Manipulative Email Marketing? You Decide

I received an email one Thursday a while back with “Monday’s ‘oops’” in the subject line. The opening of the email read as follows:


Dear Brian,
Monday we accidentally sent an email to you,
which was intended for our members.
Please accept my sincere apology for any
inconvenience this may have caused.
If you’d like to see the video referenced in the
please click here.
It’s actually a “commercial” of my daughter
telling the story of how she was struck in her car,
5 months pregnant, with her two-year-old son
in the back seat …

And how her insurance agent was there to
help her deal with the aftermath

I didn’t recall seeing any email from this company on Monday and wondered why the company would have sent emails like this to any non-members. I looked up the sender online and didn’t see that I was connected with him on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else. And by his own admission I wasn’t a member of his group.

Also, if it was indeed an accident then wouldn’t a short apology have been appropriate rather than a second attempt to get people to watch the commercial?

This smacks me as manipulation pure and simple. First, I think a simple apology would have been sufficient if it really was an accident. If it wasn’t an accident but rather a ploy to get people to watch the video then we can add dishonesty as one more reason to not watch.

The principle of scarcity tells us people want things more when they can’t have them or think they’re being taken away. When I share this principle with groups I like to cite a study that’s referred to in Influence Science and Practice. The study was conducted with law students at the University of Chicago where they acted as a mock jury for a test case. They were presented facts and asked to give a judgment for the defendant. In the control group the average award was $33,000. A second group was told the same fact and one more was added – the defendant had insurance. Knowing there was more ability to pay, the average award increased to $37,000. A third group was told about the insurance but then the judge said that was inadmissible and should be struck from the record. He instructed the jury to not consider the insurance when deciding on the award. For the third group the average award was $46,000, a 39% increase!

It might seem counterintuitive that mock jurors awarded the most when told not to consider the insurance but what we clearly see is the psychology of scarcity at work. As soon as we’re told we can’t have something we tend to want it even more. When they were told they should not consider the insurance they placed even greater weight on it.

And think about this; you can’t not think about something. In other words, if I tell you not to think about pink elephants you will think of a pink elephant, even if for just a moment. I can imagine jurors talking about the very thing they’re not supposed to consider which means somehow, some way, it will factor into the decision.

So back to the email I received. By telling people they received it by accident, that it was only supposed to go to members, the company was trying to invoke some scarcity. They were hoping people would think, “I wonder what members get to see that I don’t?” While most of you reading this might see right through the tactic I guarantee a large number of people who are unfamiliar with the influence process didn’t see it for what it was and out of sheer curiosity watched the video.

Not one to let things go I sent a short, simple reply to the sender, “If you were really sorry the apology line would have been enough rather than an attempt to get people to watch your video.” I never heard back from them.

Here’s my suggestion – when you sense people are using the psychology of persuasion in a manipulative way call them out on it. I could have gone on Twitter and done that in front of the world but I don’t think that’s right and that’s why I refrained from using the name of the person or the company. A private reply was enough and now I have more important things to move onto.

Brian, CMCT

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

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