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Penny for Your Preferences: Leveraging Self-Expression to Encourage Small Prosocial Gifts

Penny for Your Preferences: Leveraging Self-Expression to Encourage Small Prosocial Gifts

Jacqueline Rifkin, Katherine M. Du and Jonah Berger

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The “dueling preferences approach”—which frames prosocial giving (e.g., small donations and tips) as a choice between two options (e.g., summer vs. winter)—increases giving compared to a standard giving appeal. Dueling preferences boosts prosocial gifts by providing consumers with the opportunity to self-express valued identities or preferences. This approach is most effective at increasing giving (a) when you provide dueling options (vs. a single option), (b) when you choose expressive options, and (c) among target populations that particularly enjoy self-expression and/or in environments in which people crave self-expression.

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Related Marketing Courses: ​
Principles, Core, and Intro to Marketing Mgmt; Marketing Strategy;​​​​ ​​​​Consumer Behaviors

Full Citation: ​
Rifkin, Jacquleine, Katherine Du, and Jonah Berger (2020), “Penny for Your Preferences: Leveraging Self-Expression to Encourage Small Prosocial Gifts”. Journal of Marketing.

Article Abstract
Prior approaches that leverage identity to motivate prosocial behavior are often limited to the set of people who already strongly identify with an organization (e.g., prior donors) or by the costs and challenges associated with developing stronger organization-linked identities among a broader audience (e.g., encouraging more people to care). In contrast, this research demonstrates that small prosocial gifts, such as tips or small donations, can be encouraged by framing the act of giving as an opportunity to express identity-relevant preferences—even if such preferences are not explicitly related to prosociality or the organization in need. Rather than simply asking people to give, the “dueling preferences” approach investigated in this research frames the act of giving as a choice between two options (e.g., cats vs. dogs, chocolate vs. vanilla ice cream). Dueling preferences increases prosocial giving by providing potential givers with a greater opportunity for self-expression—an intrinsically desirable opportunity. Seven experiments conducted in the laboratory, online, and in the field support this theorized process while casting doubt on relevant alternatives. This research contributes to work on self-expression and identity and sheds light on how organizations can encourage prosocial behavior.


Special thanks to Kelley Gullo and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program.

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Jacqueline R. Rifkin is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Bloch School of Management, University of Missouri–Kansas City, USA.

Katherine M. Du is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, USA.

Jonah Berger is Associate Professor of Marketing, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.