Why you buy sh*t you don't need
(Or how to get people to buy good products)
We’ve all bought something we shouldn’t have.
Whether it was from an Instagram ad, a late-night infomercial, a knee-jerk purchase at a store (possibly due to some sales pressure), or a major purchase we’ve spent weeks thinking about.
We’ve all dropped our hard-earned cash on dumb sh*t.
Here I analyze 6 ways that companies get you to buy sh*t you don't need.
(Or... 6 ways you can get people to buy good products.)
Painkillers and Vitamins
First, let's go over the two fundamental types of products:
If you have a splitting headache, and you're in the desert, and someone has a painkiller—you'd be willing to pay an irrational amount for it.
And you won't need convincing. You'll understand the benefits immediately. Because you’re actively feeling the pain it relieves.
“Get rid of my f*cking headache.”
You'll buy a painkiller when the time comes.
And you’ll curse the fact that you didn’t have any on hand for this moment.
The important thing for Advil and Tylenol is making sure they're the brand you reach for at the drug store. They do that through branding and lots of ads.
And through clever positioning.
"Back painkillers” have the same ingredients as "headache painkillers," but if your back hurts, guess which one you’re reaching for.
On the other hand, you don't NEED a vitamin.
You also can't feel the benefits (if there are any).
Instead, people have been convinced of a narrative that taking a vitamin will make them live a longer and healthier life. It may be true, but it’s still a narrative that needed to be sold to them—and needs to keep being sold to them.
Most products are vitamins.
You don’t NEED them to solve a horrible and debilitating pain right this second.
These 6 tactics apply mostly to vitamins:
1. Time pressure
This is one of the most effective and easiest to use.
If someone feels rushed, they'll more easily part with their money.
There are plenty of products that people might need, but just not right now. Or they don’t need them, but they think they might.
Time pressure helps push them over the hump and buy.
This is why sales are for a "limited time only." This is why Ticketmaster adds a countdown clock and says how many other people are looking at the event.
You feel pressured into making the decision faster. And generally, a fast decision is in their favor, not yours.
2. FOMO or "Fear Of Missing Out"
Here they convince you to take action because doing so will cause you to miss something exciting or important.
Or at least they make it seem exciting or important.
"Be at the event, or you'll miss Bill Gates leaping over a chair. We won't be recording."
Who would want to miss that?
And yes, Bill Gates has actually jumped over a desk chair, and it was recorded:
3. Social proof
If you love and respect someone, and you found out they use a product you're considering, you're a lot more likely to buy it.
Especially if you see them say how much they love it.
This works whether they
Actually love the product.
Are friends of the owners.
Or they were paid for the endorsement.
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4. It’s been engineered to be a habit
In Nir Eyal's Hooked, he talks about how companies turn vitamins into painkillers by making their product a habit.
For example, nobody NEEDS to check TikTok or Instagram. But try taking a teenager's phone away for a weekend and see how they handle it.
Or remove a crypto trader’s ability to check the price of Bitcoin for a few hours.
They'll likely have a mental breakdown.
The companies have engineered their product to be the solution to a need. Often the need to relieve feelings of boredom or anxiety.
That’s how they turn a vitamin into a painkiller.
If you don't take your daily vitamin, you will die earlier.
Or at least that's what the vitamin industry is getting at.
Diamonds are not as rare as the price indicates. De Beers controlled the supply and pulled off the best marketing campaign in history.
"Diamonds are forever." Just like your marriage should be.
And the larger the diamond, the more you love them.
If the size and purity of your diamond are a reflection of the size and purity of your love, you better pay up, or you'll lose them forever.
This is how they created the convention of spending 2 months’ salary on your diamond ring that you can lose at any moment.
6. You’ve been sold a dream
A Rolex isn't 1,000x better at telling time than a Casio. But it costs that much more.
Rolex has positioned itself as the watch people wear when they've "made it." So when people earn a lot of money and want to signal it, they drop 5 figures on a Rolex.
Google "rolex famous people" and you'll see some of the top celebrities.
Well... top male celebrities.
Rolex has worked for decades to make sure the biggest (male) names are wearing Rolex to make people dream of one day owning one.
They want to make you feel like you can join an exclusive club with members like Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, James Bond, and Jay-Z.
It’s not just manipulations
Yes, these tactics are used every day to get people to buy sh*t they do not need at inflated prices.
But they also work to convince people to buy or use legitimately useful products at fair prices.
Products that are good for humanity also need marketing. Sometimes even more.
So use these tactics for good.
And try to resist when someone is using them on you.
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