Effort Justification (part 1) – A busy client becomes a loyal client

Daniel Kostyra

A new colleague moves to your town and asks you to help. Nobody likes moving and you dont even know yet whether you actually like the colleague or not. But as a nice and helpful person you agree. After carrying boxes to the third floor for four hours, you realize at the end of the day: The new colleague is actually alright. 


This can be due to the so-called justification-of-effort effect. This is a spin-off of the cognitive dissonance theory by Festinger[1] and easily explained. We all are tempted to keep our actions in balance with our attitude. That’s why we don’t litter and hold the door for elderly people. Because we believe this to be right we act upon it. If you are now tempted to act against your own attitude (e. g. helping “strangers” with their move), you have four options: stop the action, change the attitude, search for external justification, or self-deception. The changing of your own attitude lead to the conclusion that the new colleague is “actually alright” in our example above. You don’t start to love moving. But by perceiving the new colleague as more pleasant you can more easily deal with having worked for four hours (Effort Justification). And the new colleague didn’t even have to help it himself.

For Marketing this provides an opportunity: By keeping the client busy with several small incentivized tasks (sweepstakes, surveys, creating a profile, etc.), he has to ask himself why he is doing this. Ideally, as a result, the client will change his attitude by classifying the brand as more interesting and important in order to justify his own expenditure of time. Important here is: They should be a number of small tasks, that are not overly compensated. If the brand offers a (way too generous) 100 EUR gift card for creating a profile on the inherent community site, the same effect happens as if your colleague had paid you for your help with the move: You are doing it for the money. And that is an external justification (see option four above), which would leave the attitude untouched.

[1] Festinger, Leon (1957), “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”, Stanford University Press


About Daniel Kostyra

Daniel Kostyra has been working as a Consultant for Cocomore since June 2014. Before he was a research assistant in Marketing at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. If you ask him, what he is doing at Cocomore, he says: “I know, what I do, even if I can’t always explain, what I make”.

Describing Kosy in four words: curious, talkative, black humor, not bearded.