We Never Guess, We Look It Up

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Way back in the day, the tireless marketers at World Book hoofed it from school to school, promoting encyclopedia sales with the clever campaign “We Never Guess, We Look It Up.”

Perhaps the folks who read the popular Freakonomics blog should heed the same advice.

Yesterday, Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the book Freakonomics, asked the question: Why would someone pay $55.71 for a $50 Target gift card on eBay?

Freak fanatics concocted dozens of motives, ranging from the practical (costs more to drive to Target) to the nefarious (it’s a money-laundering scheme) to the insulting (“because people are dumb”).

The answer, as it is in so many guessing games, may be “none of the above.”

In fact, the gift-card winner may have been a grandmother who just made an honest mistake while coping with the stress of having a grandchild in the hospital. (See comments 71 and 74, if you’re intrigued, supposedly from readers who wrote the woman to ask, rather than conjecturing.)

Occam’s Razor at work? Or is it simply true that no matter how hard you try to guess the motives of consumers, you’re likely to be wrong? You can look that one up in the World Book encyclopedia under Marketing 101.