Sunday, November 10, 2013

Embrace your greed


Last night, we went to a Serbian folklore festival where our daughter performed. These folklore festivals are quite common in North America, and their format is similar across locations. First there are about three hours of performance by dance groups, followed by some sort of a lottery. However, instead using the admission tickets as lottery coupons, separate lottery tickets are sold during the show. As a consequence, participating in the lottery is optional.

So, the lady selling those lottery tickets comes to me, and I tell her we won't buy any because we probably won't stay until the draw. She replied that I should buy tickets anyway because the point of the lottery is not to win a prize but to help financially the host folklore society. I said to her that, if that's the only point, she doesn't even need to give those thickets to people. She can just take their money. She turned around and left.

If she waited a bit more, she would have had the opportunity to hear me explain to her that she is presenting me with a false dichotomy, as if there are only two possible reasons one would want to participate in the lottery: either to win a prize or to provide a charitable contribution. So, according to this dichotomy, the choice is between greed and compassion. Then it turns out I chose greed over compassion. Of course, people generally don't want to be seen as being greedy, and she is targeting this emotional response.

However, as I said earlier, she is presenting us with a false dichotomy. The dichotomy is false because there may be other reasons why people would want to participate in the lottery. For example, I participate to have fun. For me, neither the prize nor giving a charitable contribution are the primary motivating factors. So, if I'm not having fun, the lottery ticket is not worth its price. Since I see no fun in buying a ticket and then driving home before the draw, I don't buy any tickets.

I am not sure if the ticket lady understands this, but I'm guessing she does. It is simply in her self-interest to attempt this emotional manipulation stunt. She knows I have already decided I won't stay until the lottery. So, playing the fun card wouldn't work. She knows I already decided that I would forego fun for the sake of coming home earlier. The only thing left is to see if I would try to avoid being labeled greedy.

This marketing strategy is completely understandable. Like all of us, charitable organizations are guided by self-interest. They look to advance their objectives in the most effective way. They are as "greedy" as any one of the rest of us. And this is not a bad thing.

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