9 Manipulative Mind-Tricks Played By Coercive Marketers to Sell You Stuff You Don’t Need.

8 Ways to Protect Yourself From Emotional Manipulation

There’s a sea of difference between persuasion and manipulation. Persuasion is the art and science of influencing someone to impact them positively toward a useful outcome, for the person being influenced. Manipulation, on the other hand, is deception, often cleverly disguised as skillful influence.

Of late, a number of public seminars are happening in all parts of India. Some of these seminars have multiple speakers presenting on stage for an hour or so and at the end, they put forth their offer. Usually, another product, seminar or a continuity program at a higher cost. Such multi-speaker events, often disguised as seminars, are known as ‘pitch-fests’.

Of course, there are genuine marketers who put forth really useful and valuable offers but there are also quite a few “master manipulators” on the prowl, who do not hesitate to use mind-tricks to make vulnerable people buy their offers even if they don’t need them, and get them to pay for those offers with the money they don’t have.

There are specifically 9 such highly deceptive “gimmicks” some unscrupulous (and often desperate) marketers use to trick people into buying their stuff. In psychology and persuasion theory, these are collectively known as ‘sequential requests’. Some of these tricks are so effective that victims strongly believe they made a rational decision to buy those unwanted offers without any force or manipulation from the presenter.

Here’s a breakdown of these research-based deceptions and how to identify and stay away from them.

  1. Foot In The Door (FITD) Deception: Make a small offer then increase.

This is a classic strategy that can be used positively to persuade as well as to deceive the prospects. FITD works by first getting a small ‘yes’ and then getting an even better yes. Deceptive marketers make their prospects agree for a relatively small offer so that they are less likely to refuse. Then they stack up with bigger and better offers as long as the victims keep agreeing to such sequential requests.

Researchers Freedman and Fraser, as reported in their work “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology“, asked people to either sign a petition or place a small card in a window in their home or car about keeping California beautiful or supporting safe driving. About two weeks later, the same people were asked by a second person to put a large sign advocating safe driving in their front yard. Many people who agreed to the first request now complied with the second, far more intrusive request.

  1. Door In The Face (DITF): Cause rejection then make real offer.

DITF works by first getting a no for an unreasonable request and then getting a yes for the next one, which appears to be extremely reasonable when compared to the first.

Manipulative marketers use this by offering an extremely high priced offer, which most people would flat out refuse and then immediately offer them their actual deal. For example, “Will you signup for my one year program at Rs. 25 lakhs? [response is no]. Oh, well… what about the second offer, which is almost the same at Rs. 1.5 lakhs?

This mind-trick, also known as ‘rejection-then-retreat’ uses the contrast principle, making it seem very small in comparison with the larger initial request and hence relatively trivial and easy to agree with. Noted psychologist Robert Cialdini and his team have done extensive research on this strategy in their study.

  1. Disrupt-Then-Reframe (DTR): Break the pattern, then rebuild differently.

The presenter makes a statement that goes off the normal track of how the other person thinks. Then he makes a rational-sounding offer that makes apparent sense and leads the victim to agree to their request.

For example, pricing shown in terms of cost per day instead of cost per month, like it only costs Rs. 100 per day instead of  saying Rs. 3000 per month. Another example is depicting time in weeks instead of months, like saying, “we will deliver in 16 weeks (instead of saying 4 months)” which appears more reasonable.

Davis and Knowles studied and explained this psychological mind-trick used by noted hypnotist Milton Erikson. Good strategy at the right hands and very coercive when used by unethical marketers.

  1. Bait and Switch: Great offer that never happens.

A classic misdirection used by deceptive sales people on gullible prospects. They offer something that appears to be an extremely great value, an irresistible offer that people could agree without thinking. Later, it will be replaced with something of lesser value.

For example, a presenter ‘lures’ a prospect into attending a seminar by giving away a free ticket to a special event and then switches the content of the seminar with something bigger for a higher cost (and often at a later date). This was researched by Joule, Gouilloux, and Weber, who called it the ‘lure procedure‘.

