My response to the article written by Robert B. Cialdini in 2004 for the Scientific American. Cialdini has scientifically studied the process of social influence for 30 years and have simplified his findings into six ‘basic tendencies of human behaviour’ that leads to someone saying “yes”.

Reciprocation – in effect, Cialdini comments how society has brought us up to believe that things in life do not come free. His studies show that charitable organisations which send ‘unsolicited gifts’ almost double their success rate of receiving donations during their appeals campaign. He continues to reveal this act of “kindness” extends to the pharmaceutical industry, where gifts are given to medical research in exchange for their drugs safety test to be passed. In this sense it sounds similar to a bribe, or a subtle “guilt trip”. In terms of graphical rhetoric, perhaps designs that pull on the proverbial heart-strings fare better than those that demand money directly.

Consistency – Cialdini highlights the power of human commitment by linking people’s affirmed promise with their future actions. The example used being asking for contributions for a worthy cause, and two weeks prior signing a petition for the same cause. Promises reflects the credibility and reliability, that applies to any person, company or brand. Delivering a rhetoric that does not fulfil what was promised leads to a lack of faith of the company and a poor reputation, something which is incredibly hard to recover.

Social validation – in general, the more people who are seen to do something, the higher the chances that others will follow. This is clearly evident in advertisements, where products claim how many satisfied users they have, or in television commercials you see flocks of people rushing to buy the advertised product. There is a sense of endorsement, people feel like they can trust the brand enough to make their first purchase. Celebrity endorsement can help too, after all if such a product is good enough for them then surely it’s good enough for the nation…

Liking – ‘people prefer to say yes to those they like’, Cialdini evidence this could be the like between friends, physical attraction, similarity/rapport, compliments and cooperation (good cop/bad cop). Who would help out someone they dislike? Or for an advert that insulted the viewer? If there is no fondness or connection then there’s no chance of gaining that “yes” response.

Authority – ‘experience, expertise…scientific credentials’, it all connects with Keen’s argument about anonymity and credibility. If an expert provides their opinion on something, we would tend to accept their insight with trust and are influenced by it. Conversely if this “expert” was in fact a fallacy then the negative perception of rhetoric and its deceitful manipulation resurfaces. This could damage the brand and the trust of the conned in future adverts, relating back to consistency and reputation.

Scarcity – the power of supply and demand, and the perceived knowledge that you are the holder of something rare and exclusive, or something that is running out, does indeed urge panic buying. For example for grocery stores, the lead up to Christmas, that the shop is closed for one day, and from experience that products do sell out, creates the busiest week of trade. The ‘limited supply’ campaigns does exactly the same. As the saying goes “you always want something you can’t have”, a deceptive tool in rhetoric.

Cialdini concludes how by recognising these ‘six powerful motivators’, people will be more aware of such advertising strategies, to realise what claims have integrity and those that aren’t legitimate. These persuasion techniques feature repeatedly in advertising, after all that is what advertising is all about, selling a product. What links nicely with this article is the research on reputation and credibility; the consequence of a “bogus” claim and those giant corporations that have demonstrated good practice versus ones who fail to uphold their promises.

Advertisements