by: Roger Dooley

Would you be limiting yourself if you targeted advertising only at
those who were above average in whatever characteristic related to your
product (say, intelligence, good looks, athletic ability,
perserverance, etc.)? In a word, NO. Studies show that across a wide
spectrum of measures, almost everyone considers themselves to be above
In the neuroeconomics book Your Money & Your Brain,
author Jason Zweig cites a startling survey result in which two thirds
of a group of drivers surveyed rated their skill, ability, and
alertness the last time they were behind the wheel. That about two
thirds rated themselves as “at least as competent as usual” wouldn’t be
surprising had this group of drivers not been surveyed in the hospital
after having crashed their cars! Zweig goes on to describe the actual
police report data, which showed that two thirds of the group were
directly responsible for their accidents, the majority had multiple
traffic violations, etc.

Just about
every self-measure ends up the same way. I’ve learned that creating
employee compensation plans that people think are fair is very
difficult, since most employees consider themselves to be above average
performers, and the rest rate themselves as average. Thus, anyone with
a below average salary (typically half the employee population) will
automatically perceive themselves as underpaid versus their peers. And,
since people don’t hesitate to rate others as below average, even being paid the same as other employees can create dissatisfaction.

cites a rule of thumb that for any given measure, about three quarters
of subjects surveyed will count themselves as above average - even
though, by definition, about half the population should be below
average. In fact, if you assume that instead of a rigid 50% dividing
line that people probably group themselves in thirds - i.e., a third
above average, a third about average, and a third below - the 75%
number seems even more delusional. But, that’s normal. Garrison Keillor
famously describes the fictional Lake Wobegon as, “where all the women
are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are
above average.” As it turns out, he might be describing the entire
nation, at least from a self-reporting standpoint.

Zweig uses
this data to set up an explanation of why investors are overly
optimistic about their own investing skill and even their past results.
In one survey, far more investors reported that they had “beaten the
Dow” in the previous year than actually had. (In my own experience,
almost everyone I know who has come back from a trip to Las Vegas
either won or “broke even.” Makes you wonder how all those casinos stay
in business…)

From a neuromarketing standpoint, advertisers
should keep this odd brain quirk in mind. A pitch geared to those who
are below the median in some way may end up falling on deaf ears
because the audience doesn’t identify with that category. Instead,
appealing to the above average with the suggestion of further
improvement may be more successful. (”Your hair looks good now, but
with our new shampoo, it will look incredible!”)

where individuals are more realistic or even pessimistic about how they
compare with everyone else may exist. It wouldn’t surprise me if many
people thought that their neighbors had, say, more disposable income
than they did. And in some categories, like remedies for baldness,
appealing directly to the consumer’s concern about comparing poorly to
the rest of the population may still be highly effective. By and large,
though, advertisers won’t go wrong by overestimating the consumer’s opinion of himself.

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