Never underestimate the power of free food

14Sep10

My apartment building is holding a vote regarding some proposed policy changes. As part of the voting process, the members of the relevant commitee have been manning a table in the lobby to tell people about the matter at hand and get them to fill out a voting form. They also made a smart decision about how to attract people to the table: keep it well stocked with food. When I walked by in the morning, that meant an ample supply of coffee and donuts. And from what one of the committee members was telling me, traffic was even higher the night before, when they had bottles of wine on hand.

I don’t know how much they actually thought about the strategy, but offering food and drinks is actually a great way to get people to slow down, take notice, and maybe even take the action you’re requesting. The free food works on severals levels:

– It stimulates people’s curiosity: “What sort of special event is going on here?”, they might think to themselves.

– It makes them stick around longer, so they’re more likely to hear the message. “I might as well finish this donut or grab another cup of coffee.”

– It encourages reciprocity, thus increasing the chance that they’ll take the desired action: “These nice folks gave me some free food, so I really ought to repay the favor by at least thinking about what they’re asking me to do.”

Granted, not everyone will have the same internal monologue when they encounter a table with food and beverages. Some passers-by might even be less trusting if they think you’re trying to buy their attention. In practice, though, most people should respond positively to an offer of free snacks, or be indifferent at worst. So when you want to grab their attention for a matter that’s important to you, allocating a small portion of your budget towards food and drinks is a very smart investment, indeed.



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