Frontlines | Shopping on the Wing

Diana Lynn Boyle

It's a marketing ploy that routinely traps shoppers. Faced with only two choices, say microwave A, small and cheap, and microwave B, large and pricey, a buyer is apt to pick either one. But throw in choice C, which is slightly more expensive but also slightly smaller than B, and shoppers flock to microwave B. "Item C," says behavioral economist Dan Ariely, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "is used as a decoy to draw attention to target item B. If we'd act on a purely rational basis, our choice between A and B should not be influenced by the addition of another option." It's called the "asymmetrical dominance effect," and it's been proven to work for everything from condoms to cars.

New research1 indicates that it also works for marketing nectar--if the "buyer" is a hummingbird. Using plastic flowers with varying...

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