What is the difference between Incentives and Bribe?

I vividly remember those hectic days when clients were on my head to get the surveys completed – especially the last few completes were always troublesome. So many a times we had to increase the incentive amount to get those last few completes. But that got me thinking – ‘Am I bribing people to get their opinions?’ – the basic premise of survey participation is that we are inviting people so as to help brands formulate right products/services. There seems to be a very thin line between incentivizing people and bribing them. This article will try to look at it from a deeper perspective.

The first question that strikes my mind is “Why should I give incentives?” the simple answer is “yes, it is a token of appreciation for the time people spend on giving surveys” – but am I not inviting bias when the first call for interaction is “For 5 minutes of your time you can win an iPad” – here as you can see the theory of ‘let us help make brands better’ fall flat on face.

The very moment I am luring in people to provide opinions defeat the entire purpose of having a fair opinion. When any normal person is provided a carrot “read incentives” it changes their inherent behavior – now instead of some higher cause which would have initiated a normal behavior we somehow provoke the respondent to get the survey completed anyhow to get the incentive.

I maybe completely wrong here in my assessment and incentives work only as motivation to open that survey link and frankly telling you I don’t have statistical data to prove otherwise. But it does feel a bit strange when the same survey gets different response rates on changing the incentive amounts.

It gets us thinking that are we bribing people to respond?

Today every data collection company faces 2 questions:

How to get more responses? and How to get pure responses?

Incentives are something that connects the 2 questions – without incentives it seems impossible that we will ever achieve requisite responses and with incentives we may tend to allow certain reward bias to creep in.

Let us look at how typically ‘bribe system’ in real life works – you have a task at hand which needs to be completed (read survey needs to be filled with responses) -> normal course of action either does not works or takes too much of a time (read survey will not get responses just by sending them to the targeted samples) -> you bribe the other person to get the task completed (read you provide incentives to get the responses) -> the bottom line is it is UNFAIR.

I am really interested to peep inside the psyche of the respondent who is willing to spend 25-30 minutes to sit in front of the screen and punch supposedly honest responses.

There are 2 things which I am unable to comprehend:

1- Most of the surveys are so poorly designed that the person who can actually complete it must be really patient enough – or is it merely the lure of incentives that pushes them?

2- Many panel companies follow the ‘point based incentive system’ i.e. on completion of a survey they will give you reward points – only when you have collected a certain number of points that you can cash them. On the face of it this system has been lifted from credit card companies where similar reward points system are incorporated but here the respondent is actually taking out some precious time to get a task done – should not they be compensated immediately? – what if with my profile I only qualify for few survey reward points and this way although I have spend time I will never be compensated! whereas the panel company makes money on every survey.

It seems that somewhere the way we handle incentives is not correct.

Can I completely dissolve the incentive system and still get all the required responses??? If the answer is NO then am I taking responses from people who are only driven by incentives to give their opinions – what about the concept of ‘let us help brands make better products/services for us’ – should I trust such responses  – am I bribing people to respond under an acceptable name of incentives?

Now the onus lies on the data collection companies to create a middle path and ensure that quick responses are accompanied with fair responses.

Akshay Kanyal

Akshay Kanyal

Akshay Kanyal writes survey research reviews on his popular blog Online MR. He’s an avid blogger, brand consultant and a content marketing expert, helping business owners to craft content that sells.

He provides content marketing advice to start-ups and innovation driven companies. He can be contacted at editor@onlinemr.com

You can also connect with him on LinkedIn ; Facebook ; Twitter


  1. Agree with the point that most surveys are poorly designed; if you keep it short, include a small incentive an make it attractive, people are more than willing to to respond to your qurveys!