Marketing Examples of the Decoy Effect

We talked about the Decoy Effect and how Marketing Managers use it to mould consumer mindset the way they want in a previous post – What is Decoy Effect? Explanation with Example
It’s time that we see some real life examples of how companies are using the decoy effect to favour preference of the product they want to sell by flanking it between two other products of less importance to the firm.

Example # 1 – The Economist
The Decoy Effect phenomenon is a concept from the books of Economics and who know it better than the widely read magazine – The Economist. The publication cleverly devices the pricing of their print and digital subscription making the combo look the best deal amongst all. Here is how they price their subscription :
  1. Web Subscription – $59
  2. Print Subscription – $125
  3. Web and Print Subscription – $125

The first offer of $59 seemed reasonable. The second option (only print) seemed a bit expensive, but still ok. But what about the third option? Both Web and Print for the same price as the print-only subscription?

Dan Ariely, an Israeli American professor of psychology and behavioural economics and author of “Predictably Irrational“, tested this phenomenon with his MIT students where he asked them to choose a subscription. The results were:

  1. Web Subscription – $59 (16 students)
  2. Print Subscription – $125 (0 students)
  3. Web and Print Subscription – $125 (84 students)

Total revenue: $11,444

The majority of students selected the third option (dominating) and none of them selected the second option (the decoy). Knowing this, Ariely performed a second test and removed the decoy product. The results were:

  1. Web Subscription – $59 (68 students)
  2. Web and Print Subscription – $125 (32 students)

Total revenue: $8,012

This time, most of the students preferred the first subscription. By adding a decoy product, The Economist improved sales with 30%.

Example # 2 – Apple

Believe it or not, the world’s most renowned brand, Apple, also plays with its pricing to lure customers to buy their premium products. If you carefully study their product portfolio, one of the other product always plays as a decoy making customers choose a better version of the product which obviously is priced higher.

Below is what Apple has on offer for customers who want to buy an iPod Touch :

Marketing Examples of Decoy Effect

Now here is something which will definitely make you scratch your head while making a call to buy an iPod touch. When you want to double the storage capacity – going from 16GB to 32GB – you pay $70 extra and get more features, such as a 5MP iSight camera and iPod Touch Loop. However, when you want to double the capacity from 32GB to 64GB, you pay $100 more but don’t get extra features for it. Its almost a no brainer that the best-selling model of iPod Touch is the 32GB variant. You might conclude the 32GB version is the best value for money. Only a few would buy the 16GB version and even fewer would buy the 64GB version. The 16GB and the 64GB version act as the “price decoy” to make the 32GB version as the best option.

Example # 3 – The New York Times

Like The Economist, the New York Times also plays smart with their subscription offers :

Decoy Examples - New York

Compare the weekend deals and week deals separately.

Saturday-Sunday for $2.50 against the Extended Weekend (Fri-Sun) for $2.50 and Weekday (Mon-Fri) for $4.99 against Daily Delivery (7 days) for $4.99.

Does this mean that I get more editions of the newspaper for the same price, obviously not. So why did The New York Post add two more options? They added the first two options to make the last two options look so much better.

These are few of the many examples which you can witness around you. So next time you are tempted to buy a product look out for the decoys.

What is Decoy Effect? Explanation with Example

What is Decoy Effect? Explanation with Example

The decoy effect, popularly known as the asymmetrical dominance effect with economists, is a phenomenon where people tend to have a change in preference between two options when presented with a third option that is asymmetrically dominated. Though more loved by Economists, the decoy effect also plays a crucial role in making Marketing decisions. Many organizations religiously adhere to this human psychology while planning their product launches in a year. Even the most valuable brands in the world, including Apple, resort to this strategy while positioning their products.

Natural human behaviour, resulting from the decoy effect, is often exploited in pricing decisions and also deciding the volumes of the product to be introduced in the market. Companies introduce a third variant of a product which acts as a decoy to increase affinity of consumers towards the product which the company actually wants to sell. Also as a result, companies are also successful to push customers, who usually tend to buy the cheapest product, towards a more expensive product.

The Psychology behind Decoy Effect and how Marketing Managers use it to their benefit

Let’s try to understand it by a simple example where, say, you would like to buy a new MP3 player.

First and foremost, we identify the core proposition in the product. Say in case of MP3 players it may be: the storage capacity and the price – and then play around these two core offerings.

In the image below we have a proposition for two players. When put forward with the below choices, some consumers will prefer A for its greater storage capacity, while others will prefer B for its lower price.


Now let’s add a new MP3 player to our product proposition. MP3 Player C is more expensive than both A and B and has more storage than B but less than A.

Decoy Effect Example (2)


The addition of another product i.e. MP3 Player C – which buyers probably avoid (they can pay less for a model with more storage) – causes MP3 Player A, the dominating option, to be chosen more often than when we only had two choices. Because A is better than C in both respects, while B is only partially better than C, more consumers will prefer A now than before. MP3 Player C is the decoy product that will increase sales of A.

Now the point is that the company’s focus model is MP3 Player A and not C. The volumes of C in production will be low and will be positioned as a premium or flagship model whereas MP3 player A will be their hero or best-seller model.