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5 Sneaky Psychology Tricks Advertisers Use to Get Our Business Pay attention to the tricks that 'get' you. Then replicate them in your own business.

By Pius Boachie Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

metamorworks | Getty Images

Today's consumers have become more observant than ever in the face of clever, and sometimes deceptive, marketing tactics. That's why advertisers have had to morph into masters of applied psychology, always on the hunt for new ways to capture our interest and get those all-important clicks from us as consumers.

Related: A Better Understanding of Consumer Psychology Will Earn You More Online Conversions

As new research emerges from psychology and the social sciences, advertisers are learning new ways to gain our interest and persuade us to click and buy. But I try to stay a step ahead! That's how I can describe the following five sneaky tricks I've found advertisers using to get consumers' attention.

These are steps that you, as an entrepreneuur, can use, too.

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

Say that you need a new car and someone mentions a certain kind of car -- one you've never heard of before -- but you're interested. Suddenly, the car is everywhere.

It's parked in front of your house. Your boss has one. You see two of them next to you in traffic on your way home from work. What you're experiencing is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, also known as the Frequency Illusion.

Using this technique has become handy in terms of marketing. We see it every day, out of our car windows, plastered on giant billboards. The consistent and repetitive marketing typical with the phenomenon becomes seared into our brains and we find ourselves seeing this product everywhere we go.

Related: #7 Psychological Theories Every Marketer Should Consider

How can brands get the most consistent exposure to ensure this phenomenon takes full effect? Start by putting your product in front of everyone with a hyper-localized strategy. Surround your relative community with your brand over a long period of time; this will encourage word of mouth and make the brand the only one being talked about.

An impressive example is Absolut Vodka's famous print advertising campaign, which ran for many years. It took off from the United States and quickly spread to other parts of the world. Rather than creating standard ads, the brand found a way to make its ads alive and relatable. The vodka brand chose to create experiences with its ads.

Takeaway: This effect ignites the idea that the customer cares about the brand's local businesses, and customers begin to unconsciously see and hear your brand everywhere.

The power of anecdote

An anecdote is a short story that can be used to support a debate. Anecdotes can be useful in illustrating the effects of a discussion; however, they are not conclusive evidence, because they are limited in scope and not necessarily representative of the norm.

Quite a number of marketing departments use anecdotes aggressively to their advantage. Testimonials, videos of happy customers and glowing case studies are examples of marketing materials that tap the brain's love for stories and reliance on anecdotes as "evidence."

Nike has always excelled at brand storytelling. One of its best campaigns is Equality. This made a strong statement about the brand as a force for positive social change, offering athletes something more than just a pair of sneakers and branded workout gear.

The Equality campaign was, and is, an example of using brand anecdotes to connect with audience members, inviting them to become a part of a collective movement by wearing Nike products, or at the very least, by engaging on social media, sharing one of the brand's always inspiring videos.

Takeaway: Anecdotes give meaning to a product that is otherwise impersonal. Even if brands present evidence that their product is superior to competitors', buyers might still choose the competitor's simply because someone they know recommended it.


"Anthropomorphism" happens when someone assigns real or imagined human characteristics, intentions, motivations or emotions to nonhuman animals or objects. Over time, people have inculcated fictional creatures and animals with human traits and motivations.

Marketers have capitalized on this tendency by creating a variety of anthropomorphic animal mascots for commercial products and services. The "Michelin Man" and "Mr. Peanut," by Planters, are some examples of anthropomorphic animal mascots.

When a brand has a persona, it becomes "human"; it triggers the perception of intentional action as well as the desired action itself. In other words, customers might connect with the brand, as they feel it represents them in a way. However, be forewarned: Any problems with the products or services or with the brand itself will be treated as a human problem with equivalent consequences.

Takeaway: Brand anthropomorphism can be a double-edged sword; while making brands more human, anthropomorphism creates connections and engagement with the customers. So, it can leave more room for judgment, as the brand will be viewed as human. The best approach is for brands to emphasize the best of the human part.

Decoy pricing

The decoy effect is a result of cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is the tendency of the human mind to make inaccurate judgments or believe distortions or other fallacies. Every cognitive bias has a cause.

In marketing, the decoy effect occurs when consumers tend to have a specific change in preference between two options when presented with a third option that is inferior to one of those two original options.

Decoy pricing is a tactic that boosts sales of high-profit items by creating another version of the product solely to make the pricier version seem economical by comparison. Decoy pricing encourages people to compare the pricing options. As a result, sales of the more attractive, higher-priced item increase.

Have you ever noticed how often products come in three options? This may be the business trying to offer different options to customers. But smart marketing also takes advantage of the decoy effect to lead customers to the most expensive purchase rather than to the one they might have ordinarily made.

Think about your last visit to the cinema and the temptation to buy popcorn. If there was a small and a large size of popcorn, and the small one was $3.50 and the large one $7.50, most people probably bought the small size.

However, if the theater added in a medium size at, say $6.50, most people would buy the large because it's only $1 more than the medium. The $6.50 option is the decoy.

Takeaway: The decoy effect is subtle, yet powerful. The process is simple: Pick the plan you want to sell. Provide two more choices. Jack up the decoy, and watch the sales pour in.

Loss aversion

Loss aversion is based on the idea that shoppers feel good when they gain something, but also bad when they lose something. Our feelings toward loss and gain are not equal; we feel a stronger negative feeling toward losing something then the positive feeling we have when we gain something

Loss aversion, simply put, calls for averting the loss of something we own. Ever wonder why companies offer free trials? A 1990 study conducted by Nobel-winning psychologist and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues found that people are more likely to act when they have something to lose, as opposed to when they gain the same thing.

That's why companies offer free trials, so customers will want to keep their connection to the product even after the trial period is over.

Loss aversion can be a powerful conversion-driver for your brand. The key is to avoid inciting fear: instead, offer users constructive information. Guide them through their decision process and provide a compelling reason for them to take action.

Advertisers use every human sense we have, including our subconscious senses, to convince us to buy things, and they're very successful at what they do.

Related: The Unconscious Power of Brands

But of course we're consumers as well as entrepreneurs, so even with this knowledge of the tricks advertisers use, we'll likely still find it hard to resist being influenced by our own subconscious.

The point, though, is to be aware: The next time you stroll through a grocery store or shop online, pay attention to the tricks that "get" you. Then try to replicate some of them in your own business.

Pius Boachie

Founder, DigitiMatic | Content Marketing Agency

Pius Boachie is a Nigeria-based inbound marketing consultant. He works closely with B2C and B2B businesses providing digital marketing content that gains social media attention and increas search-engine visibility. On his blog, Digitimatic, he shares actionable marketing and branding advice for businesses.



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