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Marketing Manipulations Mislead Many Mere Mortals

We always do see the need to sell something, don’t we?


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Dr Joel Yong

2 years ago | 7 min read

We mere mortals are weird. We can agree that all of us do have different wants in life, but yet we don’t necessarily have the resources to fulfil all those wants.

And that’s why we study economics. According to an article in Investopedia:

At the most basic level, economics attempts to explain how and why we make the purchasing choices we do.
Four key economic concepts — scarcity, supply and demand, costs and benefits, and incentives — can help explain many decisions that humans make.

That is on the assumption that we do make these decisions rationally.

Unfortunately, most humans don’t really act rationally

Most of us do get swayed by some catchy advertisement, one way or another, for us to buy things that we may not necessarily need. Even if our resources are better used elsewhere.

We’d still be manipulated by the power of the marketing tactics employed behind it.

It’s not necessarily the case that the best quality products get the best sales, but rather…

How well is the product marketed?

Would you purchase used bath water, for instance? I wouldn’t.

But yet an Instagram influencer did get her bath water sold, according to The Guardian:

Belle Delphine, the social media star and so-called “gamer girl”, made headlines this week for selling her used bath water online.
Delphine, 19, who has a global following (4.2 million on Instagram), announced she would be selling $30 bottles of “bath water for all you thirsty gamer boys” in an Instagram post that garnered more than 500,000 likes.
Although the sale was widely mocked, the bottles of bath water sold out immediately. But who’s buying it?

What about air from Banff, Canada? According to CNBC:

What started out as a joke has turned into a real business. People from China to India to Mexico to the U.S. are buying cans of Vitality Air. These are not tanks of oxygen for medical purposes. Customers just want to purchase a breath of fresh air.
“We were both in real estate, and the markets kind of took a little bit of a dip,” said Lam inside the company’s bottling room in Edmonton. “We looked at a bottle of water, and we said, ‘Hey, we want to try something fun. We want to do something fun and new — let’s try bottled air instead of bottled water.’”

The thing now becomes that we may not necessarily need something, but we’re convinced that we want it.

And that leads to the rise of behavioural economics and consumer psychology, where consumer mindsets are exploited even more, according to an article in Brand Quarterly:

Today, we know to be successful with our customer experience, we need new thinking. This new thinking can be summarized in the following three foundational concepts to today’s customer experience efforts:
People’s decisions as customers are driven by emotions, even if they appear to be rational.

To better understand why people do things, we need to understand the psychology of their decisions, especially if we want to improve their customer experience.

Buying decisions are far more complicated than we thought; believing that customers buy based only on price is a fallacy that can destroy your customer experience.
Behavioral economics takes the analysis of customer behavior past the surface attributes of price, product, placement, and promotion to a new level of depth and detail. However, this level is necessary to understand a customer’s rational, emotional, subconscious, and psychological experience. Consumer psychology adds to this an extensive analysis of how internal and external influences further affect the outcome. Together, they provide a robust understanding of all that contributed to the buying decision.

Basically, we’re learning how to exploit the emotions and desires of others

And the unfortunate bit is, we all are doing sales all the time, whether we choose to admit it or not.

Preparing a résumé and going for a job interview?

You’re selling your skills to the prospective employer. The chances of one getting the job is dependent on how well they can communicate with the interviewers, and some people with absolutely trashy credentials can get hired for jobs that they’re not even qualified for.

Isn’t that trying to make a sale with some well placed marketing tactics?

The interviewers, like any other human beings, are emotional creatures too. Striking at their heartstrings may sometimes be more effective than trying to logically sell them on why you’re the best candidate for the job.

Of course, hopefully, we don’t give them a case of buyer’s remorse after that.

But definitely, marketing tactics are used in many different areas

The worst case would be when marketing tactics play on facts that are obtained by science.

After all, eggs do contain cholesterol… but are they the singular cause for bringing about the symptom of high cholesterol in a person? Not necessarily, but yet many people do subscribe to that myth that they do, for reasons I know not of.

But how effective is that marketing myth in getting people to stay away from consuming eggs?

Some people do still religiously stay away from eggs because they believe that eggs can give them high cholesterol.

The idea of a hyped up sale period

Black Friday has traditionally been an American concept. People get together on Thanksgiving Thursdays, have their roast turkeys and pumpkin pie, and then some of the more adventurous ones will brave the crowds on Black Friday to go shopping.

In other countries of the world… well, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.

But somehow, Black Friday has wormed its way into our societies, whether we’re looking at Singapore or the United Kingdom (UK).

A 2014 article described Black Friday in the UK as such:

Black Friday is a notorious day in the American calendar which follows Thanksgiving holiday, and has recently been adopted by the UK. During this day retailers ‘slash’ prices to lure the public into spending a lot of money to get a ‘good deal’. It is the busiest shopping day of the year; last year American consumers spent a total of $58.6 billion on and offline.

However, it comes at a price. Each year there are reports of assaults and stampedes as people forcefully try to get their hands on the limited discounted stock, leading to some being hospitalised, arrested or even killed. The UK followed suit this year, with reports of chaos in numerous stores across the country.

Amongst this chaos of Black Friday, there are some interesting examples of behavioural economics at play, that we thought it worth looking at. Behavioural economics is the idea that people do not always make decisions and act in a rational and logical way; in fact we often resort to acting in an automatic and subconscious way, responding to our emotional self.

In terms of Black Friday, many consumers did just that — they acted in ways they would not necessarily do, with behaviour fabricated and encouraged by external influencers such as the media. By using Black Friday as an example, key thinking of behavioural economics can be explained, such as framing, social construction, anchoring and the sunk cost fallacy.

Framing is the social construction of a social phenomenon. Within the UK this year, the media and retailers have worked up hype around ‘Black Friday’, an event which is arguably a glorified sale.

The perceptions of this event are heightened, as consumers associate it with extreme price cuts, outweighing the time and effort involved. Black Friday plays on anchoring, as it limits quantity of stock (only x amount left at this price) and time (one day only), which raises the perceptive value of consumer goods.

If it is looked at objectively, the event is simply a standard seasonal sale, an event which happens fairly often in a retailer’s calendar.
Social constructions indicate what the appropriate or expected behaviour within a group is. In this case we saw how the Americans were scrabbling for the last Xbox One, and we did the same.

As we see people become increasingly aggressive over their rights to a widescreen TV, that behaviour appears the norm and we find ourselves acting the same. It brings out the illogical ‘dog in the manger’ mentality; we do not have any need or use for an item, but at the same time do not want anyone else to have it, so we buy it anyway.
Black Friday also demonstrates sunk cost fallacy, in which people continue an endeavour due to having previously invested resources in it.

A lot of people may have been queuing since 6pm Thursday evening, and even then sometimes miss out on the product they had been waiting for. So rather than leave empty handed, they end up buying something they don’t necessarily need (since they invested so much queuing time).

All in all this socially constructs a consumer to spend more than they would normally and demonstrate behaviours which seem completely irrational. If it had been called a ‘pre-Christmas sale’, would it have had the same effect?

Do we really need to get something, or are we going to subscribe to the emotional madness that makes us want to get those specific items?

The problem is…

If we devote our resources to things that don’t really matter…

Do we have enough left for the things that really do matter?

If we’re so caught up on the peripheral issues or the symptoms of a problem but never seek to find out the root cause, will we be able to solve that problem or even address it adequately?

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Dr Joel Yong

Deconstructing the interconnectedness between health and business. Join my mailing list at http://thethinkingscientist.substack.com or book a one-on-one consultation session with me at https://app.ddichat.com/experts/thethinkingscientist.


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