Bringing Ulysses to Scale: A Tale of Persistence, Spillovers and Customer Loyalty



Financial incentive programs are an increasingly attractive way to improve health behaviors. While research from behavioral economics shows these interventions can effectively improve a specific health behavior while in place, less is known about the extended effects for both the participants and the host organizations. Understanding these effects is essential to bringing behavioral science insights to scale. If an intervention has positive effects on a targeted behavior, but leads to negative consequences once the program ends, or shows negative spillover effects in other domains, it may be unsustainable. We address these questions by examining the extended effects of a penalty-based intervention: a voluntary 6-month commitment contract that significantly improved healthy grocery purchases. Households receiving a 25% discount on healthy grocery purchases, put their discount on the line by precommitting to a 5-percentage-point increase above their household healthy grocery baseline. Those who met the goal kept their discount; those who did not forfeited it. Because the intervention was run within a comprehensive health rewards program, we could examine the commitment device’s impact beyond the specific time period and targeted behavior (nutrition). We found positive extended effects, and offer some reassurance that such interventions can be successful, persistent, and cost-effectively brought to scale, without fear of negative spillovers and consumer backlash.