13 Ways Advertisers Persuade You to Buy

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The craft of advertising itself is hundreds of years old, but it has evolved into a science in the last 50 or 60 years, with creativity and methodology working together to sell you hard.

The following 13 strategies used by advertisers have had great success in selling products and services for a couple of generations, and continue to be used most often. 

Scare Tactics

The message here is that bad things might happen to you if you don’t have this product or service. This is most often used to sell products related to security, personal safety, or health.

But fear can creep into advertising for many other products and services. For instance, the “fear of missing out” (or FOMO) is increasingly used to persuade consumers. In an age when information and entertainment are ubiquitous, how do you make sure you see everything you’re supposed to see? That’s why you need this phone, this app, or this TV package.

The Promise of Happiness

The promise of happiness never loses its power. From cars and jewelry to dating services and electronic gadgets, the basic message never changes: Buy this product or service and you’ll be filled with joy.

The promised happiness is real but fleeting. Pretty soon, you’re looking for a new thing to bring back that feeling of elation. This is sometimes called retail therapy.

Status Anxiety

Otherwise known as keeping up with the Joneses. You may love your three-year-old Honda, but a top-of-the-line BMW will make your neighbors green with envy.

Use of this strategy has, if anything, increased in recent years with the proliferation of new-and-improved gadgets. That is why many people you know have traded in their perfectly good smartphones for new models that cost far more.

Limiting Availability

Creating artificial scarcity is a great way to boost demand. This is why many manufacturers produce limited-edition versions of their products to tie in with current movies or TV series.

A little extra branding is applied to a product that isn't at all scarce—but the variation is. Nike produces limited-edition sneakers and people pay huge sums for them in the secondary market.

Becoming Your Friend

One way to create brand awareness is to make a product appear to have the endorsement of your own circle of friends, or at least people like your friends.

Social media campaigns have done an extraordinary job of finessing this strategy with fun videos and messages encouraging you to interact with the brand message.

These marketing campaigns are, of course, mixed in with posts from your real friends. When you next buy a certain product or service, guess which brand you reach for?

Positive Association

Brands love to associate themselves with the positive qualities that celebrities embody. Someone is always the baddest tough guy, the model with the most gorgeous hair, or the sports star with the fastest feet.

Brands take this positive association and attach it indelibly to their products. One of the more subtle uses of this strategy is the product placement, in which a brand is inserted neatly but not too unobtrusively into a movie or television show.

Making You Laugh

Why are so many Super Bowl ads funny? Why do so many social media marketing posts make you laugh? The answer is simple. Laughter is a positive emotion, and when you link a positive association with a brand, consumers are more likely to choose it.

Even insurance companies and banks use humor, and these are not products that most of us want to entrust to a comedian. But humor works. It certainly is a more effective marketing tool than a plain recitation of facts.

Humanizing Things and Animals

It’s known as anthropomorphism, and in advertising, it's a surefire way to get you to sit up and take notice. Talking animals like the Geico gecko, the Aflac duck, and Tony the Tiger are prime examples. It’s unexpected, it’s usually humorous, and it encourages us to connect emotionally with the brand. Variations include giving human features to inanimate objects. A prosaic thing has become cute and likable. Sure you want to buy that thing.

Reverse Psychology

This strategy can be as obvious as Patagonia’s famous “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad, or more subtle, like the incredible “Lemon” ad for Volkswagen. In the latter example, they called their own car a lemon, but when you found out why, you wanted it more.

This is intended to give the consumer a false sense of control and superiority. In effect, it says “don’t tell me what to do or think, I’ll do that myself.”

It's a time-honored strategy for dealing with children, and it works just as well on adults.

Sex Appeal

Sex sells...it really does. And sexually charged imagery has been used to sell beer, cars, phones, clothing, cheeseburgers (looking at you, Carl’s Jr.), and even furniture.

We all fall for it. It’s a deeply natural response, and the fact that it usually has nothing to do with the product itself seems to have no impact whatsoever.

The Emptiness Within

No advertiser will tell you bluntly that your life is awful but it will be better if you buy this product. But they can suggest it, and they do.

This technique often uses before-and-after images to dramatize just how much better someone like you feels after buying that new coat, watch, or car. A common variation illustrates how you'll feel even worse if you make the wrong choice.

Celebrity Endorsement

This is a variation on the strategy of creating associations with celebrities. With platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, celebrity endorsements are bigger and subtler than ever.

A makeup brand lingering in obscurity could run a multi-million dollar branding and awareness campaign. Or it could pay Kim Kardashian West $250,000 to endorse it on Instagram.

That may sound like a lot, but with more than 100 million followers, she can give a brand a lot of bang for its buck. 

Peer Pressure

Most consumers don't care to be out there on the bleeding edge of a new product or service. There are early adopters, and then there are the masses who buy it once it has gained acceptance.

This strategy attempts to persuade you that you're the only one in your peer group that doesn't own X product or service. Nobody really wants to be an outsider.