Marketing: ‘Tricking’ People Into Buying Stuff?

Lately my wife and I are watching reruns of “Last Man Standing.”

Tim Allen plays Mike, a gruff marketing director for a retail chain called Outdoor Man.

In one episode Mike’s daughter confronts him about his job:

“You trick people into buying stuff!”

To which Mike replies, “We prefer to call it ‘marketing.'”

This pretty neatly sums up what most people think about marketing—and why they’re so suspicious of marketers.

Thing is, it ain’t that easy.

In fact, the more actual marketing you attempt, the more laughable this idea becomes.

Here’s a great example:

A few weeks back we launched this new course at Simple Programmer.

The product is about developing a deep understanding of the JavaScript programming language.

During the launch, I sent 2 emails to our email list that explicitly used the word “JavaScript” in the subject line.

Can we agree that if you open an email that says “JavaScript course for sale,” you probably have some interest in learning JavaScript?

And if you ignore it, then you’re probably not that interested in adding JavaScript to your skill set?

About a quarter of subscribers opened one or both of the JavaScript-themed emails.

And of the people who opened one or both of these emails, 5.3% decided to buy the course.

Not bad at all, especially considering the price was $199.


75% of the list did not open either of those emails.

In effect they said:

“JavaScript? Nah, brah.”

Now get this:

For the people who did NOT open the two JavaScript emails, only 0.017% bought the course.

If you opened one of those two emails, you were 300 TIMES more likely to buy the course.

That’s not 300% but 30,000%.

So I ask:

Did our marketing campaign for this product “trick” developers into buying a course about JavaScript that they had no prior interest in…

Or did we simply succeed in capturing and holding the attention of the developers who already had some interest in picking up JavaScript?

In the words of Eugene Schwartz:

“This is the copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire—but to channel and direct it. Actually, it would be impossible for any one advertiser to spend enough money to actually create this mass desire. He can only exploit it. And he dies when he tries to run against it.

“Let me repeat. This mass desire must already be there. It must already exist. You cannot create it. and you cannot fight it. But you can—and must—direct it, channel it. Focus it onto your particular product.”