Is The Golden Rule of Marketing, Manipulation?

Well, if you think about it then yes. You probably won’t find it written anywhere, but you aren’t going to buy something if you don’t know it exists, so you need to be manipulated into knowing about it.

See Also: 5 Incredible Marketing Campaigns to Inspire your Business

If you define manipulation as “controlling or influencing someone cleverly or unscrupulously,” then the question is not whether marketers manipulate, it’s how far they go with their unscrupulousness and whether they go too far.

So, if we say that some form of manipulation is the golden rule, is it always terrible manipulation like you hear about in the news when a pensioner has lost their life savings?

The marketer can choose not to manipulate

Let’s assume here that advertising isn’t automatically manipulation. An advertisement that simply says ‘this thing exists, it will always cost this price and never go away’ is simply giving you information. A seller who sells you what you came in for, with no attempt to sell anything else, has not manipulated you.

The problems start when they go beyond that. As soon as you’re told to ‘buy now!’ or that ‘this will change your life!’, you start believing it whether you consciously want to or not. Attaching any kind of promise or deadline is a form of manipulation.

There’s a fine line between manipulation and helpful persuasion

Have you ever been in a shop and had an assistant convince you to buy something when you couldn’t decide? If you were already close to buying it, then you were simply persuaded, the same way an honest advertisement might persuade you to buy a new gadget by highlighting a feature you hadn’t realized it had.

However, any kind of trickery, by a person or a label, becomes manipulation:

  • ‘Only $99.99!’ If you wouldn’t buy it for $100, don’t buy it for $99.99. Displaying .99 prices is a well-known marketing ploy and one that really shouldn’t be as effective as it is.
  • ‘It’s brilliant! It does these things’ What they don’t mention is the crucial thing it doesn’t do. Or, that batteries aren’t included, tricking you into a second trip where you’ll buy something else.
  • ‘If you’re going to buy that, you really should buy this too.’ Well, not necessarily. If you’re at no risk of assassination, you do not need bulletproof windows on your new car.

You’re manipulated by marketers every day in different ways

Unfortunately, the majority of advertisements fail to stop at ‘here it is if you want it’, because they want you to want it now. Here are three ways it’s probably happened to you today, and you’re so used to it you didn’t even notice:

  1. Television. Of course, you wouldn’t like an advertisement that was just someone standing there holding the product. However, consider advertisements like John Lewis’s Christmas advert last year, the tale of a lonely penguin whose perfect present was a mate. They do not sell penguins. The replicas they did sell were stuffed toys, not animatronic robots. Was it an accurate advertisement? Not for something other than a pet shop. But of course, those replicas got people in their shops and actually sold out in hours.
  2. It’s Tues Day today! You’d better get out and buy a card and gift for your loved ones. Some holidays may be legitimate – Christmas, birthdays, etc – but everything from Valentine’s Day onwards is guilty of manipulating you into spending money on cards, gifts, and postage.
  3. Supermarkets. Have you ever gone in for a pint of milk and come out with something extra? You know you have. Perhaps it was something you’d just forgotten you needed, but most likely it was because of a poster on the window, or because that milk was at the back of the shop, or you got stuck in a queue and grabbed something by the register.

It does look like manipulation is the golden rule, but it’s up to the marketer to decide how manipulative they’re going to be.

What is the worst way you’ve ever been manipulated? Do you have any examples of non-manipulative marketing? Let us know in the comments section below!

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