A friend of mine recently co-founded the Alewives Podcast to celebrate “beer, history, beer history, and the women who make them” and that’s got me thinking a lot about beer marketing and advertising.
The Coors Light “The Official Beer of Being Done Wearing a Bra” advertisement above stands out, as many have commented, because it’s a far cry from the usual “beaches and bikinis” portrayal of women we often see in mass-produced beer advertising.
But while everyone is focused on the end, where she takes her bra off as a relaxing (and non-sexual) gesture, I noticed two things earlier in the advertisement that are also strong signals to women:
:06 mark: As she takes off her shoes, we see a bandaid. If you’re not familiar with the “heel bandaid” they are worn because the backs of some shoes rub on your actual heel and it causes pain and blisters. It’s very common with high heels and thus something many women can relate to. Side note: If you can relate to this, heel grips are a beautiful thing.
:03 mark: I could be wrong about this one since we don’t see a dog later in the ad, but the painting of the dog on the wall looks like it came from a “Paint Your Pet party” to me. These parties are where people bring their own food and drinks and take a class where they learn to paint. They tend to be especially popular with women.
And there are a couple of subtleties when she opens the fridge (:10 mark) that are worth noting:
There is a bottle of white wine that she reaches past to get to the Coors Light beer, subtly offering a contrast to the traditional expectations that women reach for wine to relax.
The fridge has fruit juice, salads, some sort of takeout, and an apple in it. While I’d argue fruit juice isn’t healthy, the foods we associate with health around the Coors Light cans in the fridge gives the beer an association effect of healthiness.
While I recognize there have been some criticisms of the ad, I think it’s a well thought out, well-executed advertisement by Coors Light and Leo Burnett.
During a recent online discussion, a colleague posed a question about the Persuasion Principle of Liking (Robert Cialdini). Most of the examples in literature are at an individual scale, meant for 1:1 interaction. He was interested in how this does or could scale.
For my contribution to the discussion, I decided to focus on politicians, celebrities, and brands and how they utilize the Principle of Liking to encourage the general public or their target markets to “like” them at scale.
The first example of this that came to mind is how people will say “They talk like me,” or “They tell it like it is,” (which, in my opinion, actually means “this person has the same opinions as me”) about why they like particular politicians. If you’re curious about this and don’t mind a very dense read, I recommend The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, as he breaks down the moral structures and topics (which then you could deuce wording and phrases) that appeal to different subsets of the public.
Another way I think brands, celebrities, and politicians foster similarity this is through origin stories. A brand for a protein bar will tell you the story of how it all started with an avid fitness person in their kitchen who wanted a better option than the ones currently on the market. Or a politician or celebrity will tell the story of their humble beginnings. An underrated example of this, in my opinion, is Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny from the Block” song, which highlights her “regular” upbringing.
Brands also highlight similarity by featuring people who look like you in ads. When I was looking for a new car a few years ago, I was shocked that I subconsciously added the Cadillac brand to my online search, as I’ve always associated Cadillac with “my grandmother drove one of those.” But when I thought about it, I’d seen several Cadillac ads recently where they showed women who looked like me owning and driving them. While I’m yet to find proof, I’m also convinced Cadillac may have had a marketing agreement with Carrie Underwood to create her song “Two Black Cadillacs” to market to younger women.
Politicians and performers on stage tend to give these compliments outright. I’ve come to dread the part of concerts where they shout “We love you New Orleans!” because I’m sure they say that in every city. And I wonder if it’s written somewhere where they can see it so they don’t say the wrong name, but I digress….
Politicians tend to say things like “Detroit, you are amazing. You’ve had a tough few years, but you are coming back because you all are incredible.” Arguably, the more the politician or celebrity genuinely believes this, the more genuine it’ll come across.
I joke that you could channel-surf on TV by which commercials are on (Subway ads = Simpsons, Family Guy, or American Dad mostly). I think that’s especially true on Sunday mornings during the intellectual news and financial market commentary. The ads during these times are highly environmental and cooperative-focused. They tend to have a theme around, “We’re working with you to protect and sustain our environment” and are run by oil companies and the like.
