This Marketing Tactic Gets Me Every Time

I have studied marketing in some form or another for the last 15ish years, including pricing strategy… And yet this marketing tactic works on me EVERY SINGLE TIME. On one hand, it is infuriating. And on the other hand, at least I know it is happening, right? 24hr Members Only 2-for-1 Sales

I log into to use my monthly credit. Just as I’m about to look at my wish list or start browsing the latest bestsellers, a pop-up window tells me that over the next 24hrs I can choose two books for my one available credit and asks me if I’d like to look at the list of qualifying books. Well, it’s only for the next 24hrs, so it won’t hurt to look at the list, right? Maybe one of my wish list books will be on there.

80% of the time, I don’t recognize any of the books available through the deal. Usually I see a nonfiction book that is pretty close to a book on my wish list, close enough and with good enough reviews that I decide to try it. Then at least one of the other fiction books looks interesting enough to try. Because why not… it’s basically free and I can return it if I don’t like it.

And with that one pop-up, I have used my one monthly credit to try two books I’ve never heard of, rather than working my way through my enormously long wish list of books I am actually planning to read.

The first reason it works: Reactance theory

Reactance theory is a social psychological theory developed in the 1960s by Jack Breham (read the academic definition here). Reactance theory says that when an individual’s freedom to engage in a specific behavior is threatened, the threatened behavior becomes more attractive. Applied to shopping, it goes like this: We have the freedom to make a purchase whenever we want. However, a limited time offer says that we can only make a specific purchase within a specific window of time… limiting our freedom to purchase and making the purchase that much more attractive.

Sometimes limited time offers are applied just to a sale or a special deal. Other times – e.g. the McRib, the Shamrock Shake, and the Starbucks Pumpkin Latte – they apply to products that are only available seasonally. The reactance theory can also be applied to other situations, such as scheduling meetings with difficult to reach people. Simply saying that you are only in town for a few days (vs. “my schedule is wide open”) can, in theory, make the other person more likely to snag one of your open meeting slots.

The second reason it works: The power of FREE

The other reason the deal works is because it gives away a book for “free.” Who doesn’t love a freebie?

“…Even though “50% off!” and “Buy one, get one free” have the exact same outcome in terms of price paid, a BOGO promotion seems extra appealing. Interestingly, while most of the appeal probably comes from that magic F-word and the feeling we have somehow cheated the system to obtain value, an article in The Economist posits that many consumers are just really bad at interpreting the meaning of percentage-discounts but the meaning of ‘free’ is universal.” – The TipTap Lab Blog

What kinds of deals are you a sucker for?


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