Does It Come In Red?

This page is based on the work of a researcher who is vitally concerned with persuasion in real life.  His name is Robert Cialdini and his ideas are extremely interesting to  anyone else who uses influence for a living.

As Cialdini describes in his very readable book, he learned about real life persuasion by living with professionals.  He took part-time jobs with sales groups that pushed vacuum cleaners or aluminum siding or dance lessons.  He hung out with cops who worked the bunco squad.  He worked with fund-raising groups and advertisers.  And he did this as a trainee, not as a scientist, so that the people felt comfortable with him.

From his experiences, he derived six general Cues of influence.  These Cues appear to transcend occupation, region, personality, and education.  In other words, they work in many different situations.  These six Cues also share another important similarity:  They operate as mental short cuts.  That is, a person can use each rule with very little thought.  This is the Peripheral Route of the Low WATT processor.

This is a critical point about the Cues.  They work best when the receiver is not carefully, deeply, and systematically thinking.  The Cues apply only when the receiver is being the lazy thinker, the cognitive miser who uses mental shortcuts to save time and effort.  As soon as the receiver changes the mode of thinking from Low WATT to High WATT, the Cue evaporates.

For each, I will give you a one word label, then a statement of the Cue.  There will then be several examples which illustrate the Cue in action in everyday life.

By the way . . . can you figure out what CLARCCS is?

Comparison.  When Others Are Doing It, You Should, Too.

Few can resist this.

You are walking down the street and you notice ahead of you three or four people just standing there on the street looking straight up in the air.  As you move closer to them, what do you do?  You look straight up in the air.

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

No, it’s the Comparison Rule.  When others are doing it, you should, too.

When we are not thinking very carefully, we use the behavior of other people as a guide to what we should think or do.  We essentially compare our behavior against the standard of what everybody else is doing.  If there is a discrepancy between our actions and what we observe in others, we change.  Here are more examples of the Comparison Rule.

TV producers will add a laugh track to even the most witless situation comedy as a way of inducing our laughter.  And it works.  If there are two audiences watching the same comedy, but one comedy has a laugh track added to it and the other doesn’t, guess which audience will laugh more?  Right.  The one with the laugh track.

I suspect TV producers learned this trick from the theater.  In the past (and it may still go on today) theatrical producers hired professional audience members.  These highly skilled people would show up to a new play or musical or opera and provide the “proper” response at the right time.  They would start applauding when the star entered or begin crying when the heroine died or erupt into gales of laughter when the clowns walked on.  This would elicit the desired response from the audience who would automatically start clapping or sobbing or giggling on this cue.

And even religious groups are aware of and use the Comparison Rule.  There is a practice known as “salting the collection plate.”  Before the collection plates are handed out to the faithful, ushers will throw several different bills or checks onto the plate.  Thus, no one ever gets an empty plate.  This makes a considerable difference in contributions.  People are slow to fill up an empty collection plate and a little salt gets things going.  Also, the heavier the salt, the stronger the contribution.  That is, you get more contributions if you salt the plate with tens and twenties than if you salt it with ones and fives.

Liking.  When You Like the Source, Do What Is Requested.

Joe Gerard sells cars and trucks.  He sells a lot of them as a matter of fact.  Some consider him to be the Greatest Car Salesman in the World.  What is his secret?

Every month Joe Gerard sends a hand written card to every customer he has ever had and signs it, “I like you, Joe Gerard.”  That’s all.  “I like you, Joe Gerard.”

Now, he does send out a lot of cards every month (13,000 he estimates), but he swears by the tactic.  Is such a simple thing as, “I like you,” sufficient for influence?  Another example.

What happens at a Tupperware party?  A group of people who know each other come over to the house of a mutual friend.  Everybody eats a little.  Everybody chats a bit.  Everybody has a little fun.  Then the mutual friend steps up and introduces a new person.  And the new person breaks out the product, Tupperware.

Gee, isn’t that new person friendly?  Isn’t that Tupperware grand?  Everybody smiles, everybody laughs, everybody buys something.

