I was casually scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day when I saw the above two images, posted with the caption ‘A store owner’s tactic to get people to buy more than one of something’.
The shop owner has used little faces and speech bubbles to personify the items in the shop. In this example, a bottle of shampoo is depicted saying ‘Can my husband come too?!’ The bottle behind the first has a distressed looking cartoon face and a speech bubble saying ‘Martha! Don’t leave me!’ The shop owner has created a story, fashioning the two hair products into a husband and wife duo who do not want to be separated by a customer purchasing only one of them. This technique is known as ‘guilt sells’ – when the customer sees the story of the two characters, they begin to feel sorry for them, and feel guilty for being the person who is about to split them up.
The success of this technique has been proven in a study by Carlsmith and Gross (1969). Participants were cast as teachers and were told to flick a switch when the ‘learner’ confederate made a mistake. Half of the participants were falsely told that flicking the switch induced an electric shock to the learner – in fact, nothing happened. The other half (controls) just heard a loud buzzer when they flicked the switch. Researchers were interested to see to what extent participants were willing to comply with requests made by the confederate learners after believed that they had administered electric shocks to them. The request was to help the confederate by phoning people up and asking them to sign a petition. If the participant agreed, the confederate asked how many people they would be willing to phone (up to 50). Two additional independent variables were the socioeconomic status of the confederate (high or low) and presence of the experimenter in the room.
Results found that whilst only 25% of participants in the control condition agreed to make phone calls for the confederate, 75% of those in the shock condition agreed, with the level of significance being p < .004. The table below illustrates the mean number of phone calls accepted in each condition. The variables of confederate socioeconomic status and presence of experimenter had no significant effect on compliance of the participant, as can be seen in table 1. Carlsmith and Gross (1969) concluded that the guilt of having previously administered electric shocks to the confederate meant that participants in the shock condition were more likely to comply with their later request.
In conclusion, this research shows that feelings of guilt make people more likely to comply with requests. In this specific real life example, a shopper would be more likely to comply to the little shampoo characters’ request to buy two bottles as opposed to just one, because they are made to feel guilty about splitting the couple up and causing them distress.
Carlsmith, J. M., & Gross, A. E. (1969). Some effects of guilt on compliance.Journal of personality and social psychology, 11(3), 232.