In an over branded world where just about every product is screaming for attention, marketers continually seek ways to engage consumers. From branded content to in-your-face advertising, the aim has always been to make the product seem desirable and in high-demand. So why is Miracle Whip airing commercials with celebrities openly bashing their product? Why has a book burning party been suggested in place of saving a local library? These marketers haven’t lost their minds; they’re simply tapping into a new part of ours.
Reverse psychology, we’ve all heard of it. Formerly a way to get your husband to attend the Chicago Ballet or to get your two-year old to eat her vegetables, now a marketing gold mine. In a world where we’re constantly pushed to “buy this”, “eat here”, “do that”, it’s refreshing to hear the exact opposite. We all love to embrace the bad-assery of not following the rules, so when a marketer encourages consumers to “please don’t buy this”, you bet we’re going to—after all, aren’t you reading this article after I told you not to? A couple brands have fully embraced this approach and have really gotten people’s attention with their outlandish campaigns, and in the end accomplished what they set out to do, get people talking.
Dr. Pepper’s “Not for Women” campaign blatantly discourages women from drinking this diet soda, even though the diet soda market is saturated with calorie-watching ladies. Watching these ads, it seems that Dr. Pepper is attempting to jumpstart the men’s diet soda market that has been largely absent. However, in doing so, the brand may have actually sold directly to women using reverse psychology. Women hate to hear that only men are able to do something, whether it’s politics or a ten-calorie refreshment, the principle remains. So when women hear that this drink is definitely not for them, of course they will drink it (and blog about their triumph in the face of Dr. Pepper’s sexism).
In a not-so-obvious ruse, Leo Burnett helped save the Troy Public Library, with, you guessed it, reverse psychology. The clever campaign distributed lawn signs that read “Vote to close Troy library: Book burning party August 5th”. A related Facebook page was designed with book burning party details—I’m assuming it was BYOB (bring your own book). The residents of Troy, Michigan became so disgusted with these seemingly devilish book burners that they used Facebook to rally the community to vote “yes” for the modest tax increase.
Patagonia’s Cyber Monday crusade used a more subtle approach to building brand affinity. The message was clear “Don’t buy this jacket”, but its effect was more complex. The brand explained, “Patagonia wants to be in business for a good long time – and leave a world inhabitable for our kids – we want to do the opposite of every other business today. We ask you to buy less and to reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else”. Asking consumers to reflect on the culture of spending and refrain from purchasing on Cyber Monday seems like it would be a lethal blow to Patagonia’s profit on such an important shopping day, but it accomplishes something more important, building the sentiment that Patagonia really cares about our world. With this message in mind, people will prefer Patagonia over their competitors when it comes time to purchase that new winter fleece.
Reverse psychology is catching on and making a splash in markets saturated with pro-product content. But even with this backwards approach seeing great success, I’ll be the first to admit, I still won’t try Miracle Whip.
Photo credit: Psychology Pictures