New Cars and New Love: The Power of The Least Interested, part 4

     Hard to believe how powerful the Least Interested are, not only in romantic attraction but in attraction to everything else, but if anyone knows the tricks, it’s car dealers.

Formerly hard-sell car dealers, up against the wall,  are beginning to take a different approach. They are now advised not to push so hard, in order to permit the consumer’s desire to peak before pushing her  into the new vehicle.  I spoke to the manager of the largest Volvo dealer in Connecticut about this. “I just ask questions,” he said. “I find out what my client wants. ‘What kind of car are you looking for?,’ I ask. ‘What would you like it contain?’ I just wait and wait, question after question, until the customer says, ‘So, aren’t you going to show me anything? Is THAT one there, the red one, available?’ And of course I say no, it’s been sold—just an hour ago, actually—and anyway, THAT one is really much more expensive than the one you were asking about…..” 

Thus does the casual car buyer, only desultorily interested moments before, suddenly become the More Interested, and the dealer, the Less Interested. The red car becomes the only desirable car and the dealer its proud and reluctant-to-sell “owner.”

Psychologist Jack Brehm employs a theory called “psychological reactance” to argue that the scarcity theory applies not just to objects but to opportunities, as well. As opportunities become less available (like, say, the opportunity to get into that night club, or get a ticket to that hot performance), we lose freedom—that is, our freedom to go where we wish and do what we wish. Perceiving that our freedom is being restricted, we attempt to reassert our free choice; we focus on retaining, or regaining, whatever was being limited or withheld. Thus, we spend $450 for the Yankee-Red Sox tickets. Thirty-three thousand for the bag.  Dammit, nobody’s going to tell me that I can’t spend too much money or time or energy on what I want!   

Scott Muldenhauer, who studies consumer behavior and psychology, calls it the Power of Urgency, an established psychological theory that can be applied to such situations as the well-worn “limited time offer,” the “last-minute deal” or the well-worn “Get them while they last!” technique for stimulating interest. Again, assuming that people will snatch up not only what’s scarce, but more important, will desire what they sense they can’t have, these methods increase that desire by withholding it, manipulating the buyer so that the seller appears less interested than she in the sale.

Yes, there’s more….tune in tomorrow. Truly, this is important relationship stuff–you’ll see!

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