Purchase Motivation Primer – Guilt

Poor dog...

Courtesy of Gudlyf (flickr)

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that we’re not always proud of things we have done or said.

In most cases, we’re not being maliciously rude, neglectful, hurtful or dumb.

We’re just imperfect humans trying to do our best to get through this crazy life.  And every now and then, we screw up.

Of course, there’s also an upside to this fact.

Since everyone screws up now and then, it only stands to reason that everyone feels a little guilty now and then.

And as we all know from personal experience, guilt is a powerfully motivating emotion.

Cashing in on Guilt

If this concept turns you off, let me start by explaining something:

I’m certainly not talking about selling alcohol, gambling or illicit drugs to people trying to cope with guilty feelings.  That’s just plain wrong.

But I am talking about accepting the fact that some people spend money to help make up for mistakes they have made.

For example, florists and jewelry stores have been capitalizing on this trend for generations:

You’ve seen the ad or commercial a thousand times.  The dumb husband says something stupid or forgets his anniversary.  The wife is pissed.  The dumb husband makes everything right again by bringing home a dozen roses and a diamond tennis bracelet from Zales!

Some charities use a similar tactic:

Remember these classic commercials by Christian Children’s Fund?

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Not taking anything away from what was, and remains to be, a worthy cause.  But by interspersing pitiful images of hungry children with eye-opening statistics (“you can buy a cup of coffee, or buy Mary all the food she needs to survive…”) these campaigns were designed to make every privileged resident of the western world feel guilty about having so much available to them.

That guilt was uncomfortable.  So we dug into our pockets and helped out.

Guilt motivation at its most explicit.

But there are more subtle means of using this emotion that we can weave into our copy.

For example, here are a few possibilities:

  • Encourage an environmental conscience by offering “greener” options.  A good example is the e-mail signature you’ve seen recommending people don’t print an e-mail unnecessarily.  Many companies are now working toward differentiating themselves based on their ecological responsibility.  This doesn’t have to be obnoxious to be effective.
  • Tout the benefits of products or services that save the consumer time by explaining how a busy parent will have more time with their children, or spouses with each other.  I could easily imagine an iPad or a mobile phone app being sold by subtly explaining how it could save your marriage…
  • Sell the benefits of a particular weight loss program by discussing the current state of the obese person’s internal organs and the vast improvement those organs will experience if the individual loses weight.

These are just off the top of my head, but they get the point across:  Unfortunately, we’ve all got something to feel guilty about, and it’s an uncomfortable feeling that we’d all like to rid ourselves of.

So if you can position a product or service in such a way that the copy highlights that uncomfortable feeling, and then immediately offers a means of alleviating it, you’re definitely a step closer to closing the sale.

 

This is just one installment in a series called Purchase Motivators, brought to you proudly every other Sunday by Words That Begin With You!  If you’ve missed any of the other installments, check them out here!

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