Sneaky Marketing Tricks That Exploit Our Vulnerability: How to Protect Yourself

Frustrated at falling for sneaky marketing tricks
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

There’s no escaping it. Everywhere we turn, ads try to lure us, the target audience, in with their glossy promises. And sometimes, it feels like they’re playing dirty with the audience.

But what exactly ARE these sneaky marketing tricks? And more importantly, how can we protect ourselves from these brands?

Well, let me tell a story of mine. It all started when I saw an ad for new product brands online. I must say that I’m not one to be easily fooled. I like to think that I can see through marketing tricks and gimmicks. But I was wrong. I realized that I got exploited by the sneakiest marketing technique ever.

It was advertised as the revolutionary new way to keep your food fresh. And, of course, being the skeptic that I am, I decided to research the product before buying it. But what I found only made me more convinced that this product was worth trying. Apparently, it had been featured in magazines and online reviews by trusted sources. So, thinking that I had done my due diligence, I went ahead and made the purchase.

But it wasn’t until I got the product home and tried it for myself that I realized just how sneaky this marketing trick really was. You see, the thing is, the product didn’t work. Not even a little bit. In fact, it made my food go bad faster than if I had just left it out on the counter!

I was so angry that I had been duped like that. But, in retrospect, I should have seen it coming. After all, businesses employ a few underhanded marketing ploys to take advantage of our vulnerability and get us to buy their products.

Some of these sneaky marketing psychology tricks include:

  • Offering a money-back guarantee
  • Using social proof
  • Creating a sense of urgency
  • Making the product seem essential

It’s no secret that marketers use sneaky tactics to get us to purchase their products. In fact, they rely on these techniques to make a profit. However, many consumers are unaware of how marketers take advantage of our psychology. In this article, we will discuss some of the sneaky marketing and psychology tricks marketers use and how you can protect yourself from them!

1. The anchoring effect

The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that causes consumers to rely heavily on the first piece of information they receive as a point of reference. So, let’s say consumers first see a t-shirt that costs $200. Consumers will probably think that it’s expensive. If consumers see the same t-shirt for $400 and it has been marked down to $200, consumers will probably think it is cheap, but in reality, the shirt is nowhere close to that $400 value.

The anchoring effect is a sneaky marketing and psychology trick that companies use to make their products seem more affordable than they actually are. To avoid being fooled by a marketing technique, it is vital to be aware of it and do your research before purchasing. Don’t just take the first price you see as the gospel truth. Shop around and compare prices before making a decision.

And, if you’re ever unsure about whether or not a product is truly worth its price tag, consult with a friend or family member who is less likely to be influenced by the anchoring effect.

2. The Endowment Effect

The endowment effect sounds like something from the Lord of the Rings world, but it’s actually a genuine psychological phenomenon. You may not have heard of the endowment effect, but chances are you’ve experienced it.

Gollum my precious sneaky marketing tricks
Remember Gollum from the Lord of the Rings? – Image by Denys Korobov from Pixabay

My precious! Remember Gollum from the Lord of the Rings?

Yes, even Gollum was a victim of the Endowment Effect. As soon as the ring was his, it gave him the sense that it was worth more simply because he owned it. That is what the endowment effect is all about. It gives people this feeling of ownership towards material products. And the crazy thing is it can happen instantaneously from the moment you put an object in someone’s hand. That’s why when Bilbo Baggins took the ring away from Gollum. He became highly emotional. 

So how do marketers re-create the endowment effect in marketing campaigns?

In retail marketing, the endowment effect is something marketers rely on to get us to spend more money. This is one of the reasons why so many stores create and offer rewards cards and other customers incentives — they want you to feel emotionally attached to their store.

Think about the last time you tried on some clothes in a store. After a few minutes of trying on the same outfit repeatedly, you eventually decide that it isn’t for you and leave it hanging up in the change room. But later that night, you think about it again, wondering if perhaps you should have bought it after all?

Marketers re-create the endowment effect in retail marketing by making people feel emotionally attached to these items.

Crazy right?

3. Calculated Misery

Learning how Calculated Misery work is essential to your financial health. Calculated misery creates calculated discomfort that eventually drives you to purchase a new product or an upgrade.

Let’s say you’re buying a new sofa. You go to the store, pick out your favorite, and then the salesperson tells you that it comes in two different fabrics. The fabric you want will be $15 more expensive per square foot than the other. The salesperson will either tell you that they want you to have the material you like or let you know that they think the cheaper one will work just fine.

