5 Sneaky Marketing Tricks that Always Work

Marketing is a sneaky business. It involves tapping into people’s primal urges and making them want products or services that they don’t need. It’s manipulative. But it’s also clever. We look at five marketing tricks that we know shouldn’t work, yet they always do.

sneaky burger ad

1. Scarcity

This really taps into two basic needs: our need for something we can’t have – if something is scarce there is the chance that we might not be able to get it; and our need to belong to the elite – if only a limited number of special editions are available, then how super awesome are we that we got one (or two or three)?

Zeke Camusio separates scarcity and exclusivity. Scarcity then creates the fear that unless they act now, without delay they will miss out on a great deal or product that won’t be available again. Exclusivity creates the fear that unless they act now, without delay they will be outsiders always looking in at the cool group, the insiders.

Fear is a big motivating factor, and marketers use it well.

2. Authority

As much as people like to think of themselves as independent thinkers, they are very easily swayed by expert advice and opinion. And why not? These are the people who’ve spent years studying a certain subject so that they can legitimately claim to know better than us. Why not use that expert knowledge to help us make a difficult decision between toothpaste brands, weight loss products, and bottled water?

According to Stephen Bucaro, the authority figure doesn’t even have to be an expert in the field concerned. Think of the products we buy because they’re endorsed by certain celebrities. This overlaps a bit with exclusivity. For example, drinking the same brand of bottled water as Jennifer Aniston allows us to touch her star and bask in her brightness for just a minute, no matter how indirectly.

3. No risk – guaranteed

Many people are swayed by the words “money back guaranteed”. Buying a product or a service, any product and any service, always carries some degree of risk. It might be as small as paying $3 for avocados that are stringy. But it could be as big as paying $15,000 for legal fees and still losing the case.

People are more likely to act (buy) if they have nothing to lose, so marketers lessen the risk by adding some form of guarantee.

Money-back guarantees pose some risk to companies, because some people are always going to exploit it. But, there are many more consumers who often can’t be bothered to cash in on the guarantee because it’s too much effort, so it balances out in the end.

4. Sensory stimulation

People want things that look good, smell good, sound good, and feel good, so marketers give them what they want. Think of the mouthwatering pictures of burgers, salads, and sundaes at fast food restaurants. The food never looks that good in real life, but people stand there, indecisive, tummies rumbling, and opt for the super-size king meal because the lettuce is so obviously crisp, the meat is so obviously juicy, the fries are so obviously golden, and the beverage is so obviously refreshingly cold.

According to Sabine Bevers, this sort of sensory stimulation is only the tip of the iceberg. For example, it’s been found that the smell of baking bread has a powerful influence over our buying impulses. There’s something about the smell that makes people feel good, and people who feel good are more likely to shop without a care in the world. Some supermarkets manufacture the smell of baking bread and pipe it throughout their stores (not just the bakery section) to make people linger, so that they really eye the products on the shelves and decide that perhaps they do need that expensive coffee, after all.

The smell of baking is even used in real estate, as sellers are encouraged to put something in the oven just before potential buyers come by.

5. The win

People like to feel like they’ve come out of the shopping experience with the better deal. This is why special promotions do so well. People feel like they’ve managed to get products at a steal. But special promotions are often not that special at all. There are two reasons for this:

  • The markup on products is so high that even knocking 75% off the retail price still nets a profit. The margin is considerably smaller, but a profit is still a profit at the end of the day.
  • The products are about to be sent back to the supplier, which means that the retailer would have taken a knock anyway. Or, as is the case with perishable produce, it’s about to go past its sell by date, which would also result in the retailer taking a knock.

So, while consumers feel like they’re getting a great deal (and will often buy more than they need to get it), retailers usually still walk away smiling.

As you can see, there is much more to marketing than simple sales tactics. That’s why most marketing courses and degrees include elements of psychology. Interestingly, most people know that they’re being manipulated, but there is often no choice in the matter and they have to play the game. And some people like to play the game, even though the odds are not stacked in their favour. 

About the Author: Jemima Winslow is about to become an honours psychology student who intends to use her powers for good rather than evil when she finally graduates.