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Haven’t you heard? Less ISN’T more

Isabel Williams
Written By
Isabel Williams
Haven’t you heard? Less ISN’T more
Artwork by Louise Pau and Simon Tyler

How you shouldn’t market a product.

Is your product free of sulfates, orange juice pulp, or memory-loss side effects? Wonderful! But now stop talking about it.

These three product descriptors all phrase their benefits in a “taking something away” context. “No” this, “Free of” that, etc. They’re benefits, but you’re jumbling up the customer’s brain with that phrasing. There's evidence to suggest that this “less is more” advertising is ineffective and pushes customers to pick up a different product.

In the recent study “People systematically overlook subtractive changes”, researchers wanted to test participants’ decision-making behavior. They performed 8 different tests where the option of removing and/or adding something was available. Some experiments had participants modify a fake golf course, another was to make two images symmetrical.

They found that, overwhelmingly, participants jumped to “adding” actions. The symmetrical image experiment saw only 20% of participants removing items instead of adding. When participants were asked how they would choose to improve their university, only 11% thought of taking something away.

The researchers posed multiple reasons why this may happen, one being that the mental process of adding may be more simple than removing. “Any component that can be subtracted must first be understood as part of the artefact before it can be considered as ‘not’ part of the artefact.”

When a product is said to not have some thing, it just leads you to think about that “thing” anyway. “But what are sulfates? Why did this drug ever cause memory loss? Oh god, why did you make me think about orange juice pulp?!?”

Based on this research, the “less is more” approach is counterproductive. Find ways to market product information in an additive way, e.g. organic > pesticide-free, keto > gluten-free, etc. When people are bombarded with hundreds of choices a day, framing your product as the fastest to understand, not the most revolutionary, may have customers grabbing your box before they even realize. Let’s face it, less… well it’s just less!