Why Do We Still Keep That Expensive-Looking Packaging?
I used to keep a bag of high-end makeup packaging in my closet. Whenever I cleaned my room out, I’d grab the bag, tip it upside down, and have a moment of appreciation for it. Feeling that matte finish on the box, the package design, the dopamine rush… I felt my money was well spent. At the time.
… Be real now, did you really think I got a dopamine rush from cleaning?
Don’t tee up an episode of Hoarders for me; I threw it all out years ago. But what was my brain doing? And what is your brain doing with those pointless bags and boxes still gathering dust in your house?
Effort bias: Will you actually need that in the future?
We have a very curious way of taking heuristic shortcuts to justify why we keep things, or how we perceive them. Effort bias is the golden name of the day! ⭐
The more expensive, or the more time we feel went into creating something, the more positive we feel about it… most of the time.
Oh, the dream of receiving something from Tiffany & Co… the bliss when the blue bag graces itself into your hand, is an instant indicator of many things. Your taste, status, income, even how receptive you are to advertising (don’t take it to heart).
Do we keep the packaging for display purposes? Bragging rights? Sentimental value? Does that seem more rational than recycling or tossing it? Even selling it on eBay? Do you know how much that Tiffany heart necklace cost?! It would be a waste to throw out the bag, box, and every other part that doesn’t actually affect the product itself.
“It wasn’t great, but at least they tried”
This concept still gets my brain whirring with potential reasons why it happens. That Thai restaurant with mediocre food, but the service you received was second to none. It almost makes you forget about the quality of your meal.
Now flip this, and imagine that the chef was a dickhead. The waiter’s a dickhead. The cashier doesn’t even make eye contact as they say “thank you” after you pay your bill. The bad taste isn’t limited to your meal anymore.
One of my favourite podcasts at the moment is Bad Decisions, by creative agency Hardhat. One of their episodes talks a great deal about why you should let them see you sweat. We all seek closure from knowing heart was put into your product.
Is effort a substitute for quality?
Do you really think you can figure out the ‘correct’ value of your car, food, or piece of clothing? In the sense that you think you know how much each part cost to source? Or how much someone was paid to make something? I doubt it. You can only speculate.
Instead, we take ‘value cues’ from information that’s right in front of us. “How much effort went into creating this?”. Everything we can gather from our sensory inputs determines if our hard-earned coin was “worth it”.
In 2004, a study run by Kruger et al. had participants evaluate a poem based on certain criteria. How much they enjoyed it, overall quality, and how much money they thought a poetry magazine would pay to publish it. Some were told it took 4 hours, but others 18 hours.
Take a wild guess on who thought the poem was more enjoyable, worth more money, and of higher quality. Everyone who was told it took 18 hours. The same results are also consistent with other categories like wine and paintings.
Uh, this isn’t to suggest you should rush your work. I get it, diamonds are made under pressure, but they’re also dense.
It’s also why you love teppanyaki, and it’s also why you’re shown every step of your new online buy. We naturally seek certainty and closure in our lives.
It’s also why, when you reeeeally don’t want to go to that social gathering, you get thanked for your effort to come out. Even if you stood in the corner without talking to anyone the whole time.