Post No.: 0755
Physical stores employ a bunch of techniques in order to get us to spend more, that we might not consciously notice – these include the design of the aisle layout, the placement of the most profitable items at eye-level, prominent gondola displays, positioning impulse purchases near the till so you might grab them while you’re waiting in the queue to pay, the music, scents, the choice of colours, and more.
Short queues are generally preferable for customers, but long queues can make a nightclub seem like a more desirable place to be. Long queues may also make people buy more in supermarkets so that they don’t feel like they’re going to queue just to purchase a couple of items. That might be one reason why they’re often slow to open up more tills as it gets busier!
Restaurants tend to fill the seats near the windows first to make the place look vibrant to passers-by. The musical and lighting ambiance, heavy crockery and quality of the tablecloths, are all part of the dining experience we’re paying for, and such peripheral factors will even affect how much diners will value the price of and rate the food itself when they’re asked to judge the food alone. This proves how we’re not objective connoisseurs of quality – we’re easily fooled.
A restaurant that gives its customers a 1-in-6 chance of getting their meal for free when the bill arrives is a smarter move than just giving every customer a 16.67% discount – even though, on the face of it, it appears to be the same for the restaurant in the long run. This is because customers will tend to order more in case they do win their entire meal for free.
Online stores employ their own techniques too. E-commerce businesses frequently set up multiple versions of their websites (webpages with different colours, positions of links, images, etc.) in order to test which version generates the most sales – and each customer will only see one version and thus not know any differently. For example, depending on their findings, sometimes after you leave your shopping cart abandoned (i.e. you have items in the basket but don’t check out), you’ll suddenly receive an incentive, like a discount on those items, to get you to finally check out. Or conversely you might find that the prices of those items have increased slightly, possibly because the store thinks that you’ve returned because this time you’re finally serious about checking out. Especially with the big retailers – almost nothing is accidental but is by design.
Businesses exploit the principle of nudges too – but for the purpose of serving their own profits more than customer welfare. ‘Dark patterns’ are techniques used on websites and apps that make you do things you didn’t intend to, like buying or signing up for something. Such underhand ploys include making it hard to cancel a subscription, confusing wordings, complicated navigation menus, visual misdirection, privacy Zuckering (being tricked into publicly sharing more information about yourself than you really wanted to), disguised ads, confirmshaming (trying to guilt the user into opting into something), incessantly and intrusively prompting users towards an outcome, and hidden costs.
Businesses spend enormous amounts of resources – and collect as much of people’s personal data as they can – trying to learn about how to become more effective purveyors of products to consumers. Consumers therefore need to spend time and effort trying to learn how to become savvier patrons of businesses.
Education makes us less susceptible to, or less at the mercy of, marketing BS – more specifically, education via reputable scientific, journalistic and academic sources; instead of own industry, partisan political or other partial sources, which can be sources of most BS. This can help us to see through the health claims of ionised air or water, food fads or exercise gadgets that might be better than nothing but aren’t better than cheaper alternatives, for example. What defines ‘reputable’ can be unclear though, and does a past record reliably predict a future record? Independence is thus perhaps clearer – something is more likely to be trustworthy if it doesn’t have a conflict of interest between serving the truth and serving a self-interested financial and/or political gain.
One should perhaps be more wary of those one isn’t more wary of – like big tech firms and their big data collections, and commercial entities in general. Commercial businesses aren’t always ‘doing us a favour’ by offering us their wares as much as making us feel insecure whilst simultaneously suggesting that owning their products will alleviate that insecurity. Look at all the fads you’ve ever bought that you thought at the time were the ‘next big thing’ or ‘things you’ll not be able to live without’. We may believe we’ll no longer fall for hyped marketing ploys anymore but we likely will unless we always remember to critically think and bear in mind that commercial interests aren’t always in consumer interests. It helps to understand how marketing and consumer neuroscience works because businesses have been tapping into such knowledge for a while now – they know these things to exploit us, and so we need to know these things to defend ourselves from this exploitation. Woof.
We do need to spend to stimulate or keep the wheels of the economy turning, and we do need to spend to survive if we’re not self-sufficient with growing our own food, etc. – but this doesn’t mean being charitable towards for-profit businesses.
Our own short-term instant gratification interests don’t always align with our own long-term interests – or the collective planet’s long-term environmental interests – and targeting our short-term impulses is one of the techniques they frequently exploit.
If we’re not constantly questioning their motives and techniques, it’d more likely mean that they’re the ones who are successfully and surreptitiously ‘controlling and brainwashing’ us! Their techniques would be working so well that the general population isn’t even aware of them working on them to even consider questioning them. Their ‘mind manipulation’ techniques must be working quite well on us if we don’t even notice them or we believe they never work on us. It’s maybe the brainwashing that precisely makes us believe we’re not being brainwashed?(!)
