🧠 Is your business "killing the dog?"

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Hi there - Jen here :)

Sometimes marketing psychology lessons turn up in the strangest places.

In fact, there's one hidden in the history of the classic comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Here's how a failed test screening and a simple psychological insight changed the fate of this film from a forgotten flop to pop culture triumph.

Today you’ll learn:

  • Why you never “kill the dog” in a film (and the psychology behind why)

  • The psychological principle that can help you create a business that customers adore

  • 3 simple (but genius) ways brands like IKEA, Walmart, and Chick-fila apply this psychology principle in the real world

  • How you can use this principle to improve and grow your business

👉 But before we get started:

On May 10th, I’m holding a free virtual workshop, “Introduction to Buyer Psychology.”

This workshop will introduce you to fascinating concepts, bust marketing myths, and help your brand grow (all with the power of psychology, behavioral science, and AI).

(Don’t worry, I’ll send out a replay to everyone if you can’t make it to the live workshop.)

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Why you never “kill the dog” in a film (and the psychology behind why)

When the original cut of Anchorman was shown to test audiences, they fell out of their seats laughing.

But when it came time to give the movie a score, the test audience failed it. ⁠

Director Adam McKay was confused… ⁠

⁠Why would the audience laugh so hard and then fail the movie?

Then a marketing manager gave him the secret.

She said, "You idiots killed the dog. You never kill the dog."⁠

You see, in the original cut of Anchorman, Ron Burgundy’s dog Baxter didn’t make it.

He was killed off for a joke in the very last scene. ⁠

Jack Black punts a stunt Baxter over the bridge. (Don’t worry, it was clearly fake.)

McKay was a little unconvinced but gave it a try.

They recut the movie with a new ending.

This time Burgundy was reunited with his beloved dog. ⁠

Guess what happened?⁠⁠

That’s right.

Test audiences loved the new version of Anchorman and it passed the screening with flying colors.


It’s down to a psychological principle called the Peak-end Rule.

The psychological principle that can help you create a business that customers adore

If you've been a Choice Hacking reader for long, you know I LOVE the Peak-end Rule.

I call it the Golden Rule of Marketing Psychology.

The Peak-End Rule says that we judge an experience based on two points - the emotional peak, and the end (not the average of every moment of the experience).

⁠And if an experience flubs the ending, it doesn’t matter how much fun you had, how much you laughed, or how good the product was.

A terrible ending can ruin the whole thing.

The world's most successful brands understand the power of the Peak-end Rule (even if they don't know it by name).

Here's how three of them use the Peak-end Rule to perfection:

3 simple (but genius) ways brands like IKEA, Walmart, and Chick-fila apply Peak-end in the real world

1. IKEA: The psychological power of cinnamon rolls

There are two places you can buy food in IKEA stores — the main restaurant, usually located in the middle of the store, and a small cafe just outside the checkout area.

This cafe sells cheap treats like cinnamon rolls, ice cream, muffins, and hot dogs.

But what does a cafe have to do with a good customer experience?

Well, the last thing you do in an IKEA store is pay for your items.

And if the store is doing its job you might be shocked by how much you spent.

But instead of leaving customers with the emotional shock of a bigger-than-expected purchase, IKEA gives them a place to enjoy a low-priced snack.

And even if a customer doesn’t buy something, the smell of muffins, hot dogs, and other tasty treats can help soften the emotional blow from spending more than they intended.

2. Walmart: How a simple "hello" can transform your brand

Walmart stores have had Greeters at their doors for decades, sharing a friendly “hello” and “goodbye” to customers as they enter and exit.

Recently, they've added a Customer Host position with bigger responsibilities, like making cart runs, cleaning spills, and lifting heavy items for guests.

Customer Hosts help manage customers' emotional peaks by helping them with their most emotional moments in-store.

And both Greeters and Customer Hosts leave guests feeling welcomed with a friendly send-off as they exit the store.

Walmart's internal research actually found that Greeters and Customer Hosts make a measurable difference to customers' experiences, making the store a much more pleasant place to shop.

3. Chick-fila: "It's my pleasure"

This southern-fried chicken fast food chain has had its share of controversies over the years, but its customer experience is one of the best in the industry (unless you're craving waffle fries on a Sunday).

Talk to anyone who's eaten at a Chick-fila and they're likely to recall the unusual way that employees end customer interactions.

They don't say "thank you" they say "It's my pleasure."

This memorable sign-off leaves customers feeling appreciated (and adds a bit of an emotional lift to the end of their experience).

How you can use the Peak-end Rule to improve and grow your business

Start by asking yourself:

1. Where do our customers feel the best, and the worst, in our experience?

If you’re struggling to figure this out, I recommend creating a Customer Journey Map to understand peoples’ emotional experiences.

2. Where does our experience actually end?

Many brands make the mistake of “ending” their experience too early.

For example, in eCommerce, the purchase experience or the product unboxing are considered “ends” for the customer.

But what if they need to return an item, or your delivery partner loses their package?

Then their ending might be an entirely different - and not so pleasant - moment that leaves them with some negative emotions.

Thought of the Week:

Brands that understand the power of simplicity, win:

Fewer messages

Fewer initiatives

Fewer products

... drives more sales and customer engagement.

It's one of the biggest paradoxes in marketing (and life):

Doing LESS can get you MORE.

Read, Watch, Listen

  • How to Solve Impossible Problems with the Reframing Strategy [Read]

  • Why luxury brands like Ferrari, Hermes, Porsche, and Rolex hold their products “hostage” [Watch]

  • Want to close more business for your business or yourself? Shut the f*ck up (2 Bobs Podcast) [Listen]  

Until next time,

Jen Clinehens, MS/MBA
Founder & MD Choice Hacking

Want to use behavioral science, psychology, and AI to grow your business?

👉 When you’re ready, Choice Hacking can help (we’re fully booked for coaching and consulting right now but happy to chat about Q3 engagements):

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