The Right Comparison Can Make All the Difference in Persuasion

Have you ever run five miles? That’s not easy to do if you’re not in shape. How about this — have you ever walked five miles? That’s not as hard as running but can be taxing depending on your fitness level. Do you think it would be more tiring to walk in 70, 80, or maybe 90 degree weather? Throw on top of that playing a round of golf over four hours and it would be pretty tiring for just about anyone.

In 2001, golfer Casey Martin challenged the PGA Tour rule that prohibited golfers from using a cart on the tour. His challenge arose because of a rare blood disorder that caused circulation problems in his legs. Part of the PGA contention was that walking causes fatigue and is therefore an intrinsic part of the game. Casey Marti’s legal team disagreed. From The PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin Supreme Court case in 2001:
“The District Court credited the testimony of a professor in physiology and expert on fatigue, who calculated the calories expended in walking a golf course (about five miles) to be approximately 500 calories ‘nutritionally … less than a Big Mac.’”

Walking the golf course burns fewer calories than a Big Mac? All of a sudden it doesn’t seem like such a monumental activity. Think about this for a moment; if Casey Martin’s legal team had simply cited 500 calories, the point would not have been as impacting. I’m sure everyone on the court could visualize a Big Mac. Martin eventually won the case.

Sometimes the right comparison can make all the difference when it comes to persuasion. Just using numbers doesn’t always work because they don’t always register for many people. Here are two more great examples of effective comparison points that led to change.

In Chip and Dan Heath’s best selling book Made to Stick, a story is shared about how unhealthy a medium-sized buttered popcorn was in the mid ‘90s. Trying to persuade movie theaters to change was going nowhere despite the fact that the popcorn had 37 grams of unsaturated fat. It didn’t register just how unhealthy that was until it was eventually pointed out how buttered popcorn compared to other foods. Did you know you’d get that much unsaturated fat (37 grams) if you ate bacon and eggs for breakfast, a Big Mac with large fries and Coke for lunch, and then had a steak and loaded potato for dinner…all in the same day! None of those meals is healthy but eating all three the same day with any consistency would eventually lead to obesity. That’s how much fat those who ate the medium-sized buttered popcorn were getting in the mid-90s. Thankfully theaters eventually changed their ways.

McDonald’s coffee case is noted in WilliamPoundstone’s book Priceless. You may recall an elderly woman severely burned herself when she spilled a piping hot cup of McDonald’s coffee on her lap. It led to an eight-day hospital stay for the 79 year-old woman. She won a $2.86 million dollar settlement. While that may seem outrageous, it only came after McDonald’s refused to settle for $20,000. Her lawyer took it to trial and didn’t ask for nearly $3 million. Instead he asked for one or two days of McDonald’s revenue from the sale of coffee. That doesn’t sound so bad except revenue was $1.35 million per day!

One last example came from the late Steve Jobs. He introduced the first iPod, which he pulled out from the front pocket of his jeans, saying, “A thousand songs in you pocket.” Wow, that amounted to more songs than most people had in their entire CD collections!  I doubt Jobs would have been nearly as effective if he’d have said, “10 gigabytes in your pocket.” Even techies wouldn’t be as moved by that as they were when he announced 1,000 songs.

Next time you’re going to attempt to persuade someone, or a group of people, think about the comparisons you would normally make. Then take a moment to consider other possible comparisons that are naturally available. It could be calories versus real food, money or objects money can buy, or songs versus gigabytes. Put the comparison in terms most people can grasp and you’ll have a much better chance for persuasion success.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® on FacebookBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on GoogleBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on LinkedinBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on TwitterBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on Youtube
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC. A dynamic keynote speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant, he specializes in applying the science of influence and persuasion in business and personal situations. He is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer® (CMCT®) designation. This specialization in the psychology of persuasion was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to the science of ethical persuasion. Brian’s passion is helping people achieve greater professional success and enjoy more personal happiness. He does this by teaching people how to ethically move others to action through the science of persuasion.
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