Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hello, how can I convince you to jump on board with this fresh new idea?

As a student living on a budget, those door-to-door sales men who roam the streets in the evening are lucky if I let them get a word in. On an extra childish day, I might even sit silently and pretend there is no one home. So, after shutting the door on these two young men, having just set up a direct debit for groceries, I had to ask myself ‘what the hell just happened here?!’.

HelloFresh provides a service whereby they deliver fresh ingredients for meals chosen by you on a weekly basis (About HelloFresh, 2018) … for a small fortune of course. After recently reading up on persuasion techniques and realising all the subtle practices that these salesmen employed (which I will list below), I hope to never be so na├»ve again!

‘Just asking’ and the Elaboration Likelihood model’s central route to persuasion

The first major idea behind door to door sales is to ‘just ask’, a technique discussed by Hills (2014). Instead of waiting on customers to come to them, HelloFresh send sales people directly to the customers to essentially ask, “will you sign up to our service?”. Research suggests that asking becomes even more effective when a reason is added to the request, whether it is placebic or sufficient information. This was demonstrated in a study by Langer et al. (1978) where a person asked others in a queue “excuse me, I have 5 pages, can I use the copy machine?” with the intention of cutting to the front. Shockingly, there was a compliance rate of 60%. Moreover, when the participant added more information, “because I need to make copies” (placebic) or “because I’m in a hurry” (sufficient), compliance increased to over 90%. In the case of HelloFresh, they added sufficient information to their appeal, including the benefits of healthy eating, no hassle for me and great flexibility. The use of logical reasoning shows that in my case they used the central route of persuasion, as described in the Elaboration Likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). The use of the central route was perhaps due to the service being personally relevant to me, as I would have to pay for, choose and cook the meals. Additionally, in line with research, their discounted offer (discussed below) could have increased my motivation to process the information they were giving me carefully (Gotlieb & Swan, 1990), so they needed to have valid arguments. However, they did not limit themselves to this central route as the following techniques will show.

Scarcity effect

This technique was used with the label of a ‘one time only’ deal, in which I would receive 50% off my first monthly bill if I signed up with them at the door. This made the deal time-limited and increased the urgency to take it. The scarcity effect is an example of short cuts people use to make decisions. If a product is scarce (by time or number), it is thought to have high value; any product that is easily available is less likely to hold such value (Cialdini, 2014). Therefore, HelloFresh used this deal to convince me and others like me, that they are providing us with a high-quality service that we should grab whilst we have the chance.

The foot-in-the-door effect and sunk cost bias

During a long conversation about my favourite types of food (I have to say – a great method of distraction), the salesmen asked if I had a smartphone, they then asked me to download the HelloFresh app to check out the meals they offer, this then led to the sign-up screen within the app. The foot-in-the-door technique, evidenced in research (Freedman & Fraser, 1966), was used here by getting me to agree to these smaller requests that I could easily do, before asking me for the larger request –  to provide my bank details. This also caused me to feel as if I had invested a lot into this interaction, from the time I had spent talking to them to the downloading of an app. The sunk cost bias (Arkes & Blumer, 1985) was in effect here; it is based on the idea of people not wanting to let the time, effort or money that they have already invested in an item go to waste. HelloFresh have used this to get customers to initially buy into the service and to increase the likelihood that they resume their membership afterwards – having already invested time and effort, they would have invested money by then as well.

Social proof

The salesmen repeatedly used phrases such as “lots of other students on your road, in a similar situation to you have signed up”, “we were explaining that to your neighbour” and “students love HelloFresh”. This may have caused me to automatically be affected by informational social influence. Social proof, also discussed by Cialdini (2014), is the idea that in a new situation, people will look to those around them to figure out the correct response. As I usually avoid engaging in conversation with salesmen, I did not know what to do or how to say no. In this instance, I was repeatedly told that other people were on board, so I felt the need to behave as they did by signing up. The idea that ‘everyone agrees’ with this service being worthy of my money contributed to my decision. This was effective despite me having only heard it from one source, because they familiarised me with the idea through repetition (Ford & Bird, 2008).  

In conclusion, salesmen have a world of tricks up their sleeves. I hope you learn from this post and will never be as clueless as I once was!


About HelloFresh. (2018). HelloFresh Group. Retrieved 19 March 2018, from

Arkes, H., & Blumer, C. (1985). The psychology of sunk cost. Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes35(1), 124-140.

Cialdini, R. (2014). Influence: Pearson New International Edition (pp. 107-259). Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Ford, G., & Bird, C. (2008). Life is sales (pp. 213-234). Toronto: Insomniac Press.

Freedman, J., & Fraser, S. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology4(2), 195-202.

Gotlieb, J., & Swan, J. (1990). An Application of the Elaboration Likelihood Model. Journal Of The Academy Of Marketing Science18(3), 221-228.

Hills, T. (2014). If You Want More Out of Life, Just Ask. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of "placebic" information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology36(6), 635-642.

Petty, R., & Cacioppo, J. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. Communication and Persuasion, 1-24.

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