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Persuasion Techniques That All Successful Advertisers Use & How to Spot Them

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The average person may see anywhere between 4,000 and 10,000 ads in a single day. From binge-watching your favorite shows to checking the pile of coupons in your mailbox, advertisers have inundated our lives.

Most of the ads we see are served digitally on our phones or laptops, allowing advertisers to collect information on our location, browsing history, social media, and online shopping habits. With this data, advertisers can target content toward your interests, making them more relevant than ever before. The combination of information and age-old persuasion techniques used by advertisers means they’re well-positioned to get you to buy.

Our exposure to highly personalized and persuasive ads means it takes more willpower to stick to a budget. Learn the most common persuasive techniques advertisers use so you can avoid spending money on things you otherwise wouldn’t have. Jump to the infographic below for a quick guide on how to spot them.

The Psychology Behind Persuasion

woman shopping online

Persuasion is used in many different situations, from negotiating sales deals to making weekend plans with your friends. It’s all about knowing the other party’s motivations (or fears) and appealing to them to influence their decision.

Aristotle coined three modes of persuasion used to appeal to audiences and establish credibility:

  • Ethos appeals to ethics.
    • Example: Using likable celebrities or trusted professionals to endorse a product.
  • Logos appeals to logic.
    • Example: Using statistics or figures to reason with people.
  • Pathos appeals to emotion.
    • Example: Using emotional experiences to relate and convince people.

Ethos, logos, and pathos are commonly used in advertisements to persuade audiences. Advertisers even study consumer behavior to learn more about our psychographic and demographic attributes. After all, how you make decisions and perceive their product or service plays a big role in whether or not you purchase from them.

Types of Persuasion Techniques in Advertising

woman shopping a sale

The sheer amount of brands and ads today means advertisers now have to be more competitive and more persuasive for your business. Additionally, the rise of social media influencers has made it more challenging to distinguish authenticity from paid partnerships. As a consumer, you should be aware of the tactics being used to get you to buy so that you can make smarter decisions.

Some of the most common tactics are outlined in Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The “six principles of influence” are:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Authority
  5. Liking
  6. Scarcity

Learning to read between the lines of an ad can help you identify the persuasion techniques and maintain your purchase power. Once you learn the most common persuasion techniques used by advertisers, you’ll be able to spot them everywhere.

1. Reciprocity

The Golden Rule you learned as a child plays into how we expect adults to behave too. Reciprocity is the idea that you if you offer something of value, you may get something in return. People feel obligated or simply delighted by your small gift and are more likely to give back. Advertisers may offer a discount coupon for your first purchase if you sign up for their newsletter. While both sides benefit, you also just opted in to receive their marketing emails in the future.

Example messaging:

  • “Get exclusive access by entering your information below”
  • “Receive a free gift with your purchase”
  • “Sign up for our newsletter and receive 10% off your next purchase”

2. Consistency

Also sometimes called the commitment technique, this idea is based off the fact that people like to be consistent. For example, we want to shop at stores that are in line with our self-image and values. When we make these choices publicly, like checking into a restaurant on social media, we’re less likely to back away from them later. Advertisers also know that it takes effort to switch from something we’ve already chosen, so getting you to lock in to their service is key.

Example messaging:

  • “Leave us a review and get a free gift on your next visit”
  • “Yes, send me special deals!” or “No, I don’t like finding special deals”
  • “We haven’t heard from you in a while, come back and see us!”

3. Social Proof

Humans can be easily persuaded by following the actions of others. Social proof, or social influence, is when we look to the most popular choices for a sense of safety or validity in our own decision making. Customer reviews, testimonials, and rating systems are all examples of how social proof can persuade us to make purchases by following the pack.

Example messaging:

  • “Enjoyed by more than 5,000 happy customers”
  • “Most popular”
  • “Bestseller”

4. Authority

We’re taught from a very young age to respect authority. Authority figures come off as credible, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. When deciding on a big purchase, we’re most likely to buy from someone who is seen as an expert in their field. However, shoppers should determine how authentic these authority figures are by doing some outside research to avoid being scammed.

Example messaging:

  • “Developed by leading experts”
  • “Doctors recommend this product more than any other”
  • “Our experienced team brings more than 25 years of service”

5. Liking

We’d much rather buy something from a friendly salesperson than a rude one. That’s because likable people are easier to talk to, relate to, and simply more enjoyable. If you’ve ever been showered with compliments after walking into a store, you’ve probably been the target of this persuasion technique. Flattery is nice, but it can also pull you into buying things you don’t need.

Example messaging:

  • “Join other successful professionals at our conference”
  • “Our friendly staff is here to make you feel right at home”
  • “Your expert feedback is requested”

6. Scarcity

You can’t always get what you want, but advertisers know that you’ll go to great lengths to try anyway. Scarcity is the idea that limited quantities, expiring time limits, and exclusive offers increase the value of a product. Consumers may be afraid to lose out on a deal or miss special edition releases so they don’t put off buying.

Example messaging:

  • “10 other shoppers have this in their cart”
  • “Today only: 30% off all orders”
  • “RSVP to save your spot — limited seats available”

persuasion techniques infographic

Sticking to your budget can be difficult when sneaky persuasive techniques are pulling at your wallet. Look out for these common attempts and stand your ground by making smart decisions. For some extra support, download a budgeting app to help keep you on track.

CNBC | Fit Small Business


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