While I could also argue it’s reciprocity, Chick-Fil-a’s marketing strategy of sponsoring a tremendous amount of community events, in my opinion, is a great example of, “We’re a part of this community cooperating with you to make it a better place” cooperation.
With scale, you cross an ethical line if you lead the person to believe there is a direct or personal connection when there isn’t. I get emails that have my name in the subject area and are addressed to me, but I realize that it’s a form letter. But if they sent an automated email that made me think a particular person (such as a politician or celebrity) themselves wrote to me when they didn’t and/or made me think the message was sent to just me when it wasn’t, I think that’s unethical. And, it risks ruining the relationship of the person discovers it.
Reading a book at my husband’s hunting camp, my phone dings with a new text message. Not surprising right now, we live in New Orleans and a lot of very caring people are checking on us to make sure we left due to Hurrican Barry.
“Oh, wow. That’s amazing,” I say and show my husband the text.
This message is also timely. Just the day before, we were researching libraries and other places nearby that had wifi access and then wondering if we’d be able to get to those places if need be. It’s a small worry, but small worries can add up.
So, Verizon Wireless, thank you. As my husband commented, you just earned even more brand loyalty from us.
Obviously I had way too much fun analyzing their sales pitch. Let’s break down what they did.
What we thought was going to be a simple task of having a contractor come over to our house and provide us with a quote for remodeling our bathroom turned into a two-hour high-pressure sales pitch from two salespeople, including a slide deck, videos, and a lot of sales tactics.
After they left, my husband started laughing and said, “I want to see your notebook.” “Why?,” I asked. “Because I saw your face crack into a smile and furious writing, and I know you.” Dang, I guess I’m not as sneaky as I thought.
So, without further adieu, here’s my notebook:
Obviously I had way too much fun analyzing their sales pitch. Let’s break down what they did.
Not listed on my notes, but one of the salespeople had a printed-out sales prompt form. It was multiple sheets, where he filled in our responses to questions like “What’s important to you in a company you work with?” At one point, he set it down next to me, and I was a little too obvious in looking at it, so he picked it up and moved it. Bummer.
Near the beginning and right before they gave us the quote for our bathroom at the end, they showed us the “national average” price for a bathroom remodel.
This is a technique called price anchoring, where consumers tend to over-rely on the first price they hear or see. In most cases, this is used to make someone think they are getting an amazing deal. A good example of this is furniture stores, where they show the “list price” and then a much lower price they are asking, which makes the price they are asking seem like a great deal.
In this case though, price anchoring was a fail because their quote for us came in up to 2-3% higher than the national average. I can’t think of any reason they’d do this intentionally, so I’m pretty sure this was a mistake.
The sales presentation began with the question, “What’s important to you in a company you work with?”. This is called priming, getting the customer to say who they are and/or what they value, then showing them why they should buy from you related to who they said they are or what their values are.
My personal annoyance with priming is when a sales person doesn’t change their presentation to the priming points and instead just brings them back up at the end, which is what these two salespeople did (more on this later). To add insult to injury, they did their priming in the most obvious way, “Now let’s look back at what you said you valued” instead of being more subtle about it.
One of the salespeople also showed us a list of their awards they’ve received. This technique is most closely related to the association principle, where someone is attempting to associate their brand or themselves with something of higher value.
The majority of their awards were fluff, primarily a lot of “fastest growing company” awards which don’t really tell the consumer anything, but sound impressive. It’s easy to get “fastest growing” awards when you are just starting out. For example, if you go from one to four employees in a year, that’s a 300% increase.
The list also backfired with us because one of the awards was for being the top seller of a particular product for many years in a row. So we knew later on in the sales pitch they were going to push that product.
Small displays of trust
One technique commonly used by high-pressure sales people is for the salesperson to create a situation where you have to demonstrate a small amount of trust toward them. Why? Because this primes you to trust them in bigger ways later on.
I’ve read about the “Can I let myself back in?” tactic so many times and was actually quite excited to see it live because it’s always struck me as very over-the-top. Here’s how it works:
“Forgets” something in their car.
