Manipulation or Inspiration?

by Debbie L. Kasman in


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I had an interesting experience recently while at the pet store.    My mom hadn’t been feeling well so I took her dog for grooming.  After Bree was ready, I went to the check-out counter to pay.  I happened to glance down and notice that Bree had helped herself to a no doubt delicious rawhide that had been placed at the check-out counter right at her level along with many other very tasty doggy treats.  I thought it was cute that Bree had quietly and efficiently chosen her own treat.  I guess she figured she deserved it after the two hour grooming session she had endured!   

While driving home, it reminded me of the times I had taken my son to the grocery store when he was little.  He, like the other kids, always wanted to buy a treat from the intentionally placed candy at his “just right” level.   

I used to think this was a rather clever marketing technique.  But after reading a wonderful little book called Start With Why by Simon Sine, I realized it’s actually a manipulation technique.   

Sine wrote, “There are only two ways to influence human behavior:  you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”  Manipulations are the norm in the business world.  In fact, Sine says, they “run rampant in all forms of sales and marketing.”  Business manipulations include running a promotion, price dropping, putting candy (or rawhide) at the check-out counter eye level with your children (or your dog), and running ads with aspirational messages connected to the product companies want you to buy.  “Manipulative techniques have become such a mainstay in American business today,” Sine wrote, “that it has become virtually impossible for some to kick the habit…Business today has largely become a series of quick fixes added on one after another after another.  The short-term tactics have become so sophisticated that an entire economy has developed to service the manipulations, equipped with statistics and quasi-science.  Direct marketing companies, for example, offer calculations about which words will get the best results on each piece of direct mail they send out.”

Samsung, the electronics “giant” is an example of masterful manipulation.  Sine says that in the early 2000s, Samsung offered rebates up to $150 on different electronic products.  However, in the fine print, they stipulated that the rebate was limited to one per address.  This requirement sounds quite reasonable until you realize that all the people who live in apartment buildings share the same address!  Lured by rebates, more than 4,000 people bought Samsung products only to receive notices denying them the rebates.  When the practice was brought to the attention of the New York attorney general, Samsung was ordered to pay $200,000 in rebate claims to apartment dwellers.  Sine points out that this is an extreme case when a company got caught but the “rebate game” of cutting out UPC symbols, filling out forms and doing so before the company deadline continues to thrive.  He wonders how a company can claim to be customer-focused when they spend so much time measuring the number of customers who will fail to cash in their rebates on time. 

Manipulations are the norm in politics today too.  Political candidates use manipulations all the time to get themselves elected.  Sine says that police use manipulations too.  They use rewards created to give incentives to witnesses (who might also happen to be prisoners) so that these witnesses will come forward to provide tips or evidence that may lead to an arrest.

Sine says that using manipulations creates massive stress in the world.  For product buyers, it becomes increasingly difficult to know which product, service, brand or company is best.  In his book American Mania:  When More Is Not Enough, Peter Whybrow argues that we think we suffer today from the bad food we eat or the partially hydrogenated oils in our diet.  Rather, Whybrow says, it’s the way corporations use manipulation that has increased our stress levels to the point where “we literally make ourselves sick because of it.”  Americans and Canadians are suffering “ulcers, depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, and cancer at record levels.”  Whybrow says that the promises of more, more, more are “actually overloading the reward circuits of our brain.”  The manipulations that drive business in America and Canada today are actually damaging our health.

Manipulations are dangerous because they work.  But inspiring  human behaviour works too.      

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather go through life inspiring people rather than manipulating them.  I wish I could say the same about our corporations, our political parties, and the police. 

Debbie L. Kasman

Author Lotus of the Heart:  Reshaping the Human and Collective Soul

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