Top 10 Marketing Tricks used on Consumers

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Whether you see them as brilliantly clever or dastardly insidious, the best tricks and traps of marketing strategies, catch us all at one time or another. They play on our sensitivities, play on fears and sometimes they just play with us and we join the game willingly. This Top Ten list of Marketing Tricks, starting from ten, is intended neither to preach nor scold, but there are some that may suggest that someone must be held accountable.

10. “Everyone’s doing it!”

Marketing professional understand that no matter how many times our mothers asked “If they all jumped off the cliff, would you jump off the cliff?” it would never be a truly rhetorical question because we would always want to know more about what was at the bottom of the cliff. Consumers know that following the lemmings isn’t a good idea, but they’re always open to a suggestion.

The basic aim of demonstrating consensus is to expose consumers’ insecurities and then work on them. When they’re told that everyone loves a particular song, most consumers will start listening more closely to find what it is that everyone loves. Or they’ll just bluff. When a visiting dignitary is going to be “given a pop star’s welcome”, the crowds at the airport swell with supporters. Or it swells with people hoping to be seen there.

We all like to think of ourselves as discerning and savvy, the average consumer yearns for the approval of their peers. So next time you read or hear a sentence that starts “We all like to think of ourselves as discerning and savvy”, take a moment to ask if you really do or if you’re only agreeing because “everyone” else does.

9. Greed Is Good

Some marketing executives would like to have made a chant of Gordon Gekko’s principle belief that, “Greed is good”. Not only is it the driving force behind their work and the desires of the companies they promote, but it is a terrific tool to turn back on the consumer. It is fanned into flame at the prospect of the common man gaining a little of the “luck” that the rich have had heaped upon them.

Lotteries or gaming machines are the most obvious examples of the “little guy” looking for the life-changing twist of fate. But there are more subtle incidents of the “Greed” phenomenon that hide the distasteful word neatly beneath the gauze of honest “labor”. Consider the opportunity to earn hundreds of dollars without leaving your own home and the perennial story of the mother of four, who has become a property millionaire from her own living room.

The enticement of good money for so little effort that you don’t even have to disturb the impression you have created in the couch, has drawn many consumers into party plans, direct selling and internet trading. Often they don’t even realize that the outlay to get the game started and the pressure to maintain their turnover has actually made them the consumer as much as anyone to whom they sell.

8. Scarcity

There’s an old saying about products that sell quickly, “They’re moving so fast you’d think they were going out of season”. The basis of this idea is that something good is scarce and will soon be gone forever. Consumers then feel that they don’t want to miss out and they’re driven to make a purchase.

The “Scarcity” strategy has two ways of working. The first is the obvious suggestion that the consumer doesn’t want to be caught out without the product that is becoming scarce. Time is running out, there won’t be any after this, time is running out, once these are gone there are no more, time is running out, don’t be the one to miss out. Anxiety turns to panic and the hope is that the consumer will be prepared to make purchases hurriedly to “beat the rush”.

However, the other way that the strategy works is a little more cynical. Everyone loves a bargain and everyone knows that bargains are to be found in the last throes of a business or season. So the suggestion that something is coming to an end arouses the bargain hunter and they start to circle. Some will be prepared to wait it out, but most will charge headlong into a purchase because it’s a “bargain”.

Whether the motivation is to avoid disappointment or to take advantage of someone else’s ill fortune, the use of a suggestion of scarcity is a potent marketing tool.

7. “We Won’t Look If You Want To Advertise For Us”

The principle behind this strategy seems obvious, but it is remarkable how many consumers think that they are the ones benefiting from downloading the image or logo of a company. In actual fact, while the consumer thinks they are “getting away with” using the image without permission, they are becoming an extension of the company’s marketing department.

Everyone from teachers producing worksheets to psychologists exploring the functioning of the human psyche will make use of images and logos of major brands. Most of them will do it with the full knowledge that they should have asked first. Only the foolish companies will try to take action to stop this use.

The preparedness of the company to allow the sharing of their symbols is an interesting game of cat and mouse, where the cat isn’t just watching the mouse; he’s really stopping the mousetrap from closing so the mouse can share the cheese around. His hope is that it will bring more mice to the larder.

6. “Nine Out Of Ten …”

Have you ever wondered which ten dentists they asked to try out the toothpaste? Which miserable old tooth-puller, even after the free lunch and theatre tickets, still said it wasn’t the best? Perhaps all were won over but claiming ten out of ten dentists endorse a product was a little too much of a good thing, so they just made up the one that didn’t like it.

Manipulation of statements by authorities is a tried and true marketing trick. It involves meeting the distrust of the consumer with an endorsement that they are prepared to believe. The expertise of the authority can be debatable, but as long as the consumer can make the connection the trick works.

A single child saying that they like the toothpaste may work on an emotional level, but nine dentists have logic and learning behind them; nine dentists may work at a cognitive level, but a female movie star with a dazzling smile is talking about her livelihood. The movie star works at a personal level.

