Anyone who spends time on the Internet has seen these too-good-to-be-true ads: Get “this one weird trick” to reduce belly fat, cure diabetes or ADHD, or lower your utility bills with a secret tip “they” don’t want you to know about. Do these “one weird trick” tips really work or are they a scam?
Usually accompanied by a crude animation, the “One Weird Trick” ads are designed to pique your curiosity. What is the trick? Why is it weird? Can it really help you lose 15 pounds in 15 days or is it another suspicious product like Sensa or HCG Ultra?
As it turns out, almost everything in these ads is about psychological manipulation. The real trick here has nothing to do with belly fat, learning a new language instantly, or getting six-pack abs – it’s all about carefully targeted marketing of bogus products.
What Happens When You Click on Those Belly Fat Ads
When you click on one of those poorly-drawn “One Weird Trick” ads, you’re taken to a web page with an auto-play video with no pause or stop button. The narrator urges visitors to watch the video to the very end. Quite a commitment – depending on which of the original ads you clicked, the video can last between 15 or 30 minutes.
Why so long? Don’t the people trying to sell you diet pills and sketchy herbal remedies risk turning away potential customers with the sheer boredom of it all?
Slate interviewed Michael Norton, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, who explains this strange marketing tactic:
“Research on persuasion shows the more arguments you list in favor of something, regardless of the quality of those arguments, the more that people tend to believe it… it’s persuasive to know there are so many reasons to buy.” OK, but if more is better, then why only one trick? “People want a simple solution that has a ton of support.”
Not only that, but teasing the audience throughout the video, without revealing that one trick, is another psychological manipulation. People tend to assume something’s important if it’s a secret. Additionally, the sheer length of the video helps persuade consumers to buy the product — after sticking around for the entire 15 or 30 minutes, some may purchase the product just so that they don’t feel like they wasted their time for nothing.
Being Sketchy is Part Of the Strategy
Okay, so the long, boring videos have a few marketing uses based in manipulative psychological techniques. But doesn’t the crude, downright unprofessional design of the ads undermine the product’s credibility? Nope. Oleg Urminsky of the Booth School claims the low quality of the ads reinforces the maverick, anti-establishment view the people behind the ads are trying to embody.
The folks behind the ads are a group called Barton Publishing, and their site peddles all sorts of “weird” cures. They’re not even terribly concerned people will get bored or doubtful of the videos and close the window without buying the product. As Slate discussed:
“Long videos can act as a sorting mechanism, a way to ‘qualify your prospects.’ Once you’ve established this is a person who’ll sit through anything, you can contact them by email later and sell them other products.”
“Those Nigerian prince scams are not very convincing … but they’re meant not to be. If you’re a skeptical person, the scammers want to spend as little time with you as possible.”
So, what’s at the end of it all? Well, the weird trick that’s supposed to cut down belly fat is an extract of garcinia cambogia and acai, the weight loss benefits of which are totally bogus. It’s the good ol’ fashioned “too good to be true” scam.
Clever Marketing isn’t Just for Crooks
But misleading advertisements aren’t new, of course. Think of any local news promo: “Is your child’s school lunch tainted with rocket fuel? Find out at 11.” The “one weird trick” ads are simply using the same attention-grabbing techniques employed by the more mainstream media and marketing, they’ve just added an Internet spin.
So have you ever ordered a product from a sketchy Internet ad? What was your experience like? Tell us about it in the comments below. Or if you’d like to leave a complaint on Scambook, click here.