You might think that you’re immune to advertising trickery. Evidence suggests that not only are we highly susceptible to advertising but that the ones who claim to be immune or much less likely to be influenced are in fact more likely to be influenced! (This is called The Illusion of Invulnerability. Perloff, 1993 and Paul, 2000 researched this and a related phenomenon called the 3rd Party Effect.)

Sales people know all the tricks of the trade. I’m going to share a few techniques used that will help you avoid falling into some of the traps that are laid. There are many, many more tricks of persuasion used; here, are just five that I have rigorously researched just for you, [insert your name here].1

Techniques used

  1. Be aware of being asked lots of questions to which you find yourself nodding and saying ‘yes’ to. Polite chit-chat will often lead to this happening anyway (that’s why they do it). If sales people do this though they might well have an ulterior motive as well as making a polite introduction. Research (Dale Carnegie; Howard, 1980 and many others) suggests that when people say a lot of ‘yes’ they are more likely to agree to something in the future
  2. People like you more when they carry out a favour for you (The Franklin Effect). By deduction, you like them more when you carry out a favour for them. We do things for people that we like therefore we like people we do things for. Whenever you’re asked to do something for a sales person however trivial it might seem (e.g. hold a pen for someone) be aware…
  3. The Foot-in-the-door technique. If they can get a foot-in-the-door (a small sale or some form of agreement) evidence suggests that they will later make a bigger sale. This is all to do with the desire to maintain self-consistency. We want to be liked and we’ll do anything to maintain that view of ourselves and what we perceive people think of us. If we can be levered to agree to something small we are far more likely to agree to something bigger. We are desperate to maintain our self-consistency. Agreeing to one small thing and then refusing something bigger flies in the face of this desire to maintain self-consistency and sales people know it!
  4. The Scarcity or Rarity Argument. We’re more likely to buy it if it’s in short supply. People want what they can’t have or think they might miss out on if they don’t buy it. Don’t buy it! They may not be telling the truth anyway!
  5. We are far more likely to agree [to buy] with people who are like us and we find them far more persuasive. When you’re asked questions by the sales people it’s – sadly – because they are probably looking for hooks of commonality they can use. Famously in the Kerry-Bush campaign in America (Caprara, Vecchione, Barbaranelli and Fraley: The Case of Political Preference, 2007) voters who thought themselves open-minded generally voted for Kerry (generally considered to be more open-minded) whereas those who thought themselves loyal voted for Bush (generally considered loyal). Irrespective of how the candidate dressed or spoke; what he ate; his race; religion; background etc. it was the commonality that held the greatest influence for these voters. For other voters it could just as easily have been the candidate’s religious views, how he dressed or even what he ate that was the decisive influencing factor. If you find that you suddenly have a lot in common with the person who’s selling you something watch out!

Be honest. How many of you are saying, “I don’t buy any of this?” That’s what the sales people want you to think…

How many of you are saying, “How come I bought that… [watch, toy, holiday, car, game etc.]? Now you know!

1 I’m sure that you noticed two tricks I’ve used. You are, after all, a very clever person and would spot tricks like this a mile off. Firstly, we are susceptible to believing something just because an authority figure or research says it is the case. Secondly, I said it was just for you, John / Paul / Sharon / Debbie / Giles / Chris H / Kat / Philip / Fiona / Chris B and all the other hundreds of people who are following this blog (there, I’m at it again…). We like things personalised to us. Why might that sales people use this technique do you think?!