From Dan Ariely:
A large open room in an old industrial building with three wooden picnic tables lined up end to end in the center of the room. The tattoo station was small portable table, two folding chairs, and a cheap floor lamp. Our research assistant, with her clipboard, was by far the cleanest and most official looking person around. And when she offered to help the tattoo artist by taking the names of the people in line, he was delighted. In the 5 hours she was there (from 9pm to 2am) a total of 76 people signed up for free tattoos.
Some interesting observations:
- 4 individuals did not know what they wanted, but knew that they wanted some free tattoo
- 5 individuals wanted a free tattoo, but did not know where they wanted it
- 68% of those in line for free tattoos reported that they would not get the tattoo if it were not free
Ariely concludes that:
the power of “free” is surprisingly influential. When we face a decision about a tattoo, one would hope that the long term permanency of the decision, coupled with the risks of getting different types of infections would cause people to pay little attention to price, and certainly not to be swayed one way or another by the power of free. But sadly, the reality (at list in the nightclub scene in New York) suggests that the power of free can get us to make many foolish decisions.
It’d be interesting to know more about the “power of free” in this context and the full range of questions that were asked. Had the subjects at least been contemplating tattoos even before the event? Were they undecided, hesitant, or afraid, but pushed over the line by the free offer? Or did they just hear about the offer and, think: “Free tattoo. I’m there!” And were these first-timers, or folks who already had one, or even multiple, tattoos? (The subjects’ self-reported levels of drunkenness were relatively low).
I am particularly susceptible to the lure of “free stuff” – which often isn’t really free – and this makes me the target of much mockery and ridicule from friends and family members. But even I would not get a tattoo (permanent, painful, and subject to some infection risk) only because it was free if I didn’t otherwise want one.
And remember, when it comes to tattoos, you can do better than free. Pictured above: Kari Smith, who reportedly auctioned her forehead space on eBay in order to pay for her 1-year-old son’s private education. Goldenpalace.com, an Internet gambling company, spent $10,000 to have their website address tattooed on Smith’s forehead.