“David P. Abbott was an Omaha magician who invented the basis of my ball trick back in 1907. He used to make a golden ball float around his parlor.
After the show, Abbott would absent-mindedly leave the ball on a bookshelf while he went to the kitchen for refreshments. Guests would sneak over, heft the ball and find it was much heavier than a thread could support. So they were mystified.
But the ball the audience had seen floating weighed only five ounces. The one on the bookshelf was a heavy duplicate, left out to entice the curious.
When a magician lets you notice something on your own, his lie becomes impenetrable.”
— Raymond Joseph Teller, Magician
In many ways, a magician's skill lies not just in the physical mechanics of a trick, but also in their ability to guide or manipulate an audience's perception.
David P. Abbott was a master of this kind of manipulation. By leaving the heavy duplicate of the floating ball out for the guests to discover on their own, he created a false explanation for the trick that they would accept because they felt they'd figured it out themselves.
It's a classic example of what magicians call a “convincer” — something that strengthens a false premise.
But the idea of a “convincer” is powerful and broadly applicable, not just to magic but to many aspects of life. We are often more prone to believe in something that we think we've figured out or discovered independently, rather than something we're simply told.
And I'd say nothing helps you more as a marketer than knowing how to apply this well.
You see, if David had voluntarily handed out the ball to the audience for inspection after the trick, the audience would've interpreted that as a part of his deception. But the fact that he didn't and casually left a heavy ball on the bookshelf, feigning absent-mindedness, he provided his audience the opportunity to feel that they had discovered an undisclosed piece of the puzzle themselves.
Likewise, when you as a marketer go on preaching the benefits of your product, the people are smart enough to realize that it's a marketing tactic. The legitimacy and veracity of your marketing goes down accordingly, when people see it as an outright ad.
- Personal care products sell themselves best when seen in bathrooms of rich, fair, and lovely people.
- Educational pedigrees and institutes sell themselves best on matrimony and dating websites.
- You sell yourself best in the dating market when you're already dating someone others would find highly desirable.
- Employees sell themselves best when their managers find other recruiters in the industry enquiring about them in order to poach them.
- Credit cards sell themselves when people who are considered financially sound in their groups are caught using them.
In fact, I have a hunch that music festivals and DJs have sold more Macbooks than Apple advertisements themselves. Likewise with action movies and SUVs.
All of this guerrilla marketing has some things in common:
- the one doing the convincing is not trying to convince you,
- doesn't have any shared upside from selling the product,
- is someone you can trust,
- and the whole discovery was something that you stumbled upon and wasn't shoved in your face via a known marketing channel
Using this knowledge, marketers these days can create product placements that do not look intentional but let the customer think that they organically found the product via their own search. They also fill social media with testimonials that do not look like conventional testimonials, but are smartly embedded within a joke or a meme.
And people tend to trust what they discovered for themselves, more than something that was suggested to them directly. The deception is even more potent if the product is seen as a secret competitive advantage someone is trying to hide from you.
The forbidden fruit is always more desired. And if you think you discovered it for yourself, you'll always value it more than what was handed to you on a platter.