Consumer Insights

Are You Smarter Than The Average American?

Americans are a very intelligent people — just ask them. A study by YouGov revealed news that 55 percent of Americans think they are smarter than the average American. A little over a third of all Americans think of themselves as of average intelligence, and only 4 percent of Americans rate themselves as of below average intelligence.

And PYMNTS would never cast aspersions on the intelligence of Americans two weeks before the Fourth of July. Americans have come up with some great ideas: The iPhone, the internet, the assembly line, the telephone and telegraph, automobile, Coca-Cola, credit cards, debit cards, the Marshall Plan, the turducken, eCommerce and the Declaration of Independence were all above average American ideas, to say the least.

But the greatest minds in history have warned about people who think of themselves as very, very smart — especially if they tell you they are very, very smart.

Shakespeare famously said, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Socrates made basically the same point a few thousand years earlier with, “A man who knows he knows nothing is smarter than a man who thinks he knows something but really knows nothing.”

And we couldn’t help but notice that those numbers really don’t add up. If 55 percent of all Americans are smarter than average, that would mean (as National Journal writer Pete Moore noted) the average American would have to be smarter than the average American, which is not logically possible.

However, that did get us thinking — what other things do Americans, a people who on average believe themselves to be smarter than average — believe?

We think that a little over half of all Americans may have some thinking they need to do…

Brown Cows and Chocolate Milk (and Other Odd Beliefs About Food)

At some point during one’s early childhood, most people believed that brown cows produced chocolate milk — because explanations offered by cartoons are compelling and the source of all truth before the age of five. As it turns out, 7 percent of all Americans — some 16 million — never grew out of that belief, because they still believe brown cows give chocolate milk.

And while that is a rather fun takeaway figure, it is one extreme example of a knowledge gap that’s becoming increasingly prevalent among U.S. consumers: They don’t know where their food comes from. In recent memory, as many as 20 percent of American consumers don’t actually know hamburgers are made from beef.

And the problem gets more acute the farther one lives from the means of food production. More than half of urban elementary school students don’t know pickles are cucumbers, or that onions and lettuce are plants. Another 30 percent don’t know cheese is made from milk.

American schoolchildren were also surprised to learn, about a third of the time, that a potato is the origin of a french fry, which is slightly ironic, because potatoes in french fry form are the most commonly recurring vegetable in many American consumers’ diets.

But food isn’t the only thing we buy that we have … mismatched beliefs on.

Have You Heard the One About the Apple HomePod?

A recent study about the American consumer’s interest in Apple’s HomePod suggests that a third of American adults are eagerly awaiting the day when they can buy a HomePod. The study, a Morning Consult national survey, reported that 70 million Americans are interested in buying Apple’s new $350 smart speaker, HomePod, which has positioned itself as having superior sound quality for firing up those Apple Music playlists.

That is 33 percent of consumers — though that figure drops off to about 30 percent when consumers were asked to consider other alternatives such as Google’s Home Speaker or the Amazon Echo. The results were stronger among current Apple owners — 45 percent said they were interested, though again the figure drops to 40 percent when other alternatives are mentioned.

So, logically, those 70 million Americans said that sound quality was top of their list when picking said speaker, right?

Not exactly.

Instead, it’s price. The most-important factor — said 57 percent of those respondents — was price. Apple’s device — which a third of respondents said they were interested in — carries a $350 price tag, more than $200 to $250 more than the comparable Google and Amazon devices.

We wonder if consumers are “interested” in buying Apple HomePods — or a world in which they might be able to afford to buy one.

Other Odd Beliefs

Building a financial services app to help people better manage their cash flows? We have some bad news. According to economists at the University of Chicago, 20 percent of Americans think winning the lottery is a reasonable plan for their financial future (wondering how to win the lottery? Let us know when you figure it out and win the Powerball).

Building a dating app? Might want to try matching up conspiracy theorists; it’s not as niche a market as you might think: 20 percent of Americans believe in at least one (same study). Moon-hoaxers — people who believe we never landed on the moon — make up about 15 to 20 percent of the “adult” population.

Trying to think up the innovation for which the world is waiting? We have a crowd pleaser — 20 percent of Americans believe humans will be able to control the weather within a few decades, about two-thirds the number of people who say they’d like to buy an Apple HomePod. Could that be the Siri/HomePod game-changer? “Siri, make the sun shine” and have it happen.

Sure beats the heck out of “Alexa, order me a pizza.” But then again, Alexa gets the job done today, weather notwithstanding.

So just remember, when you’re building all these products, don’t think you can trick Americans with crazy gimmicks. They’re smart people — above average, on average.

Just ask them.


Featured PYMNTS Study: 

With eyes on lowering costs to improving cash flow, 85 percent of U.S. firms plan to make real-time payments integral to their operations within three years. However, some firms still feel technical barriers stand in the way. In the January 2020 Making Real-Time Payments A Reality Study, PYMNTS surveyed more than 500 financial executives to examine what it will take to channel RTP interest into real-world adoption. Here’s what we learned.

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