Impulsive Behavior And The Trap You Set For Yourself

Research indicates that the more impervious your audience feels they are to your product, the more likely they are to succumb to it. But does this really work? And how can this be ethical marketing?

I took my nieces to the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier the other day and was shocked by the sign above the ticket window: [something to the effect of] "Go ahead and indulge."

Bleh! This just feels slimy doesn't it? Is it even the optimal message?

Good Marketing Or A Big Mistake?

Probably a mistake, according to recent research.  Sure, it sounds good ("Doesn't everyone want to induuuuuulge?") but it doesn't hold up under the microscope.

Nordgren, Harreveld, and Pligt completed a study in 2009 about the Restraint Bias (PDF). This bias states that the more you believe yourself impervious to temptation (there's the bias), the less you're able to restrain yourself. The more self-assured that a former smoker can visit his old smoking haunts, the less likely he will be able to resist the temptation to light up.

In a very real sense, people set this trap themselves. By deciding, especially in a vulnerable mood, how they will behave, they increase the chances that they will go against their logical impulses. In fact, this study seem to suggest that the more emphatic you are, the less likely you will complete your goal.

However, show a little humility ("Maybe I can't resist and thus shouldn't expose myself") and you might meet that goal.

Ethical Implications

The study dealt solely with tempting "bad behaviors" (snacking, smoking, skimping on studying). This is misguided.

Read the study, but then consider: how could you use these finding to persuade your audience to enact a better reaction? Marketing is no longer devoid of ethics (damn well better not be for readers of this blog), so it's up to us to figure out how to use these findings for the general good.

So you tell me - how effective is the "Go ahead and indulge" message? Might it be more effective as "You're strong enough to resist, right?" (But assuming the product is decent, natch.)

My only concerns with studies like these or more advanced neuromarketing is their being used for bad ends. Before you harness these studies, remember that ethics are a pretty powerful "smell test" for most of the public. You would be stupid to try to sneak something on an ever-more-savvy public.

How would you use this information for good? And then, how would you use this information to totally kick ass?

P.S.: Ug, willpower get more complex thanks to Johnnie Moore and Scientific American. (Seriously, a good read though.)

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(Photo courtesy of theycallmetelly via Flickr)