When rats running in a maze get closer to the cheese, they speed up. Like rats in a maze, consumers speed up, or accelerate, purchases when they are about to reach a higher award level in a loyalty program, called the accelerator effectof a loyalty program. In American’s AAdvantage program, for example, a member gets “Platinum” status after flying sixty flights or fifty thousand miles. Platinum members get special awards, like more frequent upgrades to first class, boarding ahead of everyone else, not having to pay for luggage and other fees, and double mileage toward free flights. Someone who has fifty flights and just needs ten more to become Platinum will start to fly American more frequently until the Platinum level is reached. Then, American hopes that the other effects (blocker, spreader, etc.) will occur.
Companies can capitalize on the accelerator effect by making it easy for members to track their progress and notifying them when they are close to reaching subsequent levels. American helps its Advantage fliers track their progress by sending them monthly updates on their levels. Couple such a notification with a special offer, and a company is likely to see even greater acceleration. The accelerator effect can also be used with promotions that create short-term, loyal behavior. Pepsi created a promotion with Amazon in which purchasers could accumulate points toward free music downloads. The promotion, launched with a Justin Timberlake Super Bowl ad, was a knock-off of Coca-Cola’s MyCokeRewards.com. Although they weren’t formal loyalty programs, both promotions led to an accelerator effect as customers got close to the award levels they needed to redeem prizes.