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Hidden persuasion techniques: Can you resist?

Recently, I read a great book called Hidden Persuasion (Andrews, van Leeuwen & van Baaren). It’s a book about the persuasive techniques used by clever marketers to get us to buy or do stuff.

Every day we are bombarded by hundreds of messages designed to persuade us how to feel, act, do and be. Most of the time we lack the conscious awareness to process them. But some of these really get through, changing our perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. Often we don’t even know it’s happened.

So what is that hidden persuasion technique that creates this cut-through?

The book outlines 33 persuasion techniques (many I know and use already) including metaphor, humour, scarcity, attraction, authority, fear, disruption, self-persuasion, social proof, promised land and of course, sex appeal. These techniques have been proven again and again and the authors give us lots of examples of results delivered in advertising.

I particularly like ideas like decoy: where consumers are choosing between two options, and a third option is introduced to create a bias. You often see this in cafés with a small, medium and large coffee offered. The large option costs just 50 cents more that medium, making the medium the decoy designed to make the large look like the best value. The end result: we end up upsizing (just as the café wanted us to).

What strikes me about these techniques is that they’re not just gimmicks but deeply rooted in psychology and social influence. As you read through them you can practically hear Maslow saying “See, I was right about people’s basic needs and the priority they come in!”  These techniques work because they operate at three levels:

  1. They appeal to our hardwired responses, such as the fight or flight response, which are core to what makes us human;
  2. Our deep social needs like love, respect, popularity and belonging; and
  3. Our self-needs like self-worth, identity, pain avoidance, wealth, safety and survival.

When marketers use imagery and language that taps into these fundamental needs, resistance is futile. And our unconscious bias for attractive faces, symmetrical design or humourous copy means we don’t resist because we don’t even know we’re being persuaded.

The other thing that I like about these techniques is how they still apply today, even though the way we reach and engage audiences has changed. They work on websites, in video, on social media pages, in SMM and SEM campaigns, e-marketing and they still work just as well across traditional marketing and communications mediums.

Steven Giannoulis is CEO and strategy director of Insight Creative.
This story first appeared on Insight Creative’s blog.
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