  1. Low-ball: Make it attractive and then make it real.

This one is similar to the ‘bait and switch’ where the marketer makes it extremely easy to agree to his initial offer by making it quick, inexpensive, easy etc.

This is often used in seminars where the marketer gets the commitment from the prospect in full view of the people around. They also use language to make it clear that they agree to the offer in their own free will. Then they change the agreement. The trick of a successful low-ball is in the balance of making the initial request attractive enough to gain agreement, whilst not making the second request so outrageous that the other person refuses.

For example, a sales person says that a program ‘starts at’ a low price. During the sales process they introduce monthly payments, surcharges and necessary extras.

Agreeing to a low price creates excitement and not buying after this state is induced may lead to an equally deep depression, which the victim may avoid by continuing with the more expensive purchase.

This technique has been researched by Cialdini, Bassett, Miller and more recently, by Gu guen and Pascual.

  1. Fear-Then-Relief (FTR): Scare them and then rescue.

Manipulative marketers invoke fear in their prospects’ mind and then, when they seek a solution, provide one that leads them in the direction they choose. They do this by threatening needs of their victims. Sometimes, they also provide relief for no cost (free) to create an artificial trust to invoke reciprocity. Marketers using FTR are often seen as aggressive orators.

For example, seminar presenters publicly announce that they can only work with a specific number of people from the audience and only those who run to a particular corner (or a counter) will be taken in and all others will have to lose. Often, the scarcity is artificial and just because of the fear of losing something, victims line up and signup for offers they don’t need at prices they can’t afford.

Dolinbki and Nawrat wrote about this in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

  1. That’s Not All (TNA): Stack up bonuses and benefits.

When deceptive marketers offer something, rather than give it to them as final item, they give it in incremental pieces. This is also known as ‘bonus stacking’. They keep offering more and more. This may include offering discount in several stages, extra ‘gifts’ for buying today or starting with a higher price and reducing repeatedly (often citing silly reasons like city special, country special etc.).

For example, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not only going to reduce the price by 10%, not even by 20% and not even by 40%. Today, because I want to do something special for the people of this beautiful city, the price is reduced by a whopping 52%!

Sometimes, the final offer will also have a countdown timer started and the marketer claims that the offer closes as soon as the timer hits zero, invoking urgency.

This method, researched by Burger J.M, depends largely on an automatic social response and hence works better when the customer does not have time to think hard about what is going on.

  1. Dump and Chase (DAC): Provoke objections and then negotiate on them.

The master presenter brings up a volunteer from the audience and asks for something. When the volunteer refuses, they ask why (or why not, depending on how it is phrased). Then they turn the discussion into a negotiation situation whereby they remove the reasons for them not agreeing or otherwise complying with the presenter’s request.

Desperate marketers use this technique to handle objections in the minds of their audience even before they crop up. Not a bad idea if the offer is valuable and ethical. Unfortunately that’s not the case with some deceptive seminar presenters.

  1. Prime and Prompt (PnP): Set them up beforehand.

Cunning marketers first prime their target audience, implanting suggestions, information and other memories. This can include biases, phobias, emphasis and other ways to make particular elements important. Priming can be subtle and unconscious, such as with the use of linguistic programming. Once the victim is primed, the presenter manipulates by carefully prompting the primed information or triggers the desired action.

Manipulative marketers selling from the stage even go to the extent of planting ‘moles’ within the audience to act excited, clap at strategic locations and jump ahead and rush towards the back-of-the-room tables to signup for the offered programs, eliciting ‘herd mentality‘ from other audience members to get up and rush to signup.

The psychological theories discussed here can also be used as strategies for influencing others, if used with a positive and ethical intent. However, in the hands of master manipulators, these become their weapons of deceit and treachery that makes people buy into offers they can’t afford, make use of or in fact, need in the first place.

Wake up the rational decision maker inside your brain and train yourself into identifying and avoiding such deception by highly trained manipulators.

About the author:

Raam Anand @www.RaamAnand.com is an author, publisher and an international speaker, works with experts, entrepreneurs, and professionals to help them boost their influence and expand into newer markets.