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AMiable Solution #361: The Power of No

Sometimes telling prospects what they can’t have—or creating an argument against your product—is more effective than a straight-up marketing pitch.

American Express found this out when it mailed a letter that started, “Quite frankly, the American Express® Card is not for everyone. And not everyone who applies for Cardmembership is approved.”

Kind of makes you want to prove you’re among the “qualified,” doesn’t it?

If you said, “yes,” you’re not alone.

For more than a decade, this approach, this letter, helped American Express generate more than a billion dollars in revenue.

Why? That’s the power of saying “no” in marketing. That’s the power of reverse psychology, of getting someone to do what you want them to do by arguing in favor of the opposite behavior.

Why would any marketer want to try this strategy when most of our marketing pumps up our products and services and—directly or indirectly—puts our competition down?

Because pointing out the flaws helps highlight the benefits.

Because admitting shortcomings creates curiosity.

Because rejecting the “one size fits all” approach, which American Express did, creates an illusion of exclusivity. It creates desire.

Chloe Della Costa, a contributing writer for iMedia Connection, says reverse psychology “is not a technique that can be drawn upon frequently and still remain effective, as it will quickly lose its magic.” Once in a while, however, “there are special moments when an ad's message of forbiddance succeeds in not only coyly tricking a consumer, but doing so in a way that isn't off-putting, but even a source of amusement for the consumer.”

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