Monday, February 28, 2011

Is ignorance bliss?

A recent add for a price comparison website has two women sitting on deck chairs in a resort. One is getting a massage from a tall muscular guy called Magnus and the other is just chilling out. Some text on the screen informs you that the woman getting the massage saved so much money from going to the website being advertised that she was able to afford to pay the guy for the whole afternoon. Some text also informs you that the other woman has overpaid for her room. However, both look pretty happy. Its fair to say that the woman getting the massage probably looks a bit happier but, in general, they both look like they are having a good holiday. The add even prompts the question on the screen "Is ignorance bliss?".

My first reaction on seeing this was firstly how cool it was to have adds so clearly informed by current debates in areas like behavioural economics. My second reaction was that its not really clear what the answer is. One reading of the add is that its a bit overboard to go looking through lots of websites when planning a holiday. Ultimately, satisficing rather than optimising might be fine - just go somewhere that meets some criteria you have and is within your budget - whether you get some expensive drinks thrown in for free or save enough money on the room to get an afternoon's massage is ultimately not really the point of going on holiday. I am definitely not the demographic for the add and my response is probably not representative of their targeted customers. But it is, in general, an interesting question as to whether we miss what we didn't know was available. The add finishes by saying that ignorance isn't bliss - "Magnus is bliss" - in other words that the lost opportunity is a negative thing for the overall holiday.

There is a fascinating debate similar to this at the moment as to how we should interpret the fact that women have not gotten happier despite large increases in opportunity (see e.g. the NBER paper The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness). One response is that ignorance might be bliss in one sense but ultimately there is a procedural happiness that comes from knowing you have made the best of your opportunities. Maybe this is the type of happiness the add is trying to tap in to.

1 comment:

Kevin Denny said...

I guess the Paradox of Declining Female Happiness is due to the downward trend in Magni (if the plural of Magnus).