William Poundstone, Photo: Russel Taylor

William Poundstone


Pricing the Snuggie

Can psychological marketing trump common sense—and fashion sense?

Posted Jan 07, 2010

The Snuggie, the "blanket with sleeves," may be an Irony Belt punchline, but somewhere, in a less jaded America, 20 million have bought it. Like other infomercials, the Snuggie pitch uses some powerful tricks of psychological marketing. Next to that, logic - and fashion sense - don't count for much.

• The Snuggie is not quite like anything the viewer has seen before. Is it a blanket? Is it a shirt? Is it a centaur-like hybrid? The potential buyer does not know how to categorize it and can't compare its price to those of familiar products. This leaves the buyer open to suggestion about what a fair price might be.

• The buyer also doesn't know what quality to expect, and this encourages him to infer value from price. "When washed, it sheds," says this month's Consumer Reports. "Each time we laundered two Snuggies, we removed a sandwich bag's worth of lint from the dryer screen." This provoked a rebuttal by the Snuggie people in The New York Times: "Because the Snuggie is designed to be used like a blanket, you typically don't have to wash it as often as you would clothing." (Hmmm. The website says that Snuggies are perfect for "Night Time Pub Crawls." My guess is, you'll want to wash it once per pub crawl.)

• How much does a Snuggie cost? Glancing at the website, you might think $19.95. That's the most popular price for infomercial products - a "charm" price that seems so much less than $20. But as Consumer Reports notes, a $19.95 item usually costs $5 or $6 wholesale.

• Postage and handling run $7.95. Yes, you heard me right. The shipping charges are more than the probable wholesale cost of the Snuggie itself. When making a decision to buy, consumers focus on the product price, ignoring the extras. Marketers therefore shift the cost from the "price" to the "P&H."

• California and New York residents must pay sales tax on top of that, nearly $2. In the history of the world, has anyone ever factored that into their decision to buy?

• They throw in a "free" book light. It's mentioned like it's a fascinating product in its own right, but they don't waste much precious airtime on it. Suffice it to say it's small - think "prize in a cereal box."

• The book light is a freebie, the backbone of all infomercial pitches. Instead of selling just one product, they throw in something else for free, sometimes a whole cornucopia of freebies. Economist Richard Thaler calls this principle "Don't wrap all the Christmas presents in one box." Marketers use this formula because it means more sales at higher prices.

Now wait a minute, I hear the skeptics saying. I wouldn't be caught dead in one of those things - not if THEY PAID ME! These marketing tricks won't work on someone dead set against buying a Snuggie. They work on the persuadable, those sitting on the fence between buying and not buying. Even if you're not a Snuggie persuadable, you are for something else. We all make decisions, and the underlying psychology is much the same.

• Every slasher movie ends with the "slain" villain springing back to life. And every infomercial ends on this "surprise" twist: Buy now, and they'll double your order for free! You get two Snuggies, and two book lights, for just $19.95 with an asterisk. It's the asterisk that just got more expensive. You have to pay another $7.95 for shipping the "free" Snuggie (which probably isn't worth $7.95 wholesale). Grand total: $35.85 (plus any tax).

• What if you want to buy one Snuggie? Sorry, it doesn't work that way. One Snuggie is like the sound of one hand clapping (in a cheap fleece sleeve).

Consumer Reports editors (2010). "Should you 'BUY THIS NOW!'?" Consumer Reports, Feb. 2010, 16-20.
Newman, Andrew Adam (2010). "Infomercial Products Take One on the Chin." The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2010.
Thaler, Richard (1985). "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice." Marketing Science 4, 199-214.