Can A Confusing Sales Pitch Trick You Into Buying Something?

An article due out in the October issue of the Journal of Consumer Research studies a sales technique called “disrupt-then-reframe,” in which the sales person initially tries to confuse the potential customer, then restates the sales pitch in a more familiar way. By reframing the sales pitch in a more familiar way the consumers natural defenses are weakened and the consumer becomes more susceptible to the sales pitch. So, can you be confused into buying something? Yes. And it’s not even very difficult to do.

From the University of Chicago Journals Press Release:

Although encounters between commercial sales representatives and consumers are one of the more common types of interpersonal interactions found in everyday life, relatively little research has been conducted on interpersonal influence attempts applied to commercial settings,” write Frank R. Kardes (University of Cincinnati), Bob M. Fennis (University of Twente, the Netherlands), Edward R. Hirt, Zakary L. Tormala, and Brian Bullington (all of the University of Indiana).

Consumers in the study were confused with an unusual monetary request (e.g., 100 cents for a candy bar, 300 cents to join a student interest group, or 7500 cents for a tuition increase). However, the researchers found that a confusing sales pitch alone – such as one utilizing technical jargon, confusing terminology, or large and confusing product assortments – does not lead to greater consumer interest. Rather, it increases the “need for cognitive closure”; consumers will grasp for easy-to-process or unambiguous information that has direct and obvious implications for judgment and behavior.

Furthermore, the researchers found that this need for cognitive closure will cause particularly susceptible consumers to “freeze” their judgments, that is, hold them with a high degree of confidence and refrain from considering additional evidence that could potentially threaten closure.

Sneaky bastards.

Can consumers be confused into buying? Yes – and more easily than you think [University of Chicago Journals] (Thanks, Steve!)
(Photo:Jay Adan)


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  1. Yep says:

    This is the crap that got me married.

  2. It doesn’t surprise me that some people can’t convert cents to dollars.

  3. RumorsDaily says:

    Mmmm… candy bar.

  4. RumorsDaily says:

    Verizon wouldn’t be fooled by this. They know how many .002 cents there are in a dollar.

  5. Trae says:

    I used to actually do this totally accidentally when I worked in sales. My brain would initially start in jargon mode, spit out a whole bunch of technical stuff — and then I’d notice the blank look on people’s faces, find an easier way to explain it.

    Who knew that my geekish ways coupled with an actual ability to explain things once I thought about it was making me a better salesperson…

  6. scoopy says:

    @Trae: Wow, we’re all impressed. You’re so clever that you trick people without even knowing it.

  7. jaredgood1 says:

    And this is why I just pretend to be deaf around salesmen…

  8. Trai_Dep says:

    And this is why I shoplift.

  9. bbbici says:

    “By combining our unopposed military might with a state of patriotic fervor, we will be able to simultaneously secure and manage petroleum resources for our unabating consumption, bolster the national economy through defense-contract trickle-down, and re-elect this administration.”


    “Axis of evil. 9/11. Terrorism. Weapons of mass destruction.”

  10. Trae says:

    @eslaydog: I don’t know if it’s so much impressive as kind of sad that I never figured out I was doing it until now… and I haven’t been working a sales floor since 2003