The IKEA effect, or why we don’t use leaflet templates enough

An Ikea warehouse

Image by icondigital from Pixabay.

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research that are relevant to political campaigning.

This time, a possible answer to the continuing puzzle about how much time people spend artworking their own leaflets from scratch rather than using the many high quality templates already available for free. It isn’t only that people waste time reinventing the wheel. It’s also that many of those new wheels are, let us say…, not very round.

The answer perhaps comes in the latest issue of Tom Stafford’s excellent Reasonable People newsletter:

There’s a paper on this phenomenon, the “IKEA effect”, named after the furniture store famous for selling flatpack furniture which you assemble yourself.

From Norton, Mochon & Ariely’s (2012) abstract:

In four studies in which consumers assembled IKEA boxes, folded origami, and built sets of Legos, we demonstrate and investigate boundary conditions for the IKEA effect — the increase in valuation of self-made products. Participants saw their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions. We show that labor leads to love only when labor results in successful completion of tasks; when participants built and then destroyed their creations, or failed to complete them, the IKEA effect dissipated. Finally, we show that labor increases valuation for both “do-it-yourselfers” and novices.

Norton and colleagues discuss the psychological drivers of the IKEA effect. Perhaps it is because of the effort itself, or the chance to be competent at something? Perhaps the signalling value of those things (“Look what I made!”)? Or the positive feelings associated with being a “smart shopper”, not needing someone to pre-build something for you?

Something they don’t consider, but which seems a plausible factor to me, is assurance: if you make something yourself you have insight into how reliably it is constructed.

That also sounds like just why people might prefer to artwork their own leaflets from scratch too. With a little help perhaps also from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

You can read the other posts in the Evidence-based campaigning: what the academic research says series here.

6 responses to “The IKEA effect, or why we don’t use leaflet templates enough”

  1. The irony being that IKEA furniture normally comes with clear, considered, thorough and templated instruction leaflets…

  2. I’d have used a template if it was obvious how to do it, take me to the page where I can just drop in text and jpgs without needing to learn to use this or that software with the other template etc… same thing is true of a my councillor website ( no clear default choices) a fb page, etc. We are more likely to do templates if we have step by step instructions such as yours for using IFTTT to put your RSS onto a fb page.

  3. more senior contributors may remember the MFI flat-pack company and their ‘build this on a Sunday afternoon’, with a picture of a complete wardrobe system. Well it took me and a mate the equivalent of six Sunday afternoons and I had to make up brackets to add to it to stop it falling over. MFI went out of business, I wonder why..
    I don’t think your theory carries over to leaflets though, it all depends on the quality of the template and whether it works for your campaign. The best local leaflets are the ones written by local people.

  4. I take the same view of gardening. There is immense satisfaction to be gained by seeing on your plate a vegetable which you grew yourself or at breakfast an egg which your own chicken laid that morning. I bought my house with its large garden 55 years ago with precisely that in mind, having been brought up as a child to grow my own – even more important at the time as there was a war on! I acknowledge that growing my own has played a large part in maintaining my long-term mental as well as physical health, and also acknowledge that this wasn’t by accident but by design – my own deliberate choice. Despite it being mid-winter it will happen today: we’ll have broad beans for lunch which I grew last year and put in the freezer so even out of season that pleasure in eating something you produced yourself can take place. Tomorrow morning I shall dig a parsnip for lunch, as on Sundays we have a roast. No fanfares of trumpets. Just quiet acceptance that plans made long ago to maintain mental health have worked and are still working.

  5. People buy Ikea flatpacks because they’re cheap. The analogy with leaflets is not sound. But campaigners are flexing their own leaflets to add interest and relevance while avoiding standardisation, not realising that this barely impacts on the average resident.. Most people at best will skim and chuck all leaflets from all sources. Only the few who are politically engaged already will read thoroughly, the impact massively diluted by their other reading.

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