13 Ways Advertisers Persuade You to Buy

Common Methods That Make You Spend Money

Mind Control
••• Mind Control. Getty Images

Advertising and marketing agencies have a bag of tricks to pull from that makes customers putty in their hands. The craft of advertising itself is hundreds of years old, but it has certainly become more of a science in the last 50-60 years, with creativity and methodology working hand in hand to sell you hard.

The following 13 approaches used by advertisers have great success in selling products and services, and even today, you will be exposed to several of them.

Learn them, and understand why they are so effective.

1. Scare Tactics

There are several ways advertisers use fear. Most obviously, it’s used by companies in the fields of security, personal safety, and health. Basically “bad things will probably happen to you if you don’t have this product or service.” But there are other ways fear can creep into advertising strategies. For instance, the “fear of missing out” (also known as FOMO) is becoming increasingly popular. In an age when information is so readily available but so pervasive, how do you make sure you see everything you’re supposed to see? That’s why you need this phone, or this app, or this TV package. Remember, fear is a lizard-brain emotion. It’s primal and easy to tap into. But, it’s also easy to stop and take a breath. Should you be afraid of not having that specific product or service? 99% of the time, no, you shouldn’t. You’re being manipulated.


2. Promising Happiness

By far the greatest method of grabbing new customers is promising happiness. It has been going strong since the advertising revolution in the 1960s, and it’s more powerful today than it ever was. It works like this: right now, you’re kinda unhappy; but, you don’t have to be. Buy this product or service and you’ll be filled with joy.

From cars and jewelry to dating services and electronic gadgets, the basic premise never changes. Advertisers don't care how happy you are now, they simply tell you that you'll be even happier if you make the right purchase. The happiness is fleeting (some people call it retail therapy) and pretty soon you’re looking for a new thing to bring back that elation you felt. 

3. Attacking Your Social Standing

Call this one “keeping up with the Joneses.” This has also been a proven method of selling products for decades, and it works well. Someone once said “we measure our happiness or success by our neighbors” and that is so true. If you have a 3-year-old Honda car in fantastic condition, and someone next to you drives and old beater, you think you’re doing well. If that same person comes back one day with a top of the line, brand new BMW, you suddenly feel like you’re not doing as well. Nothing in your life has changed, but you believe it has. In this way, advertisers will constantly pressure you to have the next big thing. You need this, because everyone around you is getting it. Many of us fall to this pressure, and suddenly everyone has to have a $700 smartphone.

4. Limiting Availability (aka Limited Editions)

Another way of saying this is “creating artificial scarcity” and it works well.

For example, many manufacturers will put out themed versions of their products to tie in with a current movie or TV series, and provide limited editions of them. People will run out to buy what is an almost identical product to the regular one, simply because it has a little extra branding on it. The product itself isn’t scarce at all; only the variation is. And to be honest, they could make millions. Nike produces limited sneaker lines, and people pay huge money for them in the secondary market. Ask yourself, do you need this just because there aren’t many of them?

5. Becoming Friends with You

You trust your friends more than you do complete strangers, so advertisers have found ways to make themselves more appealing to you. Social media campaigns have done an incredible job of getting into your circle of friends, with fun videos and messages making you more likely to interact with the brand every day.

When it comes time to buy a certain product or service, guess who’s top of mind? Brands, and the massive companies behind them, don’t want to be your friend; they want your money, and your loyalty. And they only want your loyalty because it means more money. Don’t be fooled by this approach. You can like a brand, but put it under the same scrutiny as any other.

6. Creating Positive Associations

There are celebrities out there with millions of fans. They are liked, respected, and admired. You may love Jerry Seinfeld, or you may find Kim Kardashian the greatest name in style. Brands take this positive association and use it to their advantage, getting celebrities to endorse their products so that you will buy them. You already feel good about that person, so the brand cashes in on that. Nike partnering with Michael Jordan, and many other sports stars, has created billions in revenue. They’re the same shoes, they just have a name tied to them. Brands will also insert themselves in movies and TV shows (known as product placement) to get the same outcome. 

7. Making You Laugh

Why are so many Super Bowl ads funny? Why do so many social media posts by brands make you laugh? The answer is simple; laughter is a positive emotion, and when you associate something positive with that brand, you are more likely to remember it, and buy it. Even insurance companies and banks are using humor, and this is not an area that most of us want to entrust to a comedian. But the bottom line is, humor works much more quickly than something that makes you think a little, or leaves you feeling mildly content. It’s a powerful tool in the advertiser’s arsenal, and you should know that it is being used to break down barriers and get you spending money.

8. Humanizing Things and Animals

It’s known as anthropomorphism, and in advertising, it is a sure fire way to get you to sit up and take notice. Animals that talk (the Geico gecko, the Aflac duck, Tony the Tiger) are a prime example of this technique. It’s unexpected, it’s usually humorous, and it makes it easier for us to connect emotionally with the brand. Other techniques include giving human-like features to typefaces or inanimate objects, and even giving these objects emotions (the beautiful film by Pixar called Luxo Jr. is a fabulous example of this technique, although it was not used to sell any specific product). When you see advertisements humanizing animals and objects, know that they are doing so as a way to get on your good side, and fork over some cash.

9. Employing Reverse Psychology

It doesn’t just work on kids. As adults, we can easily be taken in by the reverse psychology methods used in advertising. It can be as obvious as Patagonia’s famous “Don’t Buy This Jacket” ad, or more subtle, like the incredible “Lemon” ad for VW. They called their car a lemon, but when you found out why, you wanted it more. This all has to do with the false sense of control and superiority it gives the consumer. In effect, “don’t tell me what to do or think, I’ll do that myself.” Suddenly, you find yourself wanting to argue with the brand, buying it to show them who’s in charge.

10. Using Sex and Provocative Imagery

It sells. It really does. For years, advertisers have been using sexually charged imagery and language to persuade us to buy things, from the Coors Light twins, to the half-naked window washer for Diet Coke. Sex sells drinks, cars, phones, clothing, cheeseburgers (looking at you Carl’s Jr.) and even furniture. And…we all fall for it. It’s a deeply primal response, and at the end of the day, we are taken in by the empty promises and fake parallels. 

11: Making You Feel Empty Inside

Sadly, you read that correctly. It's a common strategy in advertising that has been used successfully for decades, and it's still being used today. Of course, advertisers aren't overtly going to say "your life sucks but you'll feel much better if you buy this product." However, they can suggest it, and they do it well. Images of people looking a little down, maybe walking a little slow, compared to the after images of them being happier now that they have that new coat, or watch, or car. Beer ads make it seem like you'll only enjoy yourself after a few pints. And there are jewelry ads (for example, He Went to Jared) that showcase how disappointed and awful you will both feel if you don't get the ring from the right place. 

12: Coupling the Product or Service With People You Like (and Trust)

Celebrity endorsements are big business. In fact, these days with platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, it's bigger than it's ever been. And the reason is simple - it works. A makeup brand that is lingering in obscurity could run a multi-million dollar branding and awareness campaign, or it could simply ask Kim Kardashian West to endorse it on Instagram for $250,000 and become an instant hit. That's right, Kim really does charge that much to take a photo of herself with a product, but with over 105 million followers, she gives brands a lot of bang for their buck. 

13: Implying All Your Friends Are Doing It

As consumers, most of us don't like 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 into it once it's gained enough popularity. So, by telling you that you're one of the only people in your peer group that isn't buying X product or service, they're making you feel like an outsider. Everyone has Netflix, why don't you? All the cool kids have an iPhone, you don't want to be the only one who doesn't, right? Basically, if you're not with us, you're out of touch.