A: Hi, Zoë … ?
Z: Oh, hi, Anna … How are you? Are you OK?
A: Oh, yes, I’m fine … I’m just phoning because, well, I need some advice.
Z: Mmm? Advice? What about?
A: Oh, nothing major … it’s just that I’ve just been looking at phones … and I’m trying to decide what to do. I mean, there’s this really nice phone I want … and … you’ve probably seen the adverts on telly. You know, when all those people are running around trying to grab the phone?
Z: Oh yes, I know the one … It looks really good.
A: Yeah, well, I’ve just been looking at it in the shop … and I really like it. But, you know, I don’t really need a phone …
Z: Oh, but you’ve had your phone for ages … it’s pretty out-of-date now, isn’t it? Go on … treat yourself!
A: Do you think I should?
Z: Yes, you should just do it. Don’t worry about things so much. Is it really expensive or something?
A: Well, it’s more than I’m paying at the moment. You know, I’m on a contract, so it would be a little bit more every month … but you get the phone itself free, if you go on the contract.
Z: Well, go for it then! If it’s only a bit more money … well, it’s not a huge deal, is it?
A: Mmm …
Z: I mean, supposing you don’t get it, how will you feel? If I were you, I’d just do it!
A: Yeah, maybe I should …
Z: Definitely … you deserve it! I’m sure you won’t regret it.
A: OK then. I will. Thanks, Zoë.
Trying to persuade
E = Expert, I = Interviewer
I: Welcome to Modern World. On the programme today, we’re talking to Jo Carlson about the power of persuasion. All around us, there are images on television, jingles on the radio, adverts in magazines, sound bites on the news, offers in the shops. They’re all hard at work – trying to make us believe something or persuading us to buy something. Fear not, however, Jo Carlson is here to reveal their secrets and show us how to resist all this persuasion! Hello, Jo.
I: First, persuading people is big business, isn’t it? I mean, supermarkets and politicians, advertisers and salespeople, they all take it very seriously, don’t they?
E: Yes. They spend a lot of money on marketing and on working out the best psychological tricks to guarantee that even the most cautious among us are open to manipulation.
I: Let’s take supermarkets then. How do they make us buy things we don’t necessarily want? What are some of their tricks?
E: Well, firstly, most supermarkets have a ‘transition zone’ as you enter the shop. You might have noticed that the entrances of most supermarkets are quite small and crowded …
I: Yes … ?
E: Well, this is a deliberate effort to slow people down. The supermarkets want you to stop rushing around and take longer with your shopping.
I: That’s interesting.
E: Yes, and … they also try to relax you by playing music and by pumping the smell of fresh bread into the store. Studies have shown that the smell makes people buy more.
I: I know I’ve done that without even thinking about it.
E: Exactly … most of the time, we are completely unaware of what’s happening. It’s subconscious persuasion …
I: There are also endless tricks when it comes to pricing, aren’t there?
E: Yes … there’s the old one of putting the price at three ninety-nine, or nine ninety-nine, or whatever. Of course, we know about the trick, but it still works, because every time we see a price of nine ninety-nine we are manipulated into thinking that it’s a lot cheaper than ten pounds. In our heads, we think nine ninety-nine is nine pounds but in fact, of course, it’s ten pounds.
I: Yes … it’s simple, but it works.
E: And, another trick which is used more and more is putting the produce, let’s say, apples … in bags of different sizes. So, for example, they put the ordinary apples in a bag costing, say, one pound eighty and the organic ones in a bag costing say, one pound ninety.
I: So, supposing you’re a customer, you might think, oh, organic apples aren’t so much more expensive – I’ll have those.
E: Yes … but what you might not realise is that the bag of ordinary apples contains six apples and the bag of organic ones contains only five … so really, they are more expensive than you think.
I: Mmm, and unless you’re really good at doing maths in your head, you won’t want to work out the price of each apple all the time … it’s just too difficult and time-consuming.
E: That’s right.
I: And what about sales? I mean, shops are always trying to attract customers by cutting prices, especially during end of season sales.
E: Yes, and if there are large discounts on offer, customers will come to the shops in huge numbers. Shops know that people are tempted by lower prices … even if you end up spending more in the end. You certainly wouldn’t have spent as much if you had stayed at home and not bought anything!
I: Shops rely on customers’ greed … .
E: Yes, people will buy something as long as it looks like a bargain! Though often they don’t really want or need it at all.
I: So, what about the advertising industry? In what ways do they persuade us to buy particular products?
E: Well, adverts on TV in commercial breaks, or on posters, or in magazines … all follow the same principles and basically, there are two types of ads. Those that appeal to the thinking part of our brain and those that appeal to the emotional part.
I: So, for what type of products would they advertise by appealing to the thinking part of our brain?
E: Well, they are mostly used for things which have little emotional appeal, for example, cleaning products. They give us information about the product and try to influence us that way. However, if an advert targets our emotions, it’s likely to be much more successful. You don’t have to believe the hype … provided that you respond emotionally … you know, on a subconscious level, you’ll probably want to buy the product.
I: So, what kinds of emotions are used?
E: Well, adverts for different brands of clothes often want to make us feel that we belong, for example by showing us how to buy the right clothes to fit in with our friends. And adverts for insurance play on our need to feel safe. For example they might show a family happily spending their insurance money buying new things when their house has been burgled.
I: Celebrities are used a lot too, aren’t they?
E: Yes, that’s very popular. Celebrities are often used as a quick way of getting the message across. Their success and familiarity makes them feel safe, interesting, cool … whatever. If we see our favourite pop star drinking a particular fizzy drink, we’re immediately persuaded to buy it!