Of course, Tupperware is not the only product sold in this way.  Mary Kay Cosmetics has pushed a lot of powder with these kind of parties.  The important point is this:  The basis of the sale is liking.  The receiver likes somebody involved in the transaction.  Maybe you like the sales person.  Maybe you like the friend throwing the party.  Exactly who you like is less relevant than the fact that you like somebody.  (I’ll also bet some Comparison is operating here, too.  You see other people buying things, so you buy too.)

Last example . . . physically attractive people are very influential in our society, but the primary reason appears to be that we like attractive people.  (If you do an experiment where you have one source who is attractive and likable, and another source who is attractive and dislikable, only the likable source will be influential.  So, it appears that attractiveness operates through liking.  Now, back to the example.)

A researcher trained courtroom employees to rate the attractiveness (and, indirectly, the likeability) of people accused of crimes as they came before a judge for the first time.  The people were accused of a wide variety of misdemeanor charges.  The meeting with the judge was to determine the amount of fines for the misdemeanors.  The courtroom employees were not involved in the arrest and were only escorting the person.

What happened?  Less attractive people received fines two to three times larger than more attractive people.  (Sometimes it is better to look good than to be good, right?)

Authority.  When the Source Is An Authority, You Can Believe It.

I am old enough to remember the TV series, “Marcus Welby, M.D.”  The actor, Robert Young, portrayed a friendly, wise, and incredibly available physician who never lost a patient except when it would increase the show’s Nielsen ratings.

Most interesting was the fact that Robert Young parlayed his fame as Dr. Marcus Welby into a very productive sideline.  He sold aspirin on TV ads.  And he sold aspirin, not as Robert Young, the actor, but as Dr. Marcus Welby.

There were enough lazy thinkers out there that they did not realize that the guy on the ad selling aspirin was merely an actor and not the real thing.  It didn’t matter.  Robert Young looked and acted like an authority.  And sales of his brand of aspirin increased.

Eventually the federal authorities got wise to this gimmick and cracked down on it.  It is now illegal to use an actor in this way.  So what have advertisers done?  Their response and its impact is so amazing to me that it stands as the best example of how lazy we can be.

Here’s the new trick.  The advertisers will still use a popular actor to sell their aspirin and stay legal with their ads.  Here’s what happens.  The famous TV doctor looks at the camera and says, “I’m no doctor, but I play one on TV and here’s the aspirin I recommend.”  And sales of that aspirin increase.

The Authority Rule is quite powerful and useful.  We will look at it again in this book in other chapters.

Reciprocity.  When Someone Gives You Something, You Should Give Something Back.

You’re walking down the street, minding your own business as a stranger approaches in your direction.  The stranger makes eye contact with you, then smiles.  If you are like most people, you will automatically and thoughtlessly respond with a smile of your own as you continue down the street.

The stranger give us something and we give back something in return.  A nice rule for meeting people, but what has it got to do with influence?

Ever get free gifts in the mail along with a request for a magazine subscription.  “Here, keep this valuable prize,” the letter goes, “as a token of our esteem.  And by the way, if you like magazines, how about this one!”  Time magazine used to send out a free pencil with their subscription offers.  The pencils were very small, very thin, and very red.  And you got to keep it even if you didn’t subscribe to the magazine, but what the heck, Time is a pretty good magazine . . . and before you know it, bang, you’ve got a year’s subscription.

The rule is very simple.  First, the source gives you something.  Once you accept it, you are now obligated to give something back.  Note that you are not given a reward, because rewards are given for something that you have already done or will do.  That first something given by the source is yours without you doing anything in the past or the future to earn it.

Reciprocity operates in many social relationships, especially with visits and dinners.  For example, a new couple moves into the neighborhood.  You invite them over for dinner.  Now, the new couple is obligated to give you a dinner in return even though you said nothing about it.  And if the new couple fails to reciprocate (they don’t invite you over) or fails to reciprocate in kind (you serve steak, they serve hot dogs), you are angry.  I know some people who will refuse that first invitation because they do not want to get trapped into the spiral of reciprocity.

