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When it comes to spending, we all like to think that we are in control.
We like to think that we make rational decisions based on what is best for us and our financial situation.
The truth is, advertisers know exactly how to get us to spend more than we intended.
In this post, I share some of the biggest tricks advertisers use to get you to spend more money.
By understanding these tactics, you can be better prepared to resist them and keep your hard earned dollars in your wallet.
Table of Contents
21 Tricks Advertisers Use To Get You To Spend Money
Using Our Emotions Against Us
Do you ever wonder why you regret purchases?
It’s because our emotions make up 80% of your decision making while logic only accounts for 20%.
Advertising takes advantage of this by making us react emotionally, so we make the purchase.
Fast forward to a few days later when our logic is able to process everything and we regret the purchase.
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Aside from learning to be more patient when buying, it’s important to know the tricks advertisers use to make us buy things.
Here are the biggest ones to be aware of.
#1. Credit Card Rewards
The credit card industry lives off of the interest it charges consumers for not paying their balance in full.
But as people get smarter with their credit cards and only charge what they can afford to pay off in full each month, the credit card industry has to come up with new ways to earn interest.
What is this new way?
Enter credit card rewards and cash back.
That right, you earn rewards for spending more.
Credit card rewards are a huge business today.
According to one source, total credit cards rewards earned topped $12.6 billion in 2017.
Many wise consumers take advantage of credit card rewards and earn free products and free trips for using their credit card.
But, many more people fall victim to the rewards game.
They spend more just to earn more points.
Then they don’t pay off their balance in full each month, triggering interest payments and negating any rewards that are earned.
In fact, last year, the credit card companies earned $176 billion in interest charges.
The crazy thing about the rewards people earn is that 1 rewards point is equal to $0.01, but you have to spend $1 in order to get 1 point.
To top all of this off is the complexity of many of the rewards programs.
There are all kinds of hoops to jump through in order to redeem many of the rewards and in some cases, the rewards expire after a period of time.
If you are disciplined with your money and spending habits, credit card rewards can be a benefit for you.
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But if you are more carefree, then avoiding credit cards might make the most sense for you since any benefit you get, you lose through the payment of interest.
#2. Buy More, Save More
I personally love this one. It is pure genius.
I haven’t met anyone that has not fallen victim to it.
I’ve fallen for it many times and I admit there are times I still fall for it.
The trick advertisers use here is this.
Let’s say a sweater is selling for $50.
But if you buy one, you get the second sweater for half price.
That is a sweet deal! Only $25 for a sweater.
This is only a good deal if you are shopping for multiple sweaters.
If you aren’t, you are spending more money.
Sure the second sweater is only $25, but that is $25 more than you were going to spend in the first place.
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This isn’t limited to clothing either.
It happens in the grocery store all of the time.
#3. 10 For $10
Speaking of the grocery store, they have their own way to get you to spend more, the 10 for $10 sale.
Here, an item will be on sale for $1.
To get you to spend more, they advertise this sale as a 10 for $10.
It makes you think you need to buy 10 to get the deal when you don’t.
In some circumstances, you do need to buy 10 items to get the discount, but most cases you don’t.
You have to read the fine print to see if you have to buy 10 get item of $1 apiece or if you can simply buy one at the discounted price.
#4. Fake Sales
I’ve seen this more and more recently.
In the store circular I receive, they will list an item with a bolded price next to it.
Many consumers think this means the item is on sale.
In reality, it most likely isn’t on sale.
We just assume it is since it is listed in the sales flyer.
The only way to catch wind of this trick is to pay attention to what items sell for at regular price.
It might seem difficult to do, but over time, you will learn the regular prices of items and will be able to spot when something is on sale or not.
#5. Buying The Idea, Not The Product
If you take notice to the signs and banners of many of the products for sale, you will see that the person is attractive, fit and you would associate them with having a great, full life.
This is done for a reason.
Advertisers want you to buy the idea of a perfect life instead of the product.
Once they get us to buy into this perfect life, they have us a customer.
We aspire to have a great life and think that using a certain product will help us reach that goal.
In order to overcome this, you have to really be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you are buying the product or the image of how you think life will be with the product.
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I’ll admit, this is hard to do as marketers have gotten really good at hiding this fact and you buy into the product itself.
#6. Longer Hours
Notice how around the holidays, retailers have much longer hours?
They know that during this time of year, people are motivated to shop and spend money, so the stores stay open longer, trying to take advantage of this.
And it obviously works, otherwise stores wouldn’t keep doing it.
Take Sam’s Club hours as an example.
While they are closed on Christmas day, they are open a lot longer around the holidays.
And their curbside pickup times are usually the same as their store opening hours.
#7. Using Facebook
Being tracked by Facebook isn’t new to most people.
What was surprising was how they were tracking you across all the websites you visit.
This is why when you are searching for a new dog bed, ads for dog beds start appearing on your newsfeed.
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This form of direct advertising works very well, which is why so many companies advertise on Facebook.
