What’s Being Said

17.05.2016 |

Episode #4 of the course The psychology of persuasion by Jake Teeny


Likely, you have been surfing the Internet when you noticed an ad that was a little too specific to your own interests. Maybe it was as explicit as a jacket you had been looking at the other day. Or maybe it was broader, like a TV show from a genre you tend to watch.

Either way, if you looked closely at the ad, there was probably a little blue triangle in the upper right corner—meaning this ad was specifically targeted for you.

From over decades of persuasion research, one of the most persistent findings is that messages that match a particular need or characteristic of the recipient are more persuasive.

For example, researchers have done studies where they advertise the exact same television with slightly different introductions. That is, in one case, they describe the television as “great for a night alone watching movies.” In the other case, they describe it as “great for a night watching movies with friends.”

And although the size, picture quality, and cost of the television are exactly the same in both cases, people are significantly more likely to buy the television if they consider themselves an introvert and receive the first introduction, or if they consider themselves an extravert and receive the second introduction.

Even though in both cases the television itself is exactly the same!

This matching effect is one of the most robust findings in the study of persuasion, with messages able to “match” the recipient on a multitude of levels. For example, appeals are more persuasive when they match aspects of your interests (e.g., calling a product “adventurous” for people who like new experiences) or even when they match the way you think (e.g., calling a product “brainy” for people who like to think a lot).

In fact, this matching effect is so powerful that it can occur even below our conscious awareness.

For example, if you donate blood because of the emotions it brings you (e.g., you feel happy knowing you’re helping others), using a persuasive appeal with emotional language (“Donate today and feel the difference you’re making!”) versus rational language (“Donate today and know the difference you’re making!”) will be significantly more persuasive!

And in our current age of social media, where all of your preferences, purchases, and quirks are cached across the web, advertisers are able to access this information to tailor their messages toward us.

Because we automatically like things that are familiar to us, when persuasive appeals match a quality of our personality, a manner in which we speak, or even one of our favorite colors, it automatically makes the message more persuasive.

So the next time you see that blue triangle in the corner of an Internet ad, see if you can figure out what aspect of yourself the marketer is targeting.

For more information on the effectiveness of matching, read this article about “regulatory fit.


Recommended book:

“Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely


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