Stop using marketing tricks that harm customers

By Roman Berezhnoi July 19, 2022 362 views

Stop using marketing tricks that harm customers

We all use marketing tricks to attract or engage our target audience. But, sometimes, these tricks are dirty for customers. Those tricks exploit a human vulnerability to take actions that are not in the customer’s best interests. Unfortunately, being human means being susceptible to biases.

The worst marketing tricks

Scarcity effect

The scarcity effect is the cognitive bias that makes buyers place a higher value on a product that is scarce. As you have already guessed, buyers place a lower value on one that is available in abundance.

In practice, scarcity is associated in a brain with something positive, good, and exclusive. People assume that it is scarce because everyone wants or has already bought this good, quality product and therefore it must be a good product. Also, scarсity gives rise to greed and a persona wishes to own the thing no matter what it takes.

All these tactics of using the scarcity effect seem obvious. But they work.

Showing low stock availability is one of the common ways to motivate people to make their buying decision more quickly.

If you see “Available online only” it means a marketer creates an artificial scarcity of the product.

Creating urgency by giving a limited timeframe for purchase is a strong motivator for customers.

A limited edition is a common way to raise prices and create hype.

In fact, the quality of a product doesn’t depend on its scarcity.

The anchoring effect 

The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias when a customer relies too heavily on one piece of information that seems more important than others to make a buying decision. This piece of information is called the anchor.

The stock price is a great example. Many people value stocks on the initial prices they see. A low current stock price leads to lower valuations, and high stock prices lead to higher valuations. But the experienced speculators look at fundamental and other factors, not stock prices.
How do marketers use the anchoring effect?

First, they make the product artificially high but have frequent discounts. Buyers see a high price (anchor), but discounts turn a purchase into a good deal.

Second, marketers place products from high prices to low prices. You can see it on many e-commerce sites. Customers see the higher prices first, which makes other products affordable in comparison. It helps boost sales of mid-priced products.

The endowment effect

The endowment effect is a bias that causes individuals to value an owned object higher than its actual value. It is often irrational. Also, the endowment effect encourages buyers to spend more on products.

Marketers can use various tactics to make buyers feel a sense of psychological ownership over a product. Even just the feeling of ownership can be enough to trigger the endowment effect. That is why it can be used in e-commerce.

Marketers can make their customers imagine what it would be like to own a product.

The most common way of using the endowment effect is by offering discounts. The message says that a customer already owns the discount, and not using it in a few days would mean losing it. Next thing you know, the customer will use a discount because we all hate experiencing losses approximately twice as much as we like gains.

Another way to trigger the endowment effect is by offering to try products for free.

If you see questions like “how can you use that?” or “how would you feel with our product?” it means that marketers try to trigger the endowment effect.

Calculated misery

The calculated misery came from the airline industry. It means making people pay for products or services so that they can escape suffering.

Marketers often use this tactic to make customers purchase a new product or an expensive upgrade. The goal is to create discomfort with using a product or service. 

You can find many examples of using a calculated misery tactic during online shopping. Buyers are willing to pay more for comfortable shipping and many e-commerce stores use that. You can buy online a piece of furniture. But a shop assistant will notify you that the online shop can’t deliver it because they don’t have the piece of furniture in this color. You should wait several days to buy what you want or a salesperson has an offer for you. You can buy a piece of furniture in a little different color, and it costs a bit more expensive. If you agree to buy it today you will get a (little) discount. You are tired. You spent a lot of time finding this piece of furniture. Probably a piece of furniture is a bad example, but you might buy a more expensive product, to escape discomfort.

The frequency illusion

The frequency illusion, also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, occurs when someone has learned about a new piece of information, and this piece of information seems to appear more frequently.

For instance, you can read about a new product. Then you can see the post about the product on Facebook, read about it in a local newspaper, notice it on the radio, etc. 

These three main factors lead to the frequency illusion:

  • Selective attention. After learning about a new piece of information, a persona is subconsciously paying more attention to the news surrounding it. 
  • Confirmation bias. It leads a persona to believe that every instance of hearing about this piece of information is proof that it is everywhere. Perhaps it leads to assuming that you need to use it to stay relevant and succeed. 
  • Acting on unreliable information. The final step is acting on unreliable information. 

How can it work in e-commerce?

Well, you see a product ad. This ad claims that people buy this brand ten times more than other brands. You open a web search to do some research. The first article in the search result claims the same. You see a YouTube video where an expert confirms this claim. 

Marketers know how potential buyers will behave and they already set some traps.

How customers can avoid these tricks

The truth is that even experienced marketers can fall for these tricks when they become buyers. Also, knowing how to defend against biases can help many people, who find this article.

Unfortunately, you can’t simply say “control a bias,” as that statement has no substance. 

First, you should know where you are vulnerable. 

The halo effect biases us to perceive people whom we find attractive as more honest, more skilled, and more trustworthy. Marketers use photos of beautiful people to create the halo effect and build a pattern of trust that leads buyers to make decisions.

The optimism bias makes people ignore warning signs. You should know those bad things happen.

The ostrich effect occurs because we don’t want to see what is painful and like an ostrich, we buried our heads only wanting to believe our truth.

Second, here is a three-step process.

My grandpa said that wisdom in a multitude of counselors. Trusted partners, friends, and relatives can help you stay clear of potential vulnerability.

You have to keep emotions in check. If you feel overly emotional it is the perfect time to step back and breathe.

Use critical thought as a practice of questioning yourself. It can create good habits to help you avoid vulnerability.

It takes time but it is a necessity.


Marketers and merchants like to use sneaking tricks instead of saying the truth and meeting user needs. But marketing can be an exciting experience that any company would apply.

Learn about your customers. Know how they live and how they buy. Identify their needs and pains. Help them, teach them, love them.

It is better and more profitable than using marketing tricks that exploit custom vulnerabilities.

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