21 May 2014

Five Favourite 'Jedi Mind Tricks' of Marketing

You're looking (in spirit) at a guy who's spent most of his 30-year career insisting that no, Marketers aren't all manipulators using slight of hand and Old Jedi Mind Tricks to part you from your money.

Then I find this:

From the wonderful National Geographic show "Brain Games" comes the news that food vendor can get you to choose a higher priced item by planing a near-priced 'medium' item as a decoy, increasing the perceived value of the larger, more expensive item.

As my friend Keith Ohman is fond of saying:  "Damn their eyes!" 

While I consider ways to back-peddle, let me show you a few ways Marketers leverage their understanding of the human brain to grease the skids of the purchase process.

For instance-


Here's a peek at the menu of one of my favourite breakfast haunts  (Country Boy in Kitchener, if you'll forgive the product placement):

Old School
Note especially the price point, which is old-school in two respects:  1) The restaurant uses the classic '.99' approach.  Through the year's, we're conditioned to take a '.99' at the end of a price to suggest value.  And yes, it banks on your brain to think of the price as being closer to four dollars than five.

2)  Even more old-school is the use of the dollar sign ($) with the price.  Perhaps you've noticed- especially in more upscale restaurants (apologies to Country Boy)- that you'll often encounter price points in a different format; (the example below is from Imbibe!, Kitchener):

New School

According to a 2009 Cornell University Study, restaurant diners will actually spend more when the menu does NOT include either the word "dollars" or the dollar sign ($).  A simple '13' for the prosciutto, says the study, will have you concentrating more on the food, and less on what you're paying.

And size, evidently, does matter when choosing price fonts.  When an appliance shop advertises a gas stove at $1098.00!, it's less attractive to consumers than '$1098.00'.  Studies show that the larger the font, the larger the perceived cost.


In his 1984 book Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini described an experiment in which people were asked to put up a huge sign in their yard reading "Drive slow; kids playing.  Almost all of them refused the request.

So a new set of people were approached.  This time, they were asked if they would put a small sticker in their windows, reading exactly the same thing.  Most agreed.  Then, those same people were asked if they would put the giant sign in their yards.  A great many of them agreed.  Far more than during the first wave of the experiment.

This is a lesson in consistency; people are disposed to do things consistent with their previous actions.  By using a little imagination, you can see how marketers might use this particular Old Jedi Mind Trick to stair-step consumers into large purchase decisions.


Seems retailers can learn a lot from the great Markets of Marrakesh, Fes and Manknes.

According to an outfit called Envirosell, a store that seems to display only a few items, oh-so-tidily, is perceived as being more expensive, and less approachable. According to a New York Times piece, a bit of a mess in a retail store can imply that the goods are in demand, because people have been picking 'em over.    (The theory does not, repeat, not, translate to disheveled humans.)


Or two-fer.  Or five-fer.  Studies show that suggesting a fleet rate for a sale item ads importance and urgency to the offer.  Hence "$1.99 or 3/$5"  ("Limited Quantities"- same idea.  Though the latter is often a legal requirement.)

My all-time favourite example was a shop in Goderich Ontario which posted a sign reading:

Movies $6
or 3/$18

'Seems that retailer skipped the class that dealt with 'nuance.'


Lists are irresistible.  Consider the list-o-mania that dominates publishing, broadcast, and sports. Letterman built his empire on 'em.  Lists are a simple, if tawdry mean of luring a viewer, a listener (or, say, a reader) to the end of an article, or a, you know- Blog.

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IKEA Store Map
Just as unnerving as these five is the knowledge that there are so many more Marketing Mind Tricks.  As overt as the aroma marketing of the Cinnabon store at the Mall,  or as intricate as the 'maze' design of Ikea stores, designed to ensure that you don't come-and-go too quickly:  more time on the
floor increases the likelihood of your spending money.

Got some favourite Marketing Mind Tricks?  Share away.

13 May 2014

The Decline of Mad Men- and What it Teaches about Brands

My old friend Bill Barnes- the undisputed king-of-deadpan- used to say: "Ask me the secret of comedy."
"Okay, wha-"

The man had chops.

So much of branding is about timing.  A lesson niftilly illustrated in the recent woes of Mad Men, whose final season debuted this spring to underwhelming ratings.

The wonderful John Hamm, too often the de facto spokesman for the Mad Men brand (whose headquarters is found between the ears of showrunner Matthew Weiner) spun it thus- as though a decline in ratings was part of the Mad Men master plan:
"It's gotten to where it's only the hardcore people are down with it," Hamm said of "Mad Men." "It makes sense. It's a different viewing experience."
Conventional wisdom has it that Mad Men is suffering from hiatus-itis-  lags between seasons (and half-seasons) that allowed audience interest to cool.  And the reason for these lags and disappearances?
  • A 17-month 'holiday' a couple of seasons back while Weiner and host network AMC squabbled over, yes, money
  • The network's desire to hold the show for one of four US Sweeps months (February, May, July and November).
  • Disagreements over production details: including-

      -how much product placement to sell within episodes.

Consider a similar dispute- between The Sopranos and HBO.  During a hiatus of nearly two years (June '04 to March '06), James Gandolfini, rest him, lost 160 pounds, and the show lost 1.6 million viewers, about 14% of its constituency.

Squeak, rumble, squeak.  Hear that?  It's the sound of glutes squirming in leather boardroom seats in AMC sales meetings.

Indeed- The Mad Men Season 7 première last month yielded 2.3 million viewers-  about a million fewer than its Season 6 début in 2013. The sense of disappointment is compounded by news that AMC would dispense the final AMC season with an eye-dropper- seven episodes now, and the final seven a year (!) from now.

Oh yes, cliffhangers work- as well today as they did for the landmark film series The Perils of Pauline exactly a century ago...

...and for Scheherazade, whose 1001 tales saved her life, one story at a time.


The Eclectic Film Company (it's said owner William Randolph Hearst had a hand in generating stories)  knew they'd need to release the next installment in a week.

And Scheherazade knew that a failure to resolve one story and begin another the very next night would be fatal.


Was this Mad Man lapse avoidable?  Could AMC and Weiner have agreed to put their customer first and air shows while their audience interest peaked?  We mere mortals may never know. What is certain is that Mad Men forgot- or ignored- two of the sacred pillars of Branding:

1.   When your Brand succeeds, it no longer belongs to you

Brands reside and thrive in the imaginations of those who consume them.  When that brand succeeds, its consumers- it's fans- assume ownership.  Those who created and run the brand become managers.  Or, to switch metaphors, the consumers own the ship; it the manager's job to steer.  And, true to the metaphor, the larger the ship, the harder it becomes to steer.

2.   Servitude

To serve the brand's 'owners' is to serve the brand.  Like the yellow sun that makes Superman out of Kal-El, consumers imbue a brand with its power. Mad Men draws its power from its viewer base.  They are what put AMC's original productions on the map; they're the reason Matthew Weiner doesn't ask his waitress to recite the dinner specials. But consumers need to be cultivated, fed, and lovingly nurtured.

So easily, so often- brand managers forget that.  The delays-for-ratings, the contract wrangles, the 'split' seasons of Mad Men weren't devised for the viewer's benefit.  Worse, they ignored the viewers' appetite for fresh episodes.

AMC and Weiner, as brand stewards, ignored the rule of servitude, and it cost them a million viewers.  And probably a lot of its momentum.

It's a common tale.

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