The Why #56: Why do we wait ’til the last minute to buy Christmas presents?
By Dan Monheit 9.12.22
Question submitted by Victoria, Hawksburn
Oh the shame! And it’s not even like we can complain about not getting enough notice. Every year, at about the same time that the supermarkets pack away the Easter bunnies and hot cross buns, Mariah Carey finds her way onto in-store radio stations throughout the land. Snowflake covered wrapping paper is suddenly everywhere, fruitcake rears its ugly head and the ominous ‘Christmas is coming’ messages are unavoidable.
Still we do nothing. Until we find ourselves, yet again, 24 hours from the most immovable of immovable deadlines, with little more than a stack of home printed gift vouchers for our trouble.
We could have done better. We should have done better. But we didn’t. And now it’s too late. There’s not even enough time to reprint all of the gift vouchers in colour.
So why do we do it to ourselves? Is it the adrenaline? The love of self loathing? The secret grinchiness we all harbour deep inside? Or maybe we’re just human. And by human, we mean part giant bird.
The Ostrich Effect
The Ostrich Effect refers to our tendency to avoid negative information. Instead of facing the facts, we choose instead to ‘bury our heads in the sand’. By pretending that the information doesn’t exist, we get to hide from the fallout of any bad news and avoid all those unpleasant, ‘icky’ feelings we fight so hard to keep at bay.
The seminal ‘Ostrich Effect’ study (which unfortunately, contains no actual ostriches) comes from Carlsson, Lowenstein and Sepi in 2009. As the world entered a deep financial crisis, the team set out to study how often inventors checked the health of their portfolios. Over a four year period, the researchers found that daily logins were consistently and significantly higher following good news (the market’s gone up!) compared to bad news (the market’s gone down!).
Rationally, having the most up to date information — no matter how good or bad — helps us make better financial decisions. Yet emotionally, if the news is bad, we’d rather not face it.
We’re all guilty of playing ostrich now and again. Ever delayed a doctors appointment assuming that strange rash would just clear itself up? What about ignoring your emails on a Monday, your bank balance on a Friday or your bathroom scales for most of January? Yep. Been there.
If you’re selling a product or service that most people would rather avoid (think Wills, health checks or financial counselling), consider ways to show how avoiding the problem will be far more problematic than confronting it. If that’s not your style, you can always turn to empathy, empowerment or breaking category norms with humour (like we did in this shameless plug for Willed).
So there you have it Vic. And on the off chance you’ve also been putting off reading this email, well done for getting your head out of the sand.
That rounds out our last edition of The Why for 2022! Thanks for sending in your weird and wonderful questions over another weird and wonderful year. We’ll return with full bellies, full of answers, ready to tackle an inbox full of irrationality in 2023.
PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why you pay for streaming services you never use here.
Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about the Ostrich Effect in episode 28 of the Bad Decisions podcast.
Got a question?
Is there something you’ve always wondered about?
Send it through to AskDan@hardhat.com.au
Check out Dan’s write up in in CEO magazine on How brands are using behavioural science to increase customer retention in a downturn.