Many advertisers love to use the idea of scarcity to convince you to buy.
You will see this on infomercials where if you call now, you get 2 of the items and free shipping.
In reality, you can call today or next month and still get the same deal.
Online many websites use countdown timers.
They say the discounted price on a particular product is only good for the next 5 minutes.
After that, it goes back to full price.
The reality is you can refresh your page and the timer will start all over again.
Since some people have caught on to this, websites store cookies and if you come back after 5 minutes, the item is full price.
But if you clear your browser history of website data, you will get the reduced price again.
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#9. Use Of Charm Pricing
Also called psychological pricing, this has brands price items with an odd number at the end.
For example, selling something for $4.99 looks like a much better deal than $5.00.
Even though you can see the difference is only one cent, in our minds, we react like it is a good deal.
This also the reason sale prices tend to end in a seven, like $4.97.
#10. Bigger Carts
Here is a great trick most people aren’t aware of.
And while this is used more by the stores than by advertisers, I decided to include it on the list.
Shopping carts are bigger now than ever.
This is because people don’t like having an empty cart.
So the bigger the cart, the more items they will try to fill it with.
#11. Free Samples
Another sneaky thing stores and advertisers use to make you spend is by offering you free samples.
By allowing you to taste an item, you are more likely to buy it.
That along with a person pushing the item makes it harder to say no.
Don’t think this works?
It’s why most stores offer free samples on the weekends, the busiest shopping days.
#12. Anchoring Prices
This is used to make an item look like it is on sale.
Many times a store will raise the price of an item a few days before it goes on sale.
The sale price though is actually the regular price, but it looks like a deal because you were anchored by the higher price.
Other times, they will make the price less than the old original price, but only by a little bit to make it look like a much bigger savings.
For example, at the grocery store, I saw muffins listed at $4.49.
A few days later, they were one sale for $2.99.
I thought this was a good deal and bought them.
But then I noticed afterwards they are always $2.99 and other stores in my area also sell them for $2.99.
#13. No Dollar Signs
Have you noticed that restaurants don’t use a dollar sign on their menus?
The price is always listed, but very rarely will the dollar sign be included.
The reason for this is simple.
By not seeing the dollar sign, most people don’t associate money to the item, making them more open to spending more.
#14. Use Of Cartoon Characters
This one applies mostly for kids.
Many of the products have a cartoon character on them to get the kids interested in the item.
Then they ask their parents to buy it.
Since many parents won’t say no, the item is purchased.
Along these same lines is the cereal aisle at the grocery story.
Next time pay attention to how the aisle is laid out.
You will quickly notice that all the kid’s cereal is on the middle shelf, at eye level for them.
This is done so the kids notice it and ask Mom or Dad to buy it.
#15. Use Of Authority
Watch television and you will see ads that have a person in a lab coat talking about a product.
In some cases, they might even say something along the lines of “9 out of 10 doctors agree”.
In reality, you don’t know if the person is really a doctor or what the nine doctors are.
Are they medical doctors? Doctoral students?
But seeing an authority figure makes you think that the item works.
#16. Creating Fake Problems
Another classic advertisement will have the product solving issues or problems you never knew you had.
This includes teeth that are not sparkling white.
Being human, we naturally start thinking about this issue and if we really have it.
Because we focus on it, we believe we do and need the product to solve the problem that was never a problem before.
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
You think you are going to be part of an exclusive club by purchasing a certain brand name item.
It makes you feel special and as a result, you want to be brand loyal and buy more of their products.
#18. Use Of Tripwires
This method is used to build trust.
Usually an item is offered for a very low price, like less than $10 to get you to trust to seller.
Once you see the value in the item, you are more likely to buy higher ticket items from them.
This process turns a cold lead into a hot lead.
#19. Pretending To Be Your Friend
Advertising language has changed over the years and instead of hard selling you something, the pitch is more friendly.
You will see this a lot on social media, like Instagram.
The person will say things like “I love this product and you will too” and similar phrases.
It’s another way to build trust.
#20. Using Sex Appeal
The use of sex appeal is found on many ads for weight loss items.
You will see real life before and after pictures showing you how well the product works.
But if you look a little closer, you will see how the advertising is misleading
The before image is white washed, with the person not smiling and wearing clothes that cover more skin.
The after photo has the person smiling, with a spray tan, sucking in their stomach, and wearing clothes that cover less skin.
The real world data in fine print says that the weight loss numbers they show on screen are not typical, but the majority of people only focus on the image, not the fine print.
#21. Food Tricks
There are all sorts of tricks advertisers use to make food more tantalizing to you.
In fact, you might think that the images you see in print ad copy and on commercials simply use special lighting.
While lighting is important, it goes a lot deeper than this.
Did you know the following:
- Advertisers use shaving cream instead of whipped cream in ads for ice cream sundaes.
- Mashed potatoes are used in place of real ice cream.
- Most fruit is shined using deodorant spray or hair spray to make it look juicier.
- Red fruit has a darker, richer color thanks to red lipstick.