Commitment/Consistency.  When You Take A Stand, You Should Be Consistent.

Earnest Salesperson:  “Excuse me, but do you think that a good education is important for your kids?”

You:  “Yes, of course.”

ES:  “And do you think that kids who do their homework will get better grades.”

You:  “Yes, I’m sure of that.”

ES:  “And reference books would help kids do better on their homework, don’t you think?”

You:  “I’d have to say yes to that.”

ES:  “Well, I sell reference books.  May I come in and help improve your child’s educations?”

You:  “Ahhh, wait a minute . . .”

This is the famous “Four Walls” sales technique.  The salesperson asks four questions that in essence wall in the receiver, literally forcing the conclusion that those reference books must be purchased.  The logical force comes from the Commitment/Consistency Rule.  When you take a stand on something, you must be consistent with it.  This can be a very powerful tactic and the business world is filled with variations on it.  I will show you another one.

It is called, “bait and switch,” and it is illegal in most states.  It works in two steps.  First, some attractive offer is presented as bait.  The customer rises to the bait, demonstrating their interest in the product.  Second, the bait is taken away and a new product (of lower value or higher cost) is presented.  Many people will ruefully take the second offer.

For example, you need a new stove and you notice an ad for a really high quality stove at a very good price.  I mean a very good price, not impossibly low, but very good.  You think to yourself, “Self, I’m gonna buy a new stove.”  So you pack up the kids and zoom over to the mall.

And when you get there, a friendly salesperson greets you with a smile.  “Ahhh, you saw the ad . . .  I guess you really want a new stove don’t you?  Let’s see if I can help you get what you need.  I’ll go back and check on it for you.”

You, of course, are out of your mind at the prospect of getting this great stove at a great price.  You even let the kids act wilder than usual you are so excited yourself.  But wait.

The salesperson returns with some bad news and some good news.  The bad news is that they just ran out of those advertised specials.  The good news is that they just happen to have a similar stove right here that’s yours for the taking and it only costs $100 more.  Not surprisingly, many people will buy the more expensive product, never seeing the game.

The driving force is consistency.  In these business games, the customer commits to some initial position (“I want to spend money in this store.”), and the salesperson simply forces the customer to maintain consistency with that initial position.  This is an extremely powerful and popular persuasion tactic and we will see its application in other chapters.

Scarcity.  When It Is Rare, It Is Good.

I admit it.  I am a closet fan of the Home Shopper Networks.  If you have never seen these stations it could be that you do not have cable TV.  All the station does is sell retail merchandise over television.  They will feature some product for ten or fifteen minutes.  If you like it, you call their 800 number and place an order which is mailed to you the same day.

There are several different Home Shopper stations and they are extremely successful.  The reason for that is that these guys really understand the principles of influence and use them well.

In particular they use the Cue of Scarcity.  They know that rare things are highly valued in our society.

What are some of their scarcity tricks?

They always have a little clock running in the upper corner of the screen.  You only have ten minutes to buy this precious beauty and the clock lets you know how little time you have to make the buy of a lifetime.  They make time the scarce resource.

They often have a counter on the screen, too.  Sometimes the counter runs down with every sale.  “We only have a limited number of these fabulous quilted party skirts and when they’re all gone, we will never sell them again.”  So that counter started with 100 and every time somebody calls, the counter decreases, 99, 98, gee whiz look at that, 92, wow, 85.  They make the product scarce.

Scarcity is a time honored tactic.  Limited Time Only.  The Weekend Special.  Sale Ends at Midnight.

Here’s a great one from Olan Mills, the photographers.  They will take 10 different pictures of your child.  They then send you one copy of each photo and ask you to choose the shots you like and the number of copies you want.  Then (here’s the scarcity trick) they tell you had better order plenty of pictures because they will destroy all the negatives after a certain date.  How many fathers and mothers can face the prospect of losing forever all those darling shots . . .

