So, NPR was having one of their many pledge drives while I was driving to Boone yesterday. A few pledge drives back or maybe longer they were having a pledge drive where they weren’t giving anything away. The shtick was something like, “get what you’re paying for.” They were saying things like, “we know that you are smart people and you don’t need this carrot (a prize drawing) to get you to do what you ought to be doing anyway which is donating if you’re listening.” I listened for a while and ultimately did not donate. The next pledge drive came up and they were back to giving away prizes (presumably because there weren’t enough takers on the no prize pledge) and the drawing was for an ipad. I pledged, but ultimately did not win the ipad.
When I heard this pledge drive, I started thinking about the differences in those two times. What made me pledge? What made me not pledge? Here’s the thing. It’s not about the ipad. It’s about the economic justification narrative that I need in order to live within the confines of our cultural narrative which is economically based. Here’s what happens to me when NPR asks for money:
They tell me I’m listening so I should give. I begin to think about the service they are providing and several things flash almost imperceptibly through my mind. First I think about their public funding and as a result of paying taxes, I feel that I have already given a small amount to NPR (I do understand that this minuscule amount is absolutely insufficient, yet there is a deficit of having given present in my mind). Second, I think about the service and the other ways that I might acquire this service. I could listen to other stations for free right now. I could get all of this information for free on their website or many other websites for that matter.
I compute a micro cost-benefit-analysis in my mind in the space of seconds. (Our minds are awesome!)
In our culture, we are taught to make the best economic decision possible and with the justification narrative provided by NPR (you’re listening now and so should pay), I don’t quite get the narrative I need. This is why the ipad is so useful. I actually want to give to NPR, but I need to be able to justify it and the opportunity of winning the ipad offsets the opportunity cost of giving. It provides one of a variety of economic justification narratives that I need in order to donate.
I think a better justification narrative would look something like this:
yeah, you could change the station. yeah, you could get this online for free. But, if you change the station, your quality of life will be lowered because the programming is fluff and doesn’t provide you with the valuable content here. Further, if you have to go online to look all this up, it’ll take a lot of time. We are saving you time by providing this information during your drive.
This culture believes that time is something you can make and lose and buy. I think that is where NPR should try to capitalize.
I’m gonna say something that feels a bit taboo here among NPR fans. Why don’t they just advertise? Advertising doesn’t necessarily conflict content. And, really, they advertise already. “This show is sponsored by Big Ass Law Firm in Winston Salem.”
*I’d bet $100 bucks that the pledge drive with the ipad following the pledge drive with no prize brought in more money than other pledge drives with prizes. The absence of the prize in the first made the prize in the second seem more valuable than a typical prize pledge drive.