I came across this ad for some wedding rings on the back of my 'Take a Break' magazine the other day, and it contains a variety of persuasive techniques.
As you can see, the word “FREE” appears a lot throughout the ad, immediately drawing in the eye and gauging interest. Upon closer inspection, it is revealed that the item they are offering for free is an inscription inside the ring; something which you have to buy the ring for in order to receive anyway. Therefore, the “free” is more similar to “free with”, a technique often referred to as the “that’s not all” approach, which offers customers more than they thought they were originally going to get. This can be through such things as offering a free service if the consumer buys the product, e.g. wrapping the gift, or in this case, providing a free engraving, or through offering an item at a discounted price if they buy this product. It is a very common technique in teleshopping and magazine adverts. The effects of this technique have been studied by researchers such as Burger (1986), who did so through seven experiments. The most relevant of these to the above ad are experiment 1 and experiment 2.
In experiment 1, participants were first offered an item – a cupcake – and were then offered a packet of cookies at no extra charge were they to buy the cupcake, or not offered anything extra. This is similar to the deal above, as personalisation is being added free at no extra cost to the consumer. It was indeed found that more participants purchased a cupcake when offered a packet of cookies, than those who were not offered a packet.
Aspects of the above advert are also evident in experiment 2 of Burger’s (1986) paper. For this experiment, participants were either told an initial price of $1 for a cupcake before being told it was being reduced to 75¢ as the stall was ‘shutting down’, or were told from the start that the price was 75¢ and nothing else. In the above advert, the ad states that these rings are being sold at “a fraction of the cost”, and even though it does not explicitly state what the usual price is, it again implies that the consumer will be getting a deal should they purchase this. The experiment once again revealed that those in the ‘that’s not all’ condition ($1 down to 75¢) were more likely to purchase cupcakes than those in the control condition. (See the table below for a summary of the original paper's results)
Summary of important results - % sales in each condition
As you can see, people in the 'that's not all' condition purchased more cupcakes than those who were just offered cupcakes with no extra cookies, or not given a 'discounted' price.
Furthermore, the advert also places some pressure on the consumer by saying such things as “perfect gift for Valentine’s Day” and “not available in stores!” This makes the item seem like something that the consumer must buy now and from these particular suppliers, as they won’t be able to get such a ‘deal’ anywhere else and might not be able to get the ring in time if they order too late. If you look closely, you can see “Please Respond Promptly” on the reservation application, again suggesting that these rings may have limited numbers and if they don’t decide quickly whether they want it, they may not get it at all. Thinking that something is one of a kind and can’t be found anywhere else has been shown to increase sales, a persuasion technique known as the commodity effect.
Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975) provided an example of this in action with their experiment. In it, female undergraduates rated the value and attractiveness of cookies that were either in abundant supply or scarce supply. Scare supplies were either always scarce or had started abundant before coming scare through either accident or high demand. For the abundant supply, the cookies were either constantly abundant or first scarce and then abundant, either due to accident or low demand.
Results found that cookies in scarce supply were rated as more desirable than cookies in abundant supply, and their value increased if they had changed from being abundant to scarce due to high demand. This demonstrated that people are more interested in things which have a chance of not being available any more, something which is implied in the above advert and heightened by the fact that it claims these rings are not available in stores, suggesting that they must be bought now or the chance will be lost.
So what does this all mean? Well, if we are to believe the advert, it means you can get some rather lovely rings with a wonderful inscription inside for free! Just make sure you reserve quickly, because they're going fast! ...Or it just means that a lot of people are very gullable and will end up with some rings that they might not even need. For a fracion of the price, though.
Burger, J. M. (1986). Increasing compliance by improving the deal: The that's-not-all technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 277-283.
Worchel, S., Lee, J., Adewole, A. (1975). Effects on supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 906-914.