Why The Cues Work

Before we look at applications of the CLARCCS Cues, I want to review why They work.  As noted at the beginning of this page, these Cues are used as mental shortcuts by lazy thinkers.  Receivers can easily apply these Cues to guide their thinking or action with a minimum of mental effort and activity.  (And a lot of the time the Cues really are helpful and correct.)  As soon as the receivers change routes of thinking from peripheral to central, these Cues typically become useless.

Thus, if you want to apply any of the Cues in your own situation, you must learn to use them with peripheral processors.  To the extent that people are systematically thinking in the situation, these Cues will not work and indeed can make the user look rather foolish.

Now, please don’t lose your head here and believe that CLARCCS cues only function as Cues.  Generally speaking these variables function more effectively when you present them to a Low WATT processor ambling down the Peripheral Route.  However, these variables can function differently under different conditions.

Take physical attractiveness as a great example.  Hey, look at that pretty girl in the bikini.  Hubba-hubba.  What to do, use a Cue and my oh my she’s Ms. Cue of 2002.  Pretty girls and pretty boys in skimpy bathing suits do have an effect?  But is it always a cue?

I’m running a new chain of physical fitness businesses.  Join my training plan for six months and I guarantee you’ll like what you see.  You’ll look like that pretty blonde in the skimpy bathing suit.  (Insert a mental image of your preferred blonde in a tight little piece of spandex – you’ll do a better job at it than I.)

Is a picture of a good looking body a cue for a physical fitness business?  I don’t think so.  In fact, I think it is an argument and a strong argument at that.  Yeah, we know that we won’t look exactly like the kid in the picture, but if your fitness plan will help me drop 30 pounds of fat and tone up my muscles, I will look more physically attractive.

Now, think about Scarcity.  Got to be a cue, right?  And only a cue.  So, you mean that if you believe that something is only available for a short period of time that perhaps that scarcity might be a mental switch for you that causes you to move from Low WATT to High WATT and causes you to think more carefully and effortfully as you consider the newest Esteban guitar on the Home Shopper Channel?  Hey, if it is rare, maybe I need to pay attention and think carefully about this thing.

Okay?  All of the variables in CLARCCS function more persuasively when they hit as a cue.  That, however, does not mean that they cannot also function as an Argument or an Elaboration Moderator, that WATTage switch.  You’ve always got to keep the functional nature of persuasion in the front of your mind.  How any persuasion variable operates depends upon what else is going on in the situation.

Real World Applications

Okay, one quick example for each Cue.  Then you have to think of some.

Comparison:  put up achievement records from “last year’s team” so that this team will know what other people are doing.

Liking:  tell people once a week that you like them.

Authority:  put up your diploma, certificates, any awards, etc. on a bulletin board near your desk.

Reciprocity:  give extra time for breaks or vacation, then get more extra or homework problems.

Commitment/Consistency:  have people voluntarily sign a petition in favor of a “clean environment,” then later ask them to clean up the workspace.

Scarcity:  with a group of kids who don’t like to read, get some books you can give away; put them on a table with a sign that says, “Free books, Limited Supply, Only While They Last.”


Some pretty neat ideas here.  There is a lot of practical and scientific evidence that demonstrates the usefulness of the CLARCCS Cues.  Just start thinking like a salesperson.  Create your own applications.

Oh, did you figure out CLARCCS?  Sure, it is an acronym.  Take the first letter of each Cue, and it spells ComparisonLikingAuthorityReciprocityCommitConsistencyScarcity.  Should make them a little easier to remember.  And use.

References And Recommended Readings

Cialdini, R. (1980).  Influence: Science and practice, (2nd Ed.).  Glenview, IL:  Scott, Foresman, & Company.

Down, A.C., & Lyons, P. (1991). Natural observations of the links between attractiveness and initial legal judgements.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 541-547.

Hinsz, V., & Tomhave, J. (1991). Smile and (half) the world smiles with you, frown and you frown alone.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 586-592.