Tells the customer that they need to go get it from their car.
Asks the customer if they can let themselves back in. Bonus points if it requires the client having to give the salesperson the key to their home to let themselves back in.
Step 3 is where the customer shows trust, by agreeing to let the person let themselves back in.
To be fair, in this case, the guy came back with a large case of samples. If he’d brought this in from the start, that probably would have turned a lot of people off, so I could argue waiting was a good thing. But having seen his sales prompt sheet and the rest of their presentation, I’m convinced this was intentional.
Affirmation (good vs. bad guy)
At one point, I started to entertain myself by bringing up legitimate counterpoints to their sales pitch. And so did my husband. To counter us, the second salesperson said “Now Scott, I can see their point, if that’s not important to them and if that’s their goal…”
Oh that’s good.
The second salesperson was building trust by affirming us and making it seem like he’s on our side. He then argued for us to the first salesperson, but in a backhanded way. Non-academics and young people commonly refer to this as negging.
After price anchoring and showing us our quotes, they moved to three different payment plan options. During this part, they said something to the effect of “now most people go with this one,” which is a social norms argument. Essentially, social norms in this context means you’ll go along with what others are doing because you assume that the majority of people doing something means it’s the right approach.
While it may be true that most people do put home improvement projects on credit, the option “most people” choose is also the one that added 7% interest fees to the total for the project, so it was in their financial best interest to push this one.
Small yes to bigger yes
Similar to building trust and priming, a common high-pressure sales tactic is to get you to say yes to small things and thus walk you into saying yes to bigger things. One of the ways the salespeople did this was after presenting the payment options.
They asked us what we thought after presenting the price and payment options in a variety of ways. We gave very noncommittal answers each time, mostly “We’ll have to think about it.” So they moved to a small yes, by asking “…but if you had to move forward, which of these three payment options would you pick?” The goal was to get us to say which one of those we would pick (small yes) and then move to the final close.
But we didn’t. We just kept saying “We’ll have to think about it.” At this point, I think we genuinely threw them off their programming; they seemed to not know what to do. They ended up giving up and leaving. I “helped” them make this decision by standing up from the table as if to say “Ok, enough.”
They broke the golden rule…
If you’re trying to convince someone of something, start by knowing your target market. As you’ve probably guessed by now, a high-pressure sales tactic was the wrong approach to take with us. And it had the opposite of the intended effect; it made us not trust them.
This is the issue with such pre-prescribed sales pitches; it doesn’t allow the person presenting the material flexibility to tailor it to the target market. Had they taken time to get to know us better at the beginning and had they been able to modify their approach with us based on the cues we were giving, they may have been able to make the sale or at least be considered.
Salesperson to my husband: Don’t you want to be excited every time you walk into your bathroom?
The association principle can manifest as associating with a sports team, especially a sports team that’s well-liked or performing well.
A while ago, I was listening to a local radio station when a female caller asked a dating question. She’d been on a few dates with a guy and noticed that he is what is often referred to as a “super fan.” His apartment was covered in logos and memorabilia from a particular sports team. His clothing also was mostly for that team, down to the slippers he wore. And his vehicle was covered with stickers for the team.
Her problem? The rival team is her team. Her question was whether he’d continue to date her when he found out.
But I think her question should have been, “Why does this guy so heavily associate with the team?”
The association principle is when two or more things that are not related are somehow connected in our minds to create a relation between them. For example, in Ivan Pavlov’s famous study where he rang a bell and the fed dogs, the dogs eventually connected the bell to food and began salivating when he rang the bell, even in the absence of food. They’d associated these two things with one another food + bell.
Association Principle and Advertising
Advertisers absolutely love the association principle because they can associate their product or service to another positive product or service to drive sales.
Marlboro cigarettes + tough cowboy = Men who smoke Marlboro cigarettes are tough and rugged.
Corona + beaches = The drink you should drink at the beach or to feel like you’re at the beach is Corona.
Successful business person endorsement + book = Successful business people read this book. If you want to be successful, you should too.
Beautiful celebrity + skincare product = If you use this product, you’ll be like this celebrity.
