Every Car Dealer and Gas Station Knows We are Bad at Math
We all say gas is $1.89 rather than round up, even when gas is actually $1.899. It’s just a penny, right? Doesn’t matter, right? Just imagine all those .09 pennies lined up mile after mile down the road.
In the U.S. we are bad at math. There is a famous advertising story from the 1980s that is being resurrected in a new book called “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works,” by Elizabeth Green.
She retells the story of Americans thinking a 1/4 pound hamburger is larger than a 1/3 pound burger. A&W released the 1/3 pound burger to compete with the quarter-pounder from McDonald’s. It didn’t work, so A&W ordered focus groups and testing. In a Yankelovich focus group, people said, “Why should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s? You’re overcharging us.”
The owner of A&W in the 1980s said, “The customer, regardless of his or her proficiency with fractions, is always right.” The great lesson is being abundantly clear and loud and literal in your marketing. Unfortunately, McDonald’s eventually had to offer the Angus Third Pounders. Fail.