Consider the following scenarios:
Every day hundreds of people die due to a lack of treatment for preventable diseases.
Yesterday a woman by the name of Sarah Hart, a mother of three, was found dead outside her home after missing for twelve days.
Which one affected you more? The hundreds of dead, or wife and mother Sarah Hart?
Chances are you were much more affected by Sarah Hart than the untold hundreds. This is the identifiable victim effect, which is when we have a stronger emotional response to the traumas of a single identified person versus a group. But this isn’t limited to just traumatic experiences, it is also used when attempting to persuade someone to buy something, in that case it’s called testimonials.
Weight loss infomercials excel at this. It begins by presenting you with an ‘overweight’ everyday Joe or Jane and presenting a story that ties you emotionally to them. Once you have identified with the person they then show you what was achieved in thirty, or sixty days later. By changing things such as the music, lighting, angling of the camera, clothing, stance etc you are immediately filled with a sense of hope, excitement, pride, and within the next few seconds longing; as the narrator tells you, that you too can experience the remarkable transformation.
Identifiable victim effect is also one of the first forms of persuasion that we learn. Back when are children we quickly discover that by producing tears where there are none, or twisting our faces into the deepest frowns imaginable we can convince our parents to comply.
Another aspect to consider when persuading someone is source characteristics. Source characteristics are the attractiveness, perceived credibility, and expertise of the person delivering the message. This is when the halo effect can come into play and have a powerful role in determining whether we believe what is said.
In our infomercial example the source characteristics come from both the narrator and the participants. Comparing the before and after pictures highlights the gains in attractiveness, this is heightened by showing the extremes of each case.
In the before pictures the person will appear in a general state of unhappiness, darker lighting, loose baggy clothing, slouching, these factors combine to gear our thinking toward unattractive. In the after picture the participant appears well dressed, usually in something that highlights their weight loss, they are beaming, the lighting is significantly better, even the music is more upbeat. All of this combines to gear our thinking toward attractive.
Credibility comes from the pictures and short documentaries that accompany these programs. Expertise comes from the narrator that rattles off a number of endorsements and statics which help to create the general appearance of being knowledgeable about the topic.
Top this all off with the influence receiver characteristics have and you now have a powerful piece of persuasion. These infomercials tend to play late at night or early in the morning, automatically targeting a certain population, and given the time we are more likely to have negative thoughts toward ourselves and be in lower states of arousal which can slow down our ability to fully think. It is no wonder we are willing to commit to three easy payments of $____, thanks to an offer that only last if we call within the next ten minutes.
Implanting the desire to be like the participants, and imparting a sense of urgency through a time sensitive offer is an excellent way to put a stop to our ability to fully process and think about what we are being told. Making us much more likely to go with whatever urges or desires we are experiencing at the moment.
The ability to persuade is a powerful tool that can be used anywhere and at any time, by setting up the correct source characteristics, timing your pitch when the receiver is most susceptible, and supplying someone or thing for the receiver to identify with, it becomes surprisingly simple to persuade.
Being aware of the fundamental aspects of persuasion will help you to better detect when it is occurring to you, and may even keep you from completing that impulse buy at four in the morning.