The IKEA Effect

Betty Crocker learnt it the hard way, but it was arguably one of the first to know it.

It’s a classic case study – a number of years ago Betty Crocker had noticed their consumers feeling a bit guilty to be using its Instant Cake Mixes. Since all they needed to do was add water before putting in the oven in order to make a cake, it gave them a feeling of not working enough to show their love and care for their family. So what did Betty Crocker do? It made the process of cake making a ‘bit more complicated’. Betty Crocker changed its recipe in such a way that it requires the consumer to add an egg as well! Result? The mixes began to get sold like hot cakes! The secret? It was found that the consumers liked the new cake mixes better, because the slightly ‘complicated’ process (of adding an egg) made them feel that they were actually contributing something to the meal.

The insight: Things seem better if you have to work for it. Apparently a name has been coined for this off late and it’s called The IKEA Effect –  essentially it refers to the disproportionate sense of pride and ownership that we feel for objects on which we have lavished our own labor, however intrinsically simple the work, like say assembling a piece of IKEA Furniture.

Dan Ariely from HBS is one of the co-authors of the paper titled by the same name. Following is a 5 mins video of him expounding a bit further on this theory:

Things indeed seem better if you have to work for it. Fantastic Delites – an Australian Snack Foods brand recently used this insight to device a vending machine. The following video shows the concept it greater detail. This was part of their integrated campaign called “How Far Will You Go For Fantastic Delites?”

The IKEA Effect is busy at work in the digital sphere too. Let’s take Pinterest, the online pinboard that lets you organize and share things you love. It’s essentially a social network that is built over the concept of ‘content curation’. The thing here is that the user need not necessarily create her own content like say blogs or portfolios in order to pin it on their boards. All you need to do is:

  • Create and name a Pinboard
  • And just continue your browsing..
  • Should you find any pic/video of interest, just ‘pin’ it on your board

The interesting thing to note here is the process of pinning is devised to hit the sweet spot of being simple enough for anyone to follow and ‘complicated’ enough to elicit your ‘IKEA Effect’. Result? The more you pin, the more your interest, effort and time are vested in the network, making it much more valuable to you (and thereby the advertisers!). exemplifies it even more directly. It is essentially a digital scrap book and social network for kids.

The premise? Simple. Every parent loves her kid’s creations and loves even more to flaunt these to their near and dear –  a sketch, a piece of origami, a painting, a piece of craft – virtually anything that the kids make with their own hands. Enter a fantastic concept that:

  • Gets kids on board a social network in a creative / constructive way
  • Gets parents to help their kids curate the content and share it in the social network

And that’s it! You just let the IKEA Effect lose in a parent-children equation. And the magic unfolds by itself. No wonder it is chronicled by the likes of FastCompany and PSFK and slated to be one of the most potent social networking sites to watch out for.

Any other interesting examples of The IKEA Effect in action?

7 thoughts on “The IKEA Effect

  1. last week we brought a cake-mix(don’t remember if it is betty crocker) and thought, how the hell is it a ready-mix if we have to add additional things (water, eggs and oil). Adding water and heating in oven would make me feel I have worked more than enough! 🙂

  2. Yes, but…here in the lazy U.S., where a service known as Task Rabbit allows people to hire others for specific unwanted tasks, its most common use? Putting together Ikea furniture. 🙂

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