Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 23: Why Sex Sells – Romance, Scarcity and Persuasion

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 23, 2009

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Influence guru Robert Cialdini and several fellow researchers this month published an article on “Evolution, Emotion and Persuasion” (Journal of Marketing Research) in which they discussed the interplay of evolutionary shaping, fear & romantic arousal and the widely used persuasion heuristic scarcity. Here, very briefly, is what their discussion led to:

  • FEAR – Fear contexts and fear-heavy content can cause normally persuasive scarcity appeals to backfire
  • ROMANCE – Romantic contexts and romance-heavy content can cause scarcity appeals to more effectively persuade

Why does fear cause scarcity appeals to backfire? Because, from an evolutionary perspective, people facing fear have survived by sticking together — not by being conspicuously visible, off doing their own thing and seeking out limited editions. 

And what of the power of romance in increasing the effectiveness of scarcity appeals? Simply, mate attraction equals reproduction, which is a very basic human need — and we become more attractive when we are differentiated from the larger group. That is, it’s good to own a limited edition as that scarce item is one more thing that separates you from the crowd and makes you more attractive to a potential mate.

Moving from Cavemen to Conversions

What can we as online marketers do with Cialdini’s insights into the popular persuasion heuristic that is scarcity? Let’s consider visual design. First, an example of a site that creates fear context — and the banner ads that attempt to persuade users in those spaces. 

Picture 10

According to Cialdini’s research, ComCast may not achieve the results they might otherwise have simply by virtue of the fear arousal that users felt prior to clicking the banner ad and landing on ComCast’s offer page / lead gen form. That’s because scarcity appeals and fear do not mix well. 

Fear’s not very fun… but romance is! So let’s go there next. Remember, romantic arousal — including photos of attractive people or even stories about romantic desire — can cause a person to think less about their decisions and be more readily persuaded by the widely used persuasion technique that is scarcity. 

Picture 16

Picture 27

Missed Opportunities? Swimsuit, Lingerie and Other Women’s Apparel Sites

Given that attractive members of the opposite sex have been shown to make scarcity messages more persuasive, it’s surprising that sites targeted to women shoppers are so filled with photos of women. …And beautiful (which is not necessarily likeable) women at that! From a persuasion perspective, it seems safer to assume that women shoppers would be more effectively influenced with images of men-and-women…. So why do sites for women — like JuicyCouture.com & BlueFly.com (a scarcity-heavy site) — feature images of women only? Simply because women wear the clothes? Really? 

And why does VictoriasSecret.com not have a single man on their entire website? Is it because, after all, the site really is for men? Surprising. 

~joanna

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2 Responses

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  1. Nice blog – I came here from GetElastic…

    I would be split testing the photo in the Gilt Groupe example.

    It looks like they’ve had a row – or he is about to kill her. It just looks a bit weird. I would test it against some other photos where they are both doing something nicer. Maybe even just walking together in the park.

  2. persuasiveweb said, on June 25, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Thanks for commenting, John —- and for checking out our blog! Don’t you love Get Elastic? (And hopefully Persuasive Web! 🙂 )

    For the image you mentioned, it’s so interesting that you saw an argument happening… and I saw ‘good’ tension. That insight highlights the absolute need to test images and the ‘soft’ stuff that’s oh-so-subjective. Thank goodness for testing tools, like Optimizer and Test&Target!

    Hope you keep reading — and please share your blog with us, if you have one.


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