Smart Defaults: From Hidden Persuaders to Adaptive Helpers
N. Craig Smith
Daniel G. Goldstein
Microsoft Research New York City; London Business School
Eric J. Johnson
Columbia Business School - Marketing
February 3, 2009
INSEAD Business School Research Paper No. 2009/03/ISIC
Defaults have such powerful, pervasive and unrecognized effects on consumer behavior that in some settings they may be considered 'hidden persuaders'. Looking at defaults from the perspective of consumer welfare, consumer autonomy and marketing ethics, this paper shows that ignoring defaults is not an option. It identifies three theoretical causes of default effects-implied endorsement, cognitive biases, and effort-to guide thought on the appropriate marketer response to the issues posed for consumer autonomy and welfare. We propose the concepts of "smart defaults" and "adaptive defaults" as welfare-enhancing and market-oriented alternatives to the current practice of generally ignoring default effects, in addition to other remedies. Our analysis highlights how an ethical market orientation would consider the process of consumer decision making as well as its outcomes: marketers bear responsibility for consumer buying mistakes arising from the marketer's inept neglect or misuse of defaults. As well as recommendations for marketing practice, we also identify policymaker and research implications of defaults and consider, more broadly, the ethics of using techniques that influence consumer choice without consumer awareness.
Keywords: Default Effects, Marketing Ethics, Consumer Choice, Consumer Welfare, Consumer Autonomy
Date posted: April 6, 2008 ; Last revised: February 19, 2013
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