“Don’t you dare click that link! Don’t do it! I warned you! You’ll be sorry!” Now admit it. You’re just dying to click that link, aren’t you? Welcome to the world of reverse psychology email marketing, the waaaaaaaaaay out of left field approach which caters to the human psychological quirk called reactance, which is when someone has a strongly negative emotional reaction to any persuasive mechanism and therefore selects the option which is being persuaded against!
Brussels sprouts are adult food
Wise parents have been applying the reactance principal with their kids since time immemorial. All they need to say is “I’m having brussels sprouts but they’re an adult food so you can’t have any,” and the kid will gobble up a veggie that they would ordinarily be feeding to the dog under the kitchen table. You can just see the cogs turning in the child’s head: “If I can’t have it I’m going to do anything I can to make sure I have it.” Most marketers would argue that if they can get that sort of determination into the heads of their consumers, it would be a massive home run for their brand, and they’d be right!
A secret brand can be irresistible
Reactance is applicable regardless of age, as some very savvy marketers have discovered. In a marketing world where everything is available all the time, the creation of a marketing campaign which is in essence an anti-campaign can have some spectacular results. The Japanese are masters of this ploy, creating what is known as “secret brands.” They strategically drop hints of a product through (mostly) shill social media accounts and wait for the seeds to germinate. However, this product has no web presence, no retail outlets, and effectively no readily accessible way to order it… and that’s the trick! Prospective purchasers have to run through a gauntlet of dead ends before they finally figure out how to get it, and by the time they’ve gone that far, they’ll pay just about any price, and tell all their friends where to get the elusive product!
Don’t buy my album!
Lady Gaga may be criticized for many reasons including her abhorrent fashion sense, but she was certainly at her best when she recently released a video begging fans to not buy her new album Artpop since she was “no longer relevant as an artist.” Of course, the album sold over 300,000 copies in its first two weeks of release. However, Gaga is hardly the first superstar to leverage reactance for her music, as the late great Freddie Mercury literally cajoled top London DJ Kenny Everett to not play “Bohemian Rhapsody” as at nearly 6 minutes in length it would cause his listeners to tune out.
Want your diploma on a PDF?
Whether you’re selling Queen music or Queen size clothing, the applications of reactance can work wonders for your email campaigns: “I can’t get you to buy this even though it’s going to be your favorite X;” “Your wife is going to go ballistic when she sees this X in your garage;” and “Sorry, we sent you this email by mistake.” Of course the best reverse psychology works on a subtle level, so don’t hit your email readers over the head with it as they’ll smell a rat and feel they’re being manipulated. In order to avoid this negative result you might want to go reverse on almost your entire email but go back to a strategy which offers a more or less conventional call to action. Domtar, which is one of the world’s leading paper manufacturers, created a video encouraging eco-conscious students to go paperless and then at the very end asked them if they’d like their diploma on a PDF.
You can learn the lesson from Brer Rabbit who escapes the clutches of Brer Fox by pleading with the predator to “please don’t fling me in that briar patch!” Of course the fox can’t resist and the rabbit gets away. If you want to appeal to your email customers’ irresistible urges then the reverse psychology phenomenon of reactance might just be your best marketing strategy!