The authority that supports a product doesn’t have to be as obvious as the American Cancer Society to have clout. Effectively, the authority simply needs to be someone that consumers will trust more than the salesperson.

5. “You Move Me …”

According to psychologists and other experts on memory, it is most effective when the incident, idea or object to be remembered is linked to an emotion. For people who found school difficult a red pen can draw a negative feeling, for the victim of a road accident a certain point on a road can evoke sadness and for consumers a product can evoke feelings of love or happiness.

This association with an emotion is used in marketing to create a positive connection to a product. The simple message is that if you can make them feel something, people will remember the product. The intensity of the feeling will add to the effectiveness of the marketing, so a soft duckling being cuddled gently by a smiling child will make consumers feel safe and cared for when they see a particular brand of toilet paper.

The desire to arouse a response doesn’t have to be positive.  In the seventies there was an advertising campaign that screeched the catch-phrase “Where did you get it?” It was accepted as the most annoying sound on television, but the marketers had done their job because, even though the advertisement made people cringe, almost everyone knew the supermarket chain to which it was attached.

The claim is often made that any publicity is good publicity and a similar tenet holds for emotions; any emotional response is a good response.

4. “Who Says We’re Scared of Commitment?”

Recently a financial advisor went to some lengths to organize a life insurance assessment for his customers, a husband and wife. The assessment hit a minor snag and the couple decided not to pursue the idea. But when the next bank statement came they had been charged a month’s premium. They raised this with the financial advisor who was astonished by their insistence that the assessment was not a commitment to buy.

The marketing trick in play here was that of commitment. Once the financial advisor had gained the commitment of the couple to undergo the assessment, he assumed they were committing to the purchase. This case, sadly, is the exception rather than the rule. Most consumers will accept that they have made a commitment once they have accepted some form of service from the vendor.

It was once said that if a car salesman could talk a customer into taking a car for a test drive, the job was done. Once a consumer has taken the liberty of driving the car, the weight of commitment would tilt the scales to the side of the salesman. While consumers may have no formal, legal or even ethical obligation, the deep seated sense of responsibility to fulfill a commitment will often be enough to make the sale.

3. “Surprise Me”

Laughter may be the best medicine, but it is also a terrific marketing tool. When people laugh endorphins are sent to work, the muscles used to frown are relaxed and, often, the experience is shared. The audience feels good and makes a small subconscious link between product and the feeling.

Most humor is based on the unexpected nature of an event or comment. The simplest joke works by twisting our expectations through a play on words or an unbelievable circumstance or both. An empty bottle walks into a bar and the barman says, “Weren’t you drunk in here last night?” For the sake of the joke the audience will let the bottle walk and groan at the pun of the punch-line; all it needs is a brand name for the bottle and the joke becomes a successful marketing trick.

As well as attaching a very pleasant emotion to the product, the joke often provides the basis for conversation about it. At its best, this can send the tag to the product into common usage and every time the tag is acknowledged the marketing tool is active again.

2. “You scratch my …”

A certain charity regularly sends out free gifts to everyone on its mailing list. They are not shoddy or useless items, but they are cheap to produce and easy to post; tastefully decorated return address stickers for the backs of envelopes, pretty labels for Christmas presents and simple “Thinking of You” cards that are blank inside, ready to be addressed to someone who needs a lift.

In many ways these gifts are not only practical, but they allow the receiver to enjoy the thought of sharing their warmth with others through letters, gifts or kind thoughts. What is more encouraging is the fact that they are genuinely free. No transaction occurs to make the receiver eligible; they simply need to have made it on to a mailing list.

But, naturally, the grateful receiver feels obliged to “reciprocate” the charity’s generosity and will probably send a small donation in reply. The reciprocation is never requested and this makes it even more effective and satisfying. The success of reciprocity as a marketing tool is in the establishment of a relationship that reeks of generosity. Eventually that generosity will be repaid in a purchase, donation or booking.

1. “Let’s Call It Marketing Day!”

One of the most cynical of marketing ploys is only effective on a large scale and with plenty of support. It is to pick a day when there seems to be a lull in the marketing world and create a holiday. It doesn’t matter what the fact is about the day, as long as it doesn’t interfere with other “recognized” holidays its fair game.

Father’s Day was established as a remembrance for the loss of a large proportion of a town’s fathers in a mining accident in Fairmont, West Virginia. But once the Greeting Card companies discovered the market, the day became an international feature of the calendar.

Mother’s Day had a series of starting points, but was eventually recognized as a holiday in 1914. It didn’t take six years for its founder to be saddened by the commercialism that took hold of the concept.

There are many aspects of life that deserve recognition including, Mothers, Fathers and Romance. But one only has to look at the financial windfall retailers enjoy when celebrating the day before All Saints Day, Halloween, to realize that the creation of such festivities is more of a marketing strategy than a genuine celebration. The use of these days to create obligation and guilt must be the Number One marketing trick in play.