Cognitive Dissonance

Perhaps the most successful use of cognitive dissonance in the history of advertising is the AOL free-hours campaign delivered on CD-ROM. The incentive to try AOL is provided in the form of a free trial period. People who try the service go through a set-up process, where they define unique e-mail addresses, screen names, and passwords, investing time and energy to get it all to work. The greater the time and energy invested during this trial period, the greater the expiration. Since the compensation to engage in this activity was minimal, the way most people alleviate the dissonance is to have positive feelings about the service – which leads to paid subscriptions.
The interesting aspect is the Point of Minimum Justification. Until that point is reached, a higher incentive has a positive effect on both behaviour and attitude, in the AOL example, leading to paid subscriptions. Beyond the point, eg. by increasing the free time or paying more, the behaviour is still influenced, but the attidude decreases. If AOL would offer a month of free internet, the target audience would just use the service for a month, and then drop it. They know there are better alternatives, but hey, as long as its free!
In the Dilbert example, by paying more to the employee, he might work more (behaviour) but stop rationalizing (attidude) – he just does it for the money.

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