Marketing Tactic Traps: How Advertisers Use Psychology to Sway
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
I’m sure it’s no surprise when you Google “bathing suits,” and shortly thereafter, swimwear ads litter your Facebook feed. Wikipedia defines marketing as “the business process of identifying, anticipating and satisfying customers’ needs and wants.” But what about marketing tactic traps?
There’s an entire branch of research dedicated to understanding consumer behavior via psychological, technological, and economical principles. However, you may be less aware of misleading marketing tactics intended to foster false trust or play on subconscious fears.
Here’s a real life example: Recently, I used DoorDash to order breakfast from Silver Diner. I was shocked when the total came to nearly $70. Luckily, my husband was too; he suggested going directly through the restaurant. I selected the equivalent menu items and it was $30 cheaper!! DoorDash not only raised entrée prices, but charged additional fees on top of the delivery fee and tip. To think, I wouldn’t have compared prices had my husband not been (duly) outraged; I almost fell victim to “brand trust.”
Consider the companies you trust. Why don’t you question their products, services, prices, etc.? Are you brand-washed?
To avoid misleading marketing tactic traps, always compare prices, read reviews from verified buyers, avoid grocery shopping when you’re hungry, steer clear of end-of-aisles deals, buy off-season, etc.
This article explores a few lesser-known ways marketers influence consumers by using psychological principles (marketing tactic traps), and how to avoid them. When you, the consumer, know the science behind advertising strategies, you’re better equipped to make educated decisions (and will avoid feeling betrayed by a food delivery app!)
A false sense of health
Advertisers use health-related buzzwords like “gluten-free” or “organic” to lure buyers with an impression of being nutritious. In one study, consumers viewed items stamped with healthy-sounding catchphrases as healthier than non-stamped foods.
Real life example: Years ago, I accompanied a friend to the grocery store. In the dairy section, she grabbed a jug of whole milk. I knew she wanted to lose weight, so I suggested skim. Dubious, she expressed concern because it wasn’t “vitamin D-rich.” Had she consulted the nutrition facts instead of scanning labels, she would know whole and skim have equal amounts of the vitamin.
The Health “Buzzword” Marketing Tactic Trap
Avoid this marketing tactic trap by reading nutrition facts and ingredients before buying. (Sure, those Fruit Loops are made with whole grain, but the first ingredient is sugar!)
Beware of fast-paced music in a crowded store… it’s a trap!
Researchers found that consumers’ spending increased as the tempo of the music quickened. In addition to spending more, shoppers purchased additional items (instead of opting for fewer products at higher prices). Interestingly, this effect was only observable when the store was crowded.
To avoid this marketing tactic trap, remain aware of your environment when shopping and if possible, go when crowds are thin (or at least wear ear buds).
An unconscious fear of dying may lead you to buy more bottled water – and water bottle companies capitalize on it!
(Um, what? I thought the occasional 7-Eleven purchase of Deer Park was a combination of laziness and convenience on my part, not an ominous and looming fear of my fragile mortality.)
The Bottled Water Marketing Tactic Trap
In 2018, researchers asserted that “most bottled-water advertising campaigns target a deep psychological vulnerability in humans, compelling them to buy and consume particular products. Bottled water ads specifically trigger our most subconscious fear [of death].” It was also suggested that bottled water symbolizes something safe and pure – compelling when you want to avoid health risks.
According to the study, bottled water appeals most to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status.
Whether or not this study withstands replication, consider a filter!
Don’t shop for beach gear on a sunny day
Save your shopping for poorer weather conditions. Researchers found that consumers place a higher value on associated products respective to the weather.
The rationale: It’s easier for someone to visualize the comfort of a fluffy beach towel or the shade of an umbrella when it’s hot and bright (compared to when it’s pouring rain), thereby increasing the desire to make a purchase. Interestingly, this seems to hold true for sunny or snowy conditions, but not rainy weather. It was speculated that rain gear is typically purchased to avoid unpleasant conditions, not to increase enjoyment.
Be wary of the weather when shopping for that beach trip or ski vacation in the mountains; you may end up spending more than intended.
Marketing’s subtle siren song is a hidden trap!
If you’re not one who’s influenced by the “logical persuasion” of advertisements, you may still be subconsciously enticed by the “non-rational influence.” Different kinds of advertisements evoke different types of brain activity.
Even the wisest consumer can be “seduced.” Marketers both overtly and subtly influence our buying behaviors. Your brain will unavoidably betray you at times; you can either accept this or become a hermit. (You may also consider shopping where there are lenient return policies, but be wary of policies that seem too lenient, as this may be a ploy.)
The relaxation trap– don’t get too comfortable!
A 2011 study indicated that relaxed consumers perceived items at a higher value when compared to their less-relaxed (although not stressed) counterparts.
If you’re a bargain-hunter, stay alert to how you’re feeling before entering a store or searching on Amazon; otherwise, you may think you’re getting a great deal when you’re not. (And if you use social media, know that ads may have more sway when you’re sleepy.)
In the midst of marketing tactic traps, misleading ads, and #fakenews, stick with the facts and don’t be swayed.
For more research, see 5 Recent Research Findings on Health & Human Behavior.