amrita Karma Behaviorism: Does It Pay Off?

The @Jonathanscard story is taking the world by storm. TechCrunch, the Globe&Mail etc have already written about it. (Yeah I know what you’re thinking – even credible “news” sites are nothing more than link grabbers these days).

Anyhow, I myself tried it today to see if it works. And it did!

I walked over to a Starbucks this afternoon and ordered a $3.23 grande ice-tea lemonade – and quelle surprise – a quick scan of the photo image of the loaded Starbucks card on my phone, rang the order through!

(The cashier was pretty impressed by my “tech skills” too. Poor guy had no idea it was simply a photo image of the barcoded back of the Starbucks card…)

In any case, of course I was happy to get my poison of choice, free of charge to me. But the question remains: is JonathansCard a thoughtful gesture/ social experiment or a genius marketing campaign?

It has been suspected by many people, that the man behind JonathansCard, Mr. Jonathan Stark is somehow affiliated with Starbucks and that he didn’t randomly choose to use Starbucks as his experiment. If this is the case, well kudos to Jonathan as this is genius. Even if it means Starbucks falling flat on its face, yet again, it still got them cost-effective marketing, didn’t it?

Jonathan Stark has estimated that his card has gone through about $4,500 and that most of it has been over the last 2 days. He goes on to say that most people are “super cool” about it and like his idea. He indicated that the number of people getting drinks vs. people contributing is about 2:1.

Not bad at all Mr. Stark! (ironically, his last name keeps making me think of IronMan)

There has been a lot of studies done on karma behaviorism and more often than not, it has been found that in western countries (not including the UK, they are an anomaly), the number of givers/ good samaritans/ socially responsible people far outweigh the number of takers/ idiots/ douches/ morons.

Dan Ariely, the author of ‘Predictably Irrational’ talks about the effect of paying-it-forward and how it results in communities becoming less selfish. He says that the majority of peole will generally take only as much as they need, and on occasion, return the favor. Of course there will always be the small minority that will abuse it, but the vast majority compensates for it.

I have personally seen some good examples of pay-what-you-want or pay-what-you-think-its-worth models… and they seem to work well. Especially for restaurants and such where you can eat/sample the food before paying for it.

This one however is new for me. I don’t anticipate this to be sustainable after it reaches a certain tipping point, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

I’d like to propose a few extensions to this social experiment:

Extension 1: remove the anonymity around withdrawals or usage of the Starbucks card, making the taker known somehow.

Extension 2: make the topping-up of the card, public in some way, with an option for the giver to post to Facebook, Twitter, G+ etc.

Extension 3: allow anyone topping up the card with $100 or more, having bragging rights, displated publicly in some manner.

I suspect each of these updates to the social experiment will dramatically influence our behavior. I’d be curious to see how behavior changes as we go from extension to extension, and I’d very much think that people will display enormous acts of kindness, should there be something in it for them.

Pretty much the same mechanism that Kickstarter and Kiva follow. Seems to have worked well for them!

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