Thoughts on Influence, part 1

I’m in the process of reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B Cialdini.  Discussion of the techniques used to make us persuadable were very surprising.  There was one strategy that seems blatantly obvious now, but I had never considered before.  I involves the selling of toys to parents at Christmas.  Here’s how it works:

Step 1 – Advertise the product.  The usual pre-Christmas advertising.  Nothing particularly novel about it, just have the kids asking their parents for one.

Step 2 – Under-supply the stores with the product, provide alternatives.  This is the point that I never considered, as it seems so counter-intuitive.  So you have masses of parents, spurred on by the demanding spawn, lining up in stores to buy the toy that was so well advertised.  But instead of pushing as many to stores as possible, the manufacturers instead under-supply, knowing that the stores will quickly sell out.  But at the same time, they provide lots of alternatives.  The mother/father, left with no choice but to disappoint little Johnny somewhat, grab up all the alt-toys instead, possibly spending more than they were planning to.

Step 3 – Re-advertise the product after Christmas.  Johnny has gotten over his dismay and not receiving the Ninjadroid 4000 for Christmas, and forgotten it, in light of all the other toys he received.  Until that is, come January, an advert comes on – for the Ninjadroid 4000.  It reminds him that his parents never got him one, and look how awesome it is.  Big eyes turn to the parents, pleading begins anew.  “But you promised!”.  And back goes Dad to the toy shop.  He has already spent the Christmas toy budget, but he doesn’t want to let little Johnny down again.

Cialdini can’t prove this.  It would be nigh on impossible to prove that a toy manufacturer made or delivered less toys with the sole purpose of selling them in the post-Christmas period.  But if you see an advert that ran in November now running in January, consider why.

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