Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Car Insurance savings and too-clever marketing

A quick rant post.

I have been reflecting a bit on GEICO, Progressive and others claiming how you can save a lot of money (15%, so many dollars) by switching to that company. A highly deceptive form of advertising and here's why.

First, to start off, the marketing message taken at face-value seems to imply causation - switch to company X and you will save money. In reality, the sequence of events is the opposite. People typically shop for a quote and then when they find the quote saving them money over what they currently have, they switch over. So it is likely that for every person who switches, there are one or more people who don't switch because they don't save any money or they save too little for it to be worth the hassle. So to say that switch and you will save money is somewhat disingenuous. Only some people save money with Company X and they are the ones that switch.

The second part of deception comes in the dollar amount of the switch. The way this information is gathered is typically by surveying customers that have switched. Why is this deceptive? Well, because a number of behavioral economists studies have shown that we human beings tend to rationalize. We tend to give ourselves more credit than necessary or justifiable in general. This manifests itself in a number of ways such as most people thinking they are above-average drivers, people over-estimating investment returns they make and so on. So when a customer has made the (what the customer thinks) is the extremely smart decision to switch, they are likely to also over-estimate the savings that they have realized as they are proud of the switch decision they just took. And so it is very likely that the savings number is inflated to some extent.

So save x% by switching to GEICO is actually a smart ploy to get people to ask for a GEICO quote. Doesn't hurt at all to get one, in an extremely crowded market-place. But promising savings in the language that these companies use doesn't seem very above board.

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