On the value of being second choice…

I’d like to make an IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: I am considering, after eight years, switching to a different brand of tobacco. Let me tell you how this shocking state of affairs came about…

A couple of weeks ago I was at a friend’s house with a group of people and someone was going to the shop. One guy asked for a packet of Drum Light, which is also the tobacco I smoke.

We all had another drink, and after a bit the kind shopper returned with a packet of Cutters Choice for the guy. He explained that the shop was out of Drum Light, he hoped the substitution was OK. The guy said something interesting in response. He said, ‘Don’t worry, that’s my second favourite brand anyway.’

For some reason this stuck in my head. I remember thinking, ‘I’ve never thought to have an official “second favourite brand” of tobacco before’.

As it happened, a few days later I was in a shop, buying tobacco and in a hurry to get somewhere. I asked for a packet of Drum Light, but they were out.  Now usually I’d leave the shop without buying anything. But I was in a hurry and the ‘second favourite brand’ echoed in my head.  Without thinking I ordered a packet of Cutters Choice instead.

It turned out this Cutters Choice was alright. It was a bit less dry than my usual brand, and tasted OK. By random chance, the next time I tried to buy tobacco they were out of Drum Light again. This time I didn’t hesitate, ‘Cutters Choice then please’.

By the time I finished THAT packet, I’d been smoking Cutters Choice for four days. When I bought my next pack of Drum Light, it seemed a bit dry. I started wondering if actually Cutters Choice was nicer. When I finished that packet I bought another Cutters Choice to test it out some more.

I have been smoking Drum Light for about eight years. I worked out I’ve bought and smoked about 1,500 packets of it in that time (yeah, yeah, I know). But now, all of a sudden,  I am most of the way to switching to a different brand. All triggered by the ‘my second fave tobacco’ aside.

It was *easy* for me to put Cutters Choice in my ‘second fave tobacco’ category, as I’d not thought of having one before. The category was empty, nothing needed to be displaced. Whereas if someone had gone head-on and told me I shouldn’t smoke Drum Light any more, but switch to Cutters Choice because it’s moister, they’d have met resistance. ‘I already have a favourite brand and that’s what I smoke.’

Just being exposed to the IDEA of a second favourite brand was all it took really. After that it was easy to adopt one, try it and find that I liked it. My main brand has been gently edged out. It didn’t seem like a big deal.

If part of your job involves getting people to try something new, I guess you can see where I’m going with this. We’ll often get nowhere trying to persuade people they want to abandon what they are doing already. You’re going head on with their existing thinking. It may be much more effective to go sideways and suggest your product as a second choice.

For my part, I know, of course, that there are people of peerless taste and discernment who already consider I’m a Scientist to be the best science engagement programme in the world. And I’d like those people to carry on as they are.

But there are other people who start from the position that face-to-face events are preferable, or that I’m a Scientist is too much fun for students to be learning much. To those people I say, why not consider I’m a Scientist as your second favourite engagement activity? Let it be your back up if the shop is out of science shows. What harm can it do? You might find you like it.


One response to “On the value of being second choice…

  1. Hi Sophia,

    Ended up here from your twitter account :o)
    I’m a GV Smooth smoker BTW. However I’m stopping in a week or so, for good. I can tell you this with certainty because of my digust of how the rich elite regard us peasants; as mere cattle, to be drugged, bombed, poisoned, fleeced, and they’d make soap out of us if Hitler hadn’t done it. I am stopping smoking :o)

    Your observation of human behaviour is a good one though I’m sure you realise you are not the first to realise it. It is a simple matter of passive suggestion rather than persuasion, which tends to bring out the sceptic in us.

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