The Decoy Effect: It’s The Oldest Trick In The Book

Let me tell you a little story. 

(It’s embarrassing if that helps). 

My wife had bought me a new jumper (a sweater to those in the US) and, while I liked it, it didn’t fit quite right. 

I still had 7 days to return it, so I decided to go back to the store and make an exchange. 

When I arrived at the shop, a sales assistant (let’s call him Mr Suave), asked if I needed some help. 

Long story short, Mr Suave gave me the best service I could possibly ask for. Not only did he find me a similar jumper that fit perfectly, but he also tried to upsell me some fancy new jeans. 

“Brand new from Replay,” he told me. He leaned towards me conspiratorially: “The material and fit are so comfortable, it feels like you’re wearing tracksuit pants.” 

He wasn’t wrong. I loved them. But something in the back of my mind told me that these jeans were going to be expensive. 

So, I made a mental note: “When you get to the till, if the jeans cost more than a hundred bucks, put them back.” 

I smiled at Mr Suave, thinking I was safe. “I’ll take them”. 

As we made our way to the till, Mr Suave stopped, suddenly, as if he’d just remembered something. 

“I’ve just had a thought. We’ve had a new jacket come in from Italy. You won’t be able to get it now, as it’s way too expensive. But you should try it on – it’s beautiful.” 

I don’t know whether it was because he described it as beautiful, or “way too expensive”, but I decided to try the jacket on. And Mr Suave was bang on. It was gorgeous. It looked like a tailored Italian suit, and it fitted like a glove. I asked him how much it was. 


I tried to keep my cool, and Mr Suave played along. “Maybe next year,” he said, “once you’ve got the money saved up.” 

We made our way back to the till, and he scanned the jeans. They came to £180 – way, way more than I originally wanted to spend. 

But then it hit me:

Mr Suave had just seen me try on a £995 jacket. In comparison, these jeans were nothing. A bargain, even. 

See, if you want to make a house look small, you put it next to a skyscraper. 

I paid for the jeans and walked out feeling I’d just saved myself 815 quid. It was only later when I realised that Mr Suave knew I would never, ever buy the jacket. 

BUT, by putting something very expensive next to something cheap(er), he’d fooled me into making a purchase I never intended to make in the first place. 

And that, my friends, is called The Decoy Effect. 


The Decoy Effect 

I only went into the shop to replace my jumper. Instead, I walked out with a jumper and a pair of overpriced (if comfortable) jeans. 

You’ll see the decoy effect everywhere, and it influences buying decisions for millions of people every single day. 

For example, say you walked into a new coffee shop in town. 

A small drink costs £2.50. 

A medium drink costs £3.00 

A large drink costs £3.10 

Most consumers are going to choose a large drink. They see it as the most value for money, even though it costs £0.60p MORE than a small drink. 

The medium-sized drink is a decoy that makes the large drink look like a steal. 

If the choices were A) a small drink for £2.50 and B) a large drink for £3.10, most people will opt for the one that suits their personal needs at the time. (And that’s usually the cheapest). 

The decoy effect even works when you can’t see the price (and sometimes it works better). You can see that example with my jeans story above. 

(The jacket was the decoy intended to get me to buy the jeans, in case you need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s). 

There are hundreds of marketing tricks like this, and most of them can be found in Robert Cialdini’s famous book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. I highly recommend that you give it a read. 

So, that’s my story for the day. Have you ever fallen for anything like this? 

Do you think you could use this strategy on potential clients in your Pay Per Lead agency? 

Tell me in your comments below! 


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