National Basketball League (NBA) + Nike shoes = If you want to be in the NBA or play like NBA players, wear Nike shoes.
Yet another way of looking at the association principle is through the lens of social status and self-esteem. The belief is that if we surround ourselves with favorable people and things then that positivity will also be associated with us. One example is people with low self-esteem and low social status. In these cases, a person has a tendency to want to associate with someone or something of a higher or “winning” status.
And, as by now you’ve probably guessed, that can manifest as associating with a sports team, especially a sports team that’s well-liked or performing well. Think about some of the behaviors that sports fans exhibit:
Fans watching the game in a bar giving other fans “high-fives” when their football team scores a touchdown even though they didn’t physically complete the play themselves.
Someone becoming a “super fan” of a university football team even though they never attended that university.
University students saying “we won” when their university’s team wins and “they lost” when their university team loses. By doing so, they are associating themselves when the team does well by using “we” and distancing themselves when the team does poorly by using “they.” (Cialini et al. 1976)
A fan believing “their team” won’t win if the fan doesn’t wear a certain shirt or eat a certain food during the game.
While enjoying a sports game can be a fun hobby and someone with a favorite team doesn’t necessarily suffer from low self-esteem, it’s interesting to look at the most extreme examples of sports fandom and try to understand the potential motivation behind it.
They probably aren’t listening to the same radio/Internet stations as you. You may be on a particular social media platform regularly, but that doesn’t mean they are. You might get your news from a particular outlet, they may get it entirely differently.
When time and resource pressures creep into the promotional and advertising planning process, it can be easy to decide that you know the target market well enough to decide the best strategy to take. In most cases, this includes making assumptions that they are just like you. But they probably aren’t. Even if you fit into the definition of your target market, you behave differently because you have a vested interest and inside knowledge.
Similarly, many people complain to their marketers, that they “never see their marketing.” But they forget that they aren’t the target market, which means if they are seeing the ads, the ads are most likely in the wrong places.
Wouldn’t it be good management and marketing to frequent your competitor’s offerings to understand the market and the differences?
It was supposed to be a relaxing moment on the couch, with a hot cup of coffee and my local grocery store’s magazine, but it quickly turned into frustration.
As I read the owner’s (and marketer’s) write-ups about the freshest produce at their stores, the highest-quality ingredients stocked in their aisles, and their family atmosphere, which translates to amazing customer service, I thought, “Have they been to another grocery store lately?!?”
And then it struck me, they probably hadn’t.
The reality is, their produce is terrible and rots quickly. It’s also highly overpriced compared to the Trader Joe’s just across the street. And interactions with their staff have been memorably bad.
So how did this gap between marketing and reality happen?
Probably a mix of the following:
When they do go their own store, they are treated differently because employees know them.
They don’t frequent their competitors and incentivize/encourage their employees not to frequent their competitors.
And it makes sense, if this grocery store owner went to a competitor’s store, it’d probably turn into a local public relations nightmare for him and probably hurt his store’s brand.
But is that the way we should react? Wouldn’t it be good management and marketing to frequent your competitor’s offerings to understand the market and the differences? Shouldn’t we applaud employees like this American Airlines executive who flew United?
We can hire secret shoppers, but I would argue that employee everyday interactions with competitors is the key to small changes that could greatly impact your product or service.
If Hyatt hotel employees stayed in other hotels, they may realize how slow their elevators are compared to other hotel chains and investigate why.
If an oil company employee went to another gas station to fill her tires with air, she may realize how much safer she feels if the air pump is in front of the store vs. the side of the store and advocate for the change at her company.
If a restaurant employee went to a competitor, they may generate new ideas for the restaurant they work at, such as a new way of managing reservations.
And if my local grocery chain employees went to Trader Joe’s, they might realize the customer service difference between them and their competitor and work to try to fix it.
So my challenge for you this week is to deeply consider not only your own shopping patterns, but how you may be incentivizing or encouraging your employees’ shopping patterns when it comes to your product or service. Perhaps the best way you can help your own business is by frequenting a competitor.