First is best
August 25, 2012 Editor 0
IS THIS the first article you read today? If so, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it. The order in which people experience things affects their opinion of them: they tend to like the first option best.
This is the result of a new study by Dana Carney of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University. To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted a series of experiments. In one volunteers were shown pictures of two violent criminals and then asked which one deserved parole. Most felt more merciful towards the first mugshot they were shown (different volunteers saw different villains first).
This bias affects commercial decisions, too. Asked which type of chewing gum they preferred, 68% of respondents at a railway station in Boston picked the first stick they were offered. In another experiment, volunteers more often wanted to buy a car from the first salesperson they met rather than the second.
In their paper, entitled “First is Best”, the authors contend that the first option in a series will be “consistently preferred” if the chooser is under time pressure or slightly distracted. Thanks to mobiles, meetings and toddlers that pretty much describes modern life for many people.
Clever companies have noticed, and compete to bump whatever they are selling to the front of the queue. That is why the first slot in an advertisement break on television costs more than the second; it’s roughly 10-15% pricier, according to Jonathan Allan, sales director at Channel 4, a British broadcaster. It is also why an ad that introduces a rival’s product first, even in order to disparage it, may well backfire. Advertising firms themselves like to go first when pitching for an account. “It sets the benchmark for everybody else,” says Bridget Angear of AMV BBDO, an advertising agency.
Being first matters even more online. People are lazy and few bother to scroll through dozens of pages of search results, says Kate Devine of mysinglefriend.com, a dating website. The site uses this observation to reward its most avid customers. When a belle enters search criteria for her beau, possible matches appear in an order determined by the last time these logged on to the site. This is good for traffic, but the keenest suitors may not prove the most suitable.
Badoo, another dating service, locates other users nearby so as to encourage spontaneous meetings. People can pay Badoo £8.49 ($13.46) per month for the privilege of appearing top in a list of users in the area, but rankings will drop as others pay too.
The most important place to be first is on Google’s rankings, which explains why it is under increasing pressure to make its search algorithm more open. The online giant recently started punishing websites that infringe copyright by listing them further down. This may not blast the pirates out of the water, but it will force them to work harder for their booty.
Categories: The Economist
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