Cognitive dissonance and the point of minimum justification - Part 2 of 3

By Dr. R. Andrew Hurley
Contributing Editor, Packaging World

So, why is this a controversial practice (diamonds)? As far as the Helzberg approach, it’s quite bold to blatantly take advantage of our subconscious feelings of inadequacy. But, in other everyday categories, this has been employed in a much more subtle way. Take everybody’s favorite guilty pleasure for example, ice cream.

You’re wandering down the frozen dessert aisle, perusing the vast variety of ice cream offerings. Aside from a few outliers, there are only a dozen or so flavors represented, so how do brands distinguish themselves? One way is the “super premium” promise, and here is where the cognitive dissonance comes into play. Super-premium ice cream is packaged in pints, whereas store brands and more conventional ice creams are packaged in 1.5-quart to half-gallon sizes, and in most cases, those pints only cost 10% to 20% less than the much larger sizes. Common sense says that the larger size is obviously a better value, so cognitive dissonance is created because, regardless of value, you’re still inexplicably drawn to the pint.

Maybe it’s a holdover from more amazing jewelry marketing—the “good things come in small packages” idea. The packaging is key here: Does the pint hold a more premium product? Maybe. But is it enough to truly justify the price point? Probably not. So, to alleviate this dissonance, the consumer has to make a self-justification—they deserve it. They want to live a super-premium life, and the absolute easiest way to achieve that is by splurging on a richer, more satisfying dessert. As a bonus, the smaller package size makes it easier to convince yourself it’s actually the healthier choice. Dissonance averted.