Unethical persuasion in B2B content marketing: a call to all ‘compliance practitioners’

Persuasion victim after viewing the cover of ‘Influence’

I finally got around to reading, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. It’s a summary of the secret techniques used by what he calls ‘exploiters of the weapons of automatic influence’ (‘marketers’ to you and me).

Cialdini Ph.D. highlights six of the most powerful techniques that, when invoked, apparently turn us all into defenseless zombies:

Reciprocation – give someone a tiny gift and they’ll be forced to buy your used Porsche with the faulty transmission

Commitment & Consistency – get someone to make even a tiny commitment and they’re yours for life

Social Proof – show them a crowd of people buying your stuff and they’ll turn into lemmings with blank checks stuck to their foreheads

Liking – be nice and they’ll roll on to their backs and do that shakey-leggy thing

Authority – wear a white lab coat and they’ll do whatever you tell them to do

Scarcity – tell them there was a couple from Kansas City in this morning looking at the same fridge and they’ll grab you by the legs and weep until you agree to let them buy it

These techniques are so powerful, they actually turn us into response machines (‘click, whirr’ is the sound Cialdini Ph.D. uses to describe the process).

Cialdini Ph.D. then ends with an impassioned plea for all of us to stand up and join his ‘war against the exploiters’ and collectively reject the ‘tricks of the profiteer’.

All good stuff, really.

But it’s all completely betrayed by the book’s cover, which uses as many of the insidious compliance scams it can cram in:

It shouts, “National Bestseller” (Social Proof) – and calls itself a ‘highly acclaimed book’ (click, whirrr.)

It uses expert endorsements (Authority) – “For marketers it is among the most important books written in the last ten years,.”says the apparently prestigious Journal of Marketing Research (who?).  This one quote turns the entire book from a defense against the dark arts to what it really is: a user’s manual for Satan’s spawn (you and me).

It flaunts Cialdini’s Ph.D. title (authority again) – and the Cialdini Ph.D. bio on the back quotes all his credentials

It uses a cover designed to be attractive (Likeability) and promises to care about us – helpfully showing how to ‘become a skilled persuader” and in the same sentence, “how to defend against them’.

I liked the book. It’s a good summary of the research on influence and persuasion. But I do find it hilarious that Cialdini Ph.D is happy to deploy all the tricks in the dirty book (his own) when he’s got something to sell.

I’m just surprised the cover didn’t say “Only ten copies left and there’s a group of marketers that were looking at them this morning!” or “Free flower inside – no really, it’s yours to keep!”.


zombie photo: creative commons, by Sheba_Also


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