By: Randall Warlick
If you aren’t familiar with Freakonomics, I’d highly suggest you check it out. It started out as a book, written by a journalist (Stephen Dubner) and an economist (Steve Levitt), but it has expanded into a massive brand: there is now a second book, a blog, a podcast, and even a movie. The motto of the Freakonomics brand is “Exploring the hidden side of everything,” and that is exactly what they do. For example, here’s a fun little video where the economist in the duo discusses his efforts to potty-train his daughter:
The Freakonomics blog is full of fascinating little stories like that, stories that provide insight into what’s really causing a certain behavior or event. However, the blog also contains quick musings on events that Stephen finds interesting, like in this post (1). He wanted to buy a sandwich at a cafeteria, but “lunchtime” was over, so the guy behind the counter threw away the 15-20 sandwiches in the display case. Restaurants can’t (or at least shouldn’t) sell day-old food, which is understandable, but Dubner was still upset that food was going to waste. He noted that he had recently visited a sandwich chain in London that did the exact opposite: at the end of the day, they simply gave away their sandwiches. They didn’t waste food, and they made customers happy. Plus, anyone who only comes to the shop for free sandwiches is only coming to the shop for free sandwiches; it’s not as though they are a regular customer, and the shop is losing business. In fact, they may be gaining customers by giving out free sandwiches, and I say that from experience.
I love donuts, but I never eat them in the morning. I just can’t bring myself to eat what amounts to a piece of deep-fried cake at 9am. So, I tend to eat them in the evenings, for desert. I’ve been to several donut shops in the several different cities I’ve lived in, and I’ve found that a handful of them will give you extra donuts if you come around closing time. Those are the shops that I revisit, those are the shops that get my business. But the guy with a full display case who didn’t give me any extra donuts, and then closed shop right after I left and proceeded to throw all the extra donuts in the trash? Never been back. I’m not saying that I deserve free donuts, but come on: if there are two shops with similar products, but one gives me a little something extra while the other doesn’t, why would I ever go to the latter?
Giving away food can be seen as a method of strategic self-presentation. Self-presentation is a process whereby a person or organization tries to shape the opinions that people have of them; strategic self-presentation “consists of our efforts to shape others’ impressions in specific ways in order to gain influence, power… or approval” (2). As a marketing tool, this is crucial. If an organization wants to present a certain image, then they need to perform certain actions so as to ensure that they are seen as representing that image. If a sandwich shop or donut shop wants people to believe that they are not wasteful, and that they care about their customers, then giving away the food they would be throwing out is a great way to accomplish that.
Every organization knows how they want to market themselves, so they need to determine exactly what the best way to shape the opinions of the public will be. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. As I’ve shown, it can as simple as reconsidering what you do with your “trash.” Now, this method obviously won’t work for every company, but hey, if Best Buy ever decides to give away their “day-old” televisions and Blu-rays, you won’t hear me complaining.
(1) “Goodbye, Turkey Sandwich” (Source)
(2) Social psychology, Kassin et al, 2008; p. 83.