So if we’re suspicious of governments (as we should be to some extent) but we’re not suspicious of those with commercial self-interests – perhaps it’s the latter that really have us under their spell? There’s also a bias to believe that only others (in other countries) are being manipulated but one is not. A successful con occurs when we’re not even aware of it occurring, and the perfect con occurs when we’re left feeling happy to give the con artist what they wanted. One might even become a willing and enthusiastic advocate of the con to others too, hence we become an unwitting participant of their plan (via the social media engagement and PR that helps spread their messages in this case). So just because we’ve happily and voluntarily chosen to do something, it doesn’t mean we haven’t been manipulated into doing it. In fact we might’ve just been hit by the perfect con!
Corporations and other organisations have been trying to ‘mind control’ us on a routine basis via psychological techniques for decades. ‘Persuasive design’ includes playing on people’s FOMO, like those three animated dots (…) in messaging apps, which are designed to make you feel slightly anxious that a message is about to appear (whether one is or isn’t) so that you hang around on the app for longer. They build the anticipation of a reward, like a fuzzy animal salivating at the anticipation of food, which makes one want to hang around, come back for more or try again and again – in time creating a subconscious habit in the user/consumer. Addiction is bad for consumers – but is the grand prize for businesses seeking to maximise their own profits.
It’s like casino games aren’t designed to make you feel like you ‘outright lost’ but that you ‘nearly won’ so that you’ll play again thinking ‘this time I’m going to win’. This anticipation of winning will make you experience a motivating shot of dopamine even when you’re losing money! So, taking a step back from it all, these games are designed to make people feel happy to ‘nearly win’ or to ‘win €1 after making a €2 bet’ i.e. to feel a buzz for ultimately losing. And the more we invest our money, time and/or other resources into something, the less we’ll want to give it up too (the sunk cost fallacy). It exploits our stress (cortisol) responses and reward (dopamine) responses – our instincts to avoid a pain on the one paw and receive a pleasure on another (in that order of importance, hence loss aversion, and how fears grab attention and are generally more motivating (as long as we’re offered solutions to alleviate them) than joys alone – see Post No.: 0668).
A mobile videogame might give us limited lives that only replenish after time, and this might be marketed as encouraging players to take regular breaks. But the fact that they allow players to buy new lives if they can’t wait means that it’s really about getting people to spend. This might be furry nuff because the developers need to make some money for their work, but sometimes the prompt to buy is insistent or intrusive.
Pulling down on the screen to refresh a message list is, on some apps and settings, pointless because messages automatically refresh, but it gives users a false sense of control.
Most people want to feel popular and liked, hence ‘likes’ and publicly visible ‘friends’ or follower totals play on people’s insecurities. Adverts may play on pressures such as ‘if you don’t buy and use this then you’re not a real man’ – but genuinely confident men can live without those products. The adverts we’re exposed to contribute to shape our cultures, like our cultural conceptions of what beautiful women are supposed to look like – but this can also contribute to mental health disorders like eating disorders.
Marketing doesn’t concentrate on communicating purely plain facts and needs – it mostly tries to appeal emotionally to our instinctive and impulsive ‘system one’ via peripheral cues and meta-communication that we’re not usually consciously aware of. Hence consumers aren’t able to question and pinpoint exactly how they’re being influenced because it’s mostly working on them at a subconscious or unconscious level. As a result, many consumers just blithely buy what they don’t rationally need; trapped in the insecurity of desire and over-consumption. Those with bad debts or obesity problems, and their parents, bear some personal responsibility for their own predicaments but what they’re exposed to plays a pivotal role too. In fact, experts are increasingly seeing that the only effective solution to tackling the obesity crisis is to place the main responsibility onto food manufacturers and retailers.
We’re seldom aware of how marketing affects us – somehow ‘wants’ feel like ‘needs’. Indeed, if we were consciously aware of the techniques being used, we’d more likely not make a purchase for something we didn’t need or could’ve at least obtained for less elsewhere.
Marketing junk food to children does shape their young developing minds. Consumer protections and regulations thus have their function. Firms don’t continually spend billions on something that has no positive effect on sales so of course advertising works (although it’s acknowledged that ‘half’ of the money spent on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is not knowing which ‘half’!)
Businesses may deny that they’re using a plethora of crafty ruses but these tricks have been honed over decades and will continue to hone, especially in line with the advances of technology. It’s up to you whether you think this is all ‘clever’ or ‘dirty’. (It might just depend on whether you’re the seller or buyer!) Whatever the case, getting to know these techniques or tricks of the trade will be to your advantage.