automatically chose to compare it against a natural benchmark such as zero or 100%. Unrounded figures consistently altered the brain’s comparative calculations. A more emotional response was derived from rounded figures presented, while subjects tended to more dispassionate calculation when presented with complex numbers. The brain wants to reduce such numbers to simpler ones.

    Practical Implications

    This means that when a consumer is presented with a number such as 20% fat, he will be more inclined to compare this number to that presented on a competing product. When presenting the customer with a figure such as 20.44% he will be more inclined to compare this with a fixed standard. In practice, marketers could use this information to guide the attention of their consumers. Does your product have an edge on that of a competitor? Use round numbers to encourage consumers to compare between products. Does your product contain a percentage that is innovative compared to a natural benchmark? Use unrounded numbers to encourage comparative calculations.
    This information is especially useful when considering the different mindsets that accompany hedonic and utilitarian products.

    These studies offer key insights into pricing and value framing strategies in modern marketing. When a rapid and decisive consumer comparison of two prices or values is desired, framed in a positive or negative manner, rounded numbers tend to encourage focusing on the actual comparison between options. Conversely, if you want the customer to compare a high or low number to a fixed and clear standard, the use of unrounded figures moves the brain to a more logical and rational decision process.

    Take-Home points

    • Rounded numbers encourage comparison between figures
    • Unrounded numbers encourage comparative calculations
    • Rounded numbers are generally favored by consumers
    • Consider your product and the consumer mindset when choosing rounded or unrounded numbers
  • ‘20% fat’ versus ‘20.3% fat’ – How Specific Numbers Make us Think and Buy Differently
  • Reference:

    Jaina, G., Gaethb, G.J., Nayakankuppamb, D., Levinb, I.P. (2020) Revisiting attribute framing: The impact of number roundedness on framing. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 161, 109-119.

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