When a sales personnel tries this technique, it feels like a genuine gesture of goodwill for most people. It’s almost as if they’re saying: “You know what? I really want you to have what you want.” And that’s precisely how it should feel! This trick is designed for us to believe that this generous salesperson is giving us an upgrade.

But here’s what most likely happens next. The salesperson says, “You know what? Let me talk to my manager and see if we can work something out.” And then he goes over and talks in hushed tones with his manager — who is likely to be very close by — and then he comes back with some big news.

“I’m sorry,” he’ll say, “but I hate to be the bearer of bad news. My manager says that we can’t do the $15 per square foot price for you.” The salesperson will then offer you a discount on the sofa if you purchase it today. And because you’ve already invested so much time and effort into choosing this particular sofa, you’re likely to take them up on their offer on the more expensive option.

This is an example of calculated misery. By making you feel like you’re about to get the best deal and higher value, the salesperson is trying to get you to spend additional money than you would have if they’d just given you the original price.

It’s a sneaky psychology social proof trick, but it works!

4. Scarcity Effect

Have you ever wondered why things in limited amount or short supply are strangely appealing to you and me? Well, it turns out that we all want what we can’t have. It’s a pretty simple psychological marketing premise.

What did Kanye West do when he put Yeezy Boost 350 on sale in 2015 for his business?

He puts the scarcity principle to work with a limited release drop, and as a result, the sales at Adidas increased by 14%, and net income went up 10%, and in no small part, it is due to the Yeezy Boost partnership. 

There’s an argument that if Kanye West and Adidas just produced more shoes, it would spare potential customer frustration and make more money for the business.

Surprisingly, what happened at the end of 2018, Adidas started producing more Yeezy. However, the shoes would gradually lose their commodity, and they wouldn’t be as rare and as scarce. As a consumer, people wouldn’t care so much about it anymore because it is now common. Unfortunately, that’s the frustrating truth and speaks more of human nature than marketing for the business.

Make things more limited, and hype will build. Produce more sneakers, and it lessens.
Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, frequency illusion
Frequency Illusion marketing tricks

5. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, also known as the frequency illusion.

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is when you learn a new word or concept and suddenly see it everywhere. Let’s say, after hearing the show Money Heist from your friend. Suddenly, you began seeing and hearing about it around on Facebook (thanks to technological advancements in digital marketing), Instagram, website, at dinner with your parents, on your favorite radio station.

Disturbing, right?

It might feel like the whole world’s suddenly playing a prank on you, but it’s not. According to a Stanford linguistics professor, this phenomenon is caused by two processes. 

The first process is selective attention, and it kicks in when a new word or idea strikes you. After that, you unconsciously watch it, which explains why Money Heist caught your attention. The second process is confirmation bias, and it reassures you that each sighting is further proof of your impression that Money Heist has gained overnight popularity.

This phenomenon is precisely how marketers psychologically cultivate their product without you knowing through a marketing campaign. Once you start noticing a brand promoted by your favorite celebrity or friend, the informational social influence will make you believe it was the best.

So, how does this phenomenon relate to sales techniques?

Sales associates are trained to exploit your vulnerabilities through consumer behavior. For example, let’s say you’re in the market for a new mattress. You’ve narrowed down your choices to two options: Sealy or Serta. You’re unsure which one to pick, so you ask the salesman which one he would recommend. He says, “Oh, we sell four times more Serta than Sealy.”

You go home, do some research online and find out that the salesmen have been saying this to everyone who comes into the store for months — and it’s true. Serta really is more popular than Sealy. So, you make your decision: You’re going with Serta.

What I’m saying is that while no one’s forcing you to purchase stuff, marketers are pretty good at making the things they want you to buy look appealing — even if those things aren’t necessarily good for you as a consumer.


Sneaky marketing channels are all around us and often exploit our vulnerabilities. However, by being aware of these tricks, we can protect ourselves from falling for them. In addition, knowing how these tricks work can help us be more critical consumers, which is always a good thing.

So, the next time you’re feeling pressured to purchase something, take a step back and ask yourself if it’s worth your hard-earned money. And if you’re ever unsure, don’t be afraid to consult a friend or family member for their opinion. After all, two heads are better than one! Avoid falling for the marketing ploys and be a savvy shopper that knows how to look for information and clues in places most people never think of looking into.

In this article, we will not cover the other common marketing tricks: the decoy effect that can be commonly found on another site.

Want to read more articles like this? Here are 5 Important Life Lessons I Learned In My Late 20s.

What sneaky psychological principles-based marketing strategies have you fallen for? And how do you protect yourself from them in the future? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below! Also, let us know if you are interested in the decoy effect!