Yesterday morning I went out for breakfast as usual for a Saturday morning, at one of my favorite coffee shops in downtown Portsmouth. As part of my breakfast I got a small mocha. I say “small” but I really mean small for this place. I used to get a large but I can’t really handle one of those anymore. Their large is a meal in of itself, and then some. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or I’m becoming more aware that I never should have had one of those. I could also just be worrying over nothing. Whatever the case, I decided to go for a small this time.
When the barista made my drink she filled it to the brim, making a light-hearted comment that she might have overdone it. I managed to get it to my table without spilling it. After the feeling of accomplishment quickly faded away, I had another instinctual reaction as if I got a “bonus” somehow. She gave me just that little bit extra.
If I wanted more, I could have ordered a medium. But I purposely ordered a small because that’s all I wanted. Why did I still feel pleasure, then, at getting that little bit extra? For that matter, I was getting my drink for free no matter what. I had one of those punch cards that if I get twelve coffees at this place I get the next one free. So if it’s free anyway, I wouldn’t have had a second thought if I decided to order the next size up.
Is there something instinctual in feeling pleasure at these little bonuses? We see it in marketing all of the time: 30% more “free” in a box of dish powder, free toy in a box of cereal (or at least, we used to get those), an extra ten pages in this month’s issue of a favorite comic book. Then there are the unexpected bonus that we celebrate, such as an extra piece in a box of chicken nuggets at a fast food restaurant or my aforementioned mocha.
I wonder if this is a feeling that’s nurtured by our consumer culture, something more primal or perhaps a combination of the two. Marketing departments know how to tap into ready-made emotions in order to increase profit. I don’t mean to say that the woman who made my mocha yesterday morning was doing that. But would I feel the same feeling if I didn’t live in in such a culture?
I’m not going to offer links to any studies on this subject. I’ll let you do your own research. I only mean to raise the questions, as well as my own awareness of how I respond to such things. (As it is, I’m writing this post on behalf of yesterday. I’m trying to rush through it as quickly as possible.) Perhaps by becoming more aware of how I feel in response to products I can make better decisions about purchasing them. If anybody would like to weigh in on this topic, please do so. I don’t have a whole lot of time to research things myself right now because of work (which I’ll probably whine about in my next post). Any starting points would be helpful.