- Marketers use motor oil and not maple syrup on pancakes so it looks freshly poured.
- The ads for burgers show raw patties covered in shoe polish to make them look cooked to perfection.
- Coffee, beer, and milk ads use liquid soap to create foam.
- Ads with ice cubes use plastic cubes since they won’t melt.
- Cereal is poured into white glue and not milk so it doesn’t get soggy.
- Antacids are used to make soft drinks fizz.
- They heat up wet cotton balls to create steam for food.
- Paper towels are used to stuff chicken to make it look fatter.
The list goes on and on.
So the next time you see an ad for a tasty food item or treat, know that what you see is most likely not edible.
It is a method used by marketers to get you to buy the item.
At the end of the day, there are the most popular tricks advertisers use to get you to spend.
It’s important to know these tactics as it can help you to be a smarter shopper and hopefully not fall victim to overspending or ending up with buyer’s remorse.
Of course, the best defense you have is to never buy on impulse.
If you see something you like, wait to buy, as this will help you to make smarter spending decisions.
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I have over 15 years experience in the financial services industry and 20 years investing in the stock market. I have both my undergrad and graduate degrees in Finance, and am FINRA Series 65 licensed and have a Certificate in Financial Planning.
Visit my About Me page to learn more about me and why I am your trusted personal finance expert.
23 thoughts on “21 Tricks Advertisers Use To Get You To Spend Money”
I don’t fall for much now that I’ve taken some courses on it, but when I was a kid I fell for EVERYTHING.
The information and tactics you learn from a marketing class are probably very valuable.
I fell for the 10 for $10 thing a few times and then caught on. I’m still learning their tricks, but definitely looking out for them.
Same here. Aware of many and looking out for them. But, I’m human so I still fall victim now and then!
Good post Jon. We see this all the time with our marketing business and know full well that it happens. The biggest thing that most need to do is be informed – informed about their budget, their need, the product and why they do/don’t need it. In so many cases they’re not and it comes back to bite them.
Great information! Thanks for sharing that. I really try to stop before I buy things and think if I really need something or if I just want it. Doing so has helped me not buy many things.
Great post! I still struggle with using rewards effectively. For example, a store I shop at regularly offers “virtual dollars” that amount to $25 off $50 on a future purchase when you spend a certain amount. Since I’m a loyal customer, I often bite and spend more than I intended just to get the offer. Then, I feel compelled to shop with them again to get the full value of the deal — dumb! I shouldn’t let stores dictate when I shop. Working on that!
Excellent example! My mom shops at Kohls a lot and your comment lead me to think about their program which is similar to what you describe above.
Another trick of grocery stores is the “Everyday Low Price”. They advertise and highlight these items in the store as if they’re on sale, when in reality you’re paying the normal price for them.
Great point! I do see this one in the store all of the time. The signs they put up do catch your attention.
I use cash (got fed up with the banking costs in my country) and go to shop WHEN I NEED TO. I don’t care about the sales, unless they happen with the items I’m interested in, don’t care for rewards etc. Even if you get ‘deals’, if you didn’t really need said items, you have actually lost money.
That’s what so many fail to realize. They say that they got it on sale, but if they never needed it in the first place, then it was just a waste of money.
I always get caught out with the buying in bulk deals, even though I shouldn’t as I hate the way capitalism makes us greedy for more. Good post!
I definitely take advantage of credit card rewards but I don’t believe they make me spend more. I just put boring stuff on them – groceries, gas, etc. and pay it in full each month.
That’s a great strategy Holly!
Good article Jon! It’s true, they are crafty and there are many ways to end up spending far more than one should. I’m not easily swayed though, and I am taking for advantage of travel hacking credit cards. You can do really well through that if you are careful.
Very true. It doesn’t take much effort to play the travel hacking game. Other than get our honeymoon paid for with points/miles, I haven’t jumped too heavily into the game but have read many great stories.
Rewards can be really good, and it can make sense to choose credit cards based on rewards (and the absence of fees, of course). That being said, they should never influence your purchasing behavior. Some of us can do this, but it’s remarkable how many people can’t control themselves. Hard to imagine people looking at rewards as some kind of competitive arena, but some do. With me, I don’t alter my spending even 0.001% for rewards.
I agree. Many people get caught up in the “fuzzy math” of buying more just to accumulate the most points possible. The thinking should be that you are getting a reward for buying the things you need, not everything you want.
One of biggest things the advertisers that do that I can’t stand is the signs saying “75% off” Really, you marked it down that much…I must be getting a great deal. I’m pretty sure they marked up the prices first and then dropped 75% off the inflated price. But yes sometime when I see a big discount…I get lured in…
I worked in a retail store for about a year and learned that even on sale, very few items sell “at a loss” in most cases, it’s DVDs and CDs to get you to buy the DVD player and home theater system.
Awesome post Jon. I know many of these because I used to create many of the marketing plans for big retailers. They know how to suck you in and get you to spend.
Thanks Grayson! Even though you know them, do you still fall victim to them sometimes?
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