Marketers’ Manipulation of Customers

Seollal, or Lunar New Year, is soon approaching. Surely, this holiday is meant for distant families to finally meet and catch up while all huddled together around good food. However, this is also a holiday where the department store sales skyrocket with soaring sales of extravagant gift baskets. In weeks leading up to the holiday, marketers are making use of various effective tactics to deceive customers into purchasing their product.

When technology was not as accessible as it is now, marketing was done personally by gradually building relationships with them. The owner of a supermarket would have daily conversations with customers living across the street and have workaday conversations whenever they stopped by. However, in half a century, this all changed with the rise of technology. Now, marketing lost its once warm and friendly human touch. Instead, marketers are busy crunching numbers to find the best way to cleverly deceive their customers so that even the customers wouldn’t notice.

Here’s one. Human nature makes us to be more attached to products with emotional relevance. Marketers use this to increase their sales by artificially engineering personal connections with the customers. Sam Biddle, a writer for Gizmodo, summarizes this process in a five-part plan: approach, probe, present, listen, and end. Through this five-step process, marketers aim to make the customers think that their needs are being understood and empowered. As Biddle puts it, the key to mastering the process is to “[becoming] strong while appearing compassionate; persuade while seeming passive, and empathize your way to sale.”

Any marketing employees are expected masterfully execute this process, and the five-part plan’s touch is commonplace is any stores we walk in. Employees often approach the customers with a friendly smile, and product descriptions frequently use words such as “feel,” “felt,” or “found.” This is no coincidence. These words create a caring and compassionate image for the company as part of a company’s emotional engineering scheme. Ultimately, this image can help customers become more attached to the brand or product and ultimately increase marketing sales.

But, in the end, a marketers’ primary purpose is not to have empathy or establish real relationships; it is simply to find the most effective way to maximize their sales. These relationships would only be existent when it is beneficial for the marketers and fade as soon as the customer is not seen as valuable. Feigning false intimacy to the clients is just one way of establishing their goal.

Another tactic marketers use is blurring out customers’ ability to distinguish between their wants and their needs. Dr. David Lewis, the author of Secrets of Inspirational Selling explains that marketers “generate an emotional desire so powerful that… it has to be satisfied, no matter what the cost.”

One efficient way to turn a want into a need is through imposing scarcity. Off-White converse, which was sold for 45,000 dollars during Christmas last year, was a limited edition shoe that grabbed international attention. With only a thousand of them available in Korea, it immediately triggers the thought “I need that!” Because of this, this shoe was sold out. Such marketing tactics also cause an impulsive reaction that makes a customer to buy large amounts of the product. Marketers call this smart advertising. We call it manipulation.

There is no way to completely rid marketing from our modern society. It is an inevitable part of our economy and lifestyle. However, being aware of the methods marketers use to manipulate customers can prevent ourselves to get overwhelmed and make impulsive decisions. So next time when facing situations where you are putting everything you see in the shopping cart, stop and think once again. You might be caught in one of the marketers’ deception.

– Jenna Jang (22)

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