Imagine you’re working in an electronics shop. A new gadget just came out – say, an iPod – and you’re in charge of putting together an offer for the first few days. Bundles are always good, you’re thinking, so you add a free song download – it doesn’t cost the company much, but it’s an extra that’s bound to encourage customers to get a shiny new iPod.

This is exactly the decision Kimberlee Weaver asked her participants to make in her 2011 study (hence the iPod). Unsurprisingly, 92% of them decided to add the free song. The logic is simple – adding another item for free must increase the value in the audience’s eyes, as they are receiving two products for the price of one. However, what people fail to realise is that presenters (who attempt to create an impression) and those on the receiving end (who evaluate the impressions) have fundamentally different mental models. In the study, the evaluators – customers – were far from appreciating the bargain. In fact, they displayed a completely opposite thinking pattern: they estimated the value of an iPod with free download to be less than the value of the iPod alone. And a difference, over $70, was not trivial. Why is that?

More is not more

What the evaluators engage with, implicitly, is averaging. While inferring the value of a single object is relatively straightforward, when two or more items are bundled together, we are driven to take a simple average. In the iPad example, we’ve got a high-value product bundled with a low-value product. As such, the low-value product brings the average down, effectively diluting the value of the high-value item. It doesn’t matter that, objectively, two has to be worth more than one – what matters is the perception, in which the lower-value item is dragging down the overall estimate.
Consequently, the more you keep adding to your bundle, the less apparent value the individual items are likely to have, especially the main one. Favourability closely follows – with the perception of overall value decreasing as a function of apparent worth of individual components, your bundle will look less appealing with each added component. The presenters often fail to recognise this, which is why the phenomenon was called ‘Presenter’s paradox’.
The same ‘more is better’ logic is also at play with intangibles – concepts, ideas, or arguments. While presenting your product’s features, it is tempting to list everything at once in the hope of encouraging customers who are looking for something specific. Someone trying to convince a team to change the strategy might throw all their arguments at them, while they would be better off by starting with two quality ones.

Keep it simple, clever

So how to avoid falling into the trap? Keeping it as simple as possible, though effective, is not always viable – sometimes you just need to show a few things, full stop. But try stepping into your audience’s shoes, whether they’re customers or colleagues watching your presentation. Don’t throw everything at them in one bulk – pace and sequence instead. Don’t dilute the message with too much detail, even if it seems crucial to you. Do, however, focus on the quality of your main points – it is them that will do the heavy lifting and create the favourable impression. Common wisdom has it again – less really is more.

Full paper:
Weaver, K., Garcia, S. M., & Schwarz, N. (2012). The Presenter’s Paradox. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(3), 445-460.

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