With the Superbowl coming up this weekend, I thought that this would be an appropriate time to talk a bit about advertising and how it influences us. We all like to think that we are these rational, savvy consumers, immune to the slew of marketing gimmicks constantly being thrown at us. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but most, if not all of us, are quite susceptible to marketing tricks. Not only do studies prove this, but I offer Roll Models workshops to train salespeople to employ these tools of influence for only one reason, because they work. We all are already aware of marketing tools like celebrity endorsements and the illusion of peer-pressure (“Everybody’s doing it!”) to motivate us to buy various products. Today I am going to illustrate 2 other powerful tools of influence, reciprocity and scarcity.
One type of commercial seen every year during the Superbowl is the one that says, “Come in on this day at this time, and you will get a free taco/pancake/soda/etc.” One influence tool that is hard at work in Superbowl ads like this is the concept of reciprocity. As moral, wholesome people (and who doesn’t see themselves in that group), we are ingrained with the idea that if someone gives you something, then you are “supposed” to give something in return. What do companies do to exploit this? They say, “Come in on this day, and we will GIVE you a free taco/pancake/soda!” After arriving to get your taco/pancake/soda however, your reactionary, non-critical mind that makes most of your decisions thinks, “Well, they saved me money by giving me a gift, so I will be nice and buy X, Y, and Z.” Hook, line, and sinker. You have gone to a restaurant you probably wouldn’t have gone to if not for the freebie, and spent money on their products, not because you necessarily wanted it, but because it was free.
Not only does this ad invoke your need to reciprocate their “gift,” but it also strikes at another powerful marketing gimmick, scarcity. One thing people value more than almost anything is the freedom to autonomously make choices. This is why we don’t like being told what to do. As soon as someone says, “Oh, you can’t have this.” whatever the item is, it suddenly is more desirable. Parents realize this fact early with their kids, that whatever they tell them to not play with is exactly what the child will go for. When companies say, “You can have it free, but only on this day.” they are limiting your choice to decide to get that free item. As the deadline gets closer, in an attempt to avoid feeling the regret of missing out on a freebie, you value the item more and off you go to get your “free gift,” whether you need it or not.
One 30 to 60 second ad invoking two very powerful tools of influence (and there are other techniques at work here). As you enjoy the new Superbowl ads this weekend, keep your psychologist’s cap on and watch out for some of these marketing ploys. Sometimes, I like to think of it like a game of “I Spy” where I try to spot the various persuasion tools. I would love to get comments on what people see as they enjoy the game. Just keep in mind as you are trying to be a smart consumer that there are various forces at work behind the scenes influencing your behavior. It may be a good idea to take a deep breath and decide whether you really want to purchase a given product, or if it’s just the power of influence.