Which do consumers value more: time or money?

The Time vs Money Effect

Do consumers respond more positively to advertisements that mention time (“Miller Time”) or money (“Perfection Has Its Price”)? A new A Journal of Consumer Research study  found that mentioning time makes consumers more likely to purchase and enjoy products.

 When consumers are primed to think about time, they are more likely to feel personal connections with products, explain Stanford University researchers Cassie Mogilner and Jennifer Aaker.

The researchers conducted five experiments:

  • one field experiment (a lemonade stand),
  • three in-lab surveys with university students, and
  • one online survey with a national sampling.

In all experiments, when promted to think about either money or time, customers expressed greater satisfaction in responding to promotions mentioning time rather than money to promote the product. The effect was demonstrated by measuring consumer satisfaction with products using questionnaires:

  • among consumers purchasing a cup of lemonade from a lemonade stand;
  • among university students led to think about the amount of time (vs. money) they had spent on their iPods;
  • among restaurant patrons considering the amount of time (vs. money) they spend eating out; and
  • among typical consumers evaluating their cars.

The Exception: Snob Appeal Products

There were two notable exceptions to the findings:

  • Status products: For products like designer jeans, participants responded better to money references.
  • Highly materialistic individuals: The researchers also found that highly materialistic individuals responded better to money references than time-related ones.


1. Consider the potential unintended effect of your advertising: The researchers conclude that, while marketers reference time and money in a variety of advertisements and communications, they have little real knowledge about the effects of directing consumers’ attention to time or money.

The researchers write: “This research offers insight into not only how marketers can make their products more appealing, but also how consumers can extract greater enjoyment from the products they consume.”

2. Consumers generally value time over money:  Have wired lifestyles have made time a more important commodity than it used to be?  Would a slogan like “Make Time” be more effective than one calling attention to saving money, such as “Save” or “Make Money?”

3. More research is needed: It is important to note that this research deals primarily with tangible goods – products and services that impact the senses – that can be seen, touched, tasted and otherwise experienced directly. Does the effect translate to intangible financial services? The research suggests to me that this would depend on how financial services are positioned.

4. The poverty of living below the “Time Line:”  According to Yahoo Finance writer Laura Rowley, many working people may be considered living in “time poverty.” That is, while making sufficient monetary income, they never have had the time to enjoy it, and even their weekend may be spent in the office or recovering from the office.

Applications to Financial Services

Although it may not be readily apparent how the time over money effect translates to intangible financial services and products, I suggest out that it does. The most effective mass financial services advertising associates financial services with consumer values, using tangible imagery to make the association. The research shows that the time over money effect is an important consumer value, and that consumers are willing to pay to buy the luxury of time.

Case Study: Progressive Insurance (Arnold Ad Agency) 

Progressive has enjoyed one of the most wildly successful mass advertising campaigns. What are they doing right? While their message is that you can “name your own price,” implicit in the message is that you can save time comparison shopping. It establishes a strong association with tangible sensory elements that suggest the suspension of time. Their imaginary superstore is strongly suggestive of Second Life, or a virtual reality, with avatar-like characters. Their perky spokesman, Flo with her price gun personifies consumer values such as friendly, good spirited personal service and the price gun, a personal touch.

The results: massive recognition and expanded customer base. Flow had more than two million fans on Facebook, as well as her own “I’m dressing up as Flo for Halloween” Facebook community group. In 2011, Flo was voted the number one advertising icon in America by readers of Entertainment Weekly. Progressive is one of the largest auto insurers in the United States, with over 10 million policies in force, along with State Farm, Allstate, GEICO, Nationwide Insurance, Farmers Insurance Group, and USAA.

They have been able to accomplish this by making strong brand associations with core consumer values that can be illustrated in sensory terms, and implicit in their message is that you can save time in comparing products.

Snap principle of time vs. money:

Consumers value time over money in categories other than status products.