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Advertising With Numbers: Tricky or Truthful?

Updated on February 13, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.

  • You can help these needy (children, animals, people with diseases, etc.) for just 50 cents a day.
  • 1 in 10 people will get (disease of choice) in their lifetime.

Ever see advertising like this? What if those same ads had these messages?

  • You can help these needy (children, animals, people with diseases, etc.) for just $182.50 per year.
  • 10 percent of people will get (disease of choice) in their lifetime.

One can imagine quite a different response to the second set of messages. While the intents of both ads are laudable (collecting donations for those in need, raising awareness), they have used a tactic utilizing number perceptions to trigger action.

Both sets of statements say exactly the same thing except that the first set is easier for people to wrap their minds—and emotions!—around. Most people have a couple of quarters jingling around in their pockets, cars and couches. So a 50 cent donation doesn't seem like a lot. And most everyone has at least 10 people in their social sphere. The thought of just one of 10 friends suffering from a dreaded disease is often enough to get someone dialing up for a doctor appointment to get checked out.

On the flipside, when asking people to shell out over $180 for a donation, they might think twice about doing so. What if someone was told that his chances of contracting or developing a life threatening disease was only 10 percent? How much worry would that person have? Probably some. But it would be unlikely to result in a "What if I have ____ and don't know it?" panic.

This is sometimes referred to as "breaking it down to the ridiculous (or absurd)." And it can be very effective in breaking down resistance to making higher priced purchases or taking difficult actions.

When "Reduction to the Ridiculous" Can be Beneficial to Customers

Reducing numbers and statistics to those that are mentally and emotionally manageable—even ridiculous!—is used so often, people seem practically conditioned to it. But it doesn't always have a manipulative or negative impact on a customer.

Take almost any newspaper or broadcast advertising for cars. What is usually promoted? The monthly payment or lease, with the number of payments and total cost (plus fees, of course) in fine print underneath. If a car dealer advertised that customers would need to arrive with a check for tens of thousands of dollars to purchase a car, it's unlikely that many would be wandering into the dealership.

Justifying the "monthly payment" advertising and promotion tactic is the fact that most car buyers are gainfully employed and receive regular paychecks. They will likely be making monthly payments from their paychecks, turning it into a monthly budget item like groceries.

So the tactic can help customers figure out how a particular purchase fits into their regular cash flow situation.

But They're Less than a Dollar Each!

Being in the promotional products business, I am very aware of how reduction to the ridiculous can be very enticing... and deceiving.

A large portion of this industry is dedicated to producing and selling promotional giveaways that are less than $1 each... pens, magnets, notepads, etc. Usually these items are advertised with their per-item price. What's in fine print is the minimum quantity that needs to be purchased. In this price range, minimum orders can be 250, 500 or even 1,000 pieces.

Can't tell you the number of times I've had to burst a customer's promotional dream bubble by informing them of the total that this "less than a dollar" per item order will be.

Ironically, if a promotional buyer is looking to save on their investment, considering higher priced items that have lower minimum quantities may be a wiser, money-saving choice. This is especially the case for small business owners and micro businesses who may not need 250 to 1,000 of ANY promotional item! A more expensive item may also provide more marketing impact for these smaller operations, too. Many of these businesses provide personal, one-to-one service, and an impressive promotion or gift can help make their limited number of clients feel special and appreciated.

Weigh In on the Numbers

Do you think using reducing numbers to the ridiculous is tricky or truthful?

See results

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi teaches12345! Nope, tactics like this haven't changed much over time. Thanks for weighing in on the topic. Hope you have a beautiful Christmas and New Years!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    6 years ago

    Sales tactics haven't changed much in regards to numbers in years. Great thoughts on this type of advertising. Hope you have a wonderful week.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi AliciaC! Thank you for the kind comments and I'm glad you find the info helpful. Hope you're having a delightful holiday season so far. Cheers!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    I learn a lot by reading your hubs, Heidi. They are always interesting and useful, and they often cover things that I haven't thought much about before. This hub includes some great examples.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi FlourishAnyway! Yep, stats can be effective attention-getters in presentation work. And the examples of these techniques are everywhere. Thanks for taking time this weekend to stop by! BTW, your new avatar is so beautiful!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi purl3agony! I know I go back and forth about the validity of using these tactics. They are effective, especially when it comes to getting folks to take action on worthy causes. But then I worry about the buyers remorse that might set in after a while, resulting in pulling of support. And, yes, we're seeing a lot of this around the holidays in both the for-profit and non-profit realms. Thanks for your insight, as always, and have a lovely pre-holiday weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Joel! I'm a sales and marketing fan, too... like that's obvious. :) Yep, we've got to keep ourselves out of the fog and into the clarity of the heart. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Iris, thank you so much for your kind words! You're right, it is stats 101. :) Have a beautiful pre-holiday weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Catherine, I love that "figures don't lie" quote. Oh so true! My reaction to Predictably Irrational was the same as yours. Funny how humans think, eh? Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Wow, billybuc! You took time away from windstorm cleanup to read this? I'm honored! Hope the storm didn't do too much damage. Take some time to chillax this weekend, too!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    6 years ago from USA

    Used strategically, statistics can really be beneficial as a presentation and persuasion technique. You provide some good examples!

  • purl3agony profile image

    Donna Herron 

    6 years ago from USA

    Hi Heidi - Another great hub! Although some of these marketing tactics seem a bit shady, I do think that sponsorship programs that say you can support a needy child for $ a day are simply showing how a little financial sacrifice can really make a big difference in someone else's life. We'll be seeing more of these marketing techniques during the holiday season and towards the end of the year. Great timing to share this important article with all of us. Thanks! Voted up and interesting!!

  • Joel Diffendarfer profile image

    Joel Diffendarfer 

    6 years ago from Jonesville

    I love sales and marketing. This is a great article to help keep me in check. Sometimes the "line" is foggy...but never the heart.

  • Iris Draak profile image

    Cristen Iris 

    6 years ago from Boise, Idaho

    Heidi, this is excellent. It's too bad most people don't study statistics because this is statistics 101 (how numbers can be manipulated). It is also encouraging because you are an example of someone who does business ethically. I have no qualms about referring people to you.

  • CatherineGiordano profile image

    Catherine Giordano 

    6 years ago from Orlando Florida

    This is so well done and serves as a reminder to read the "fine print." The numbers are truthful; but truthful numbers can still be tricky. The old adage is "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." I voted up and H+ and useful. I've read "Predictably Irrational". It is an eye-opener.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    6 years ago from Olympia, WA

    It's been done for decades, and the buying public is as susceptible to it today as it was when I was a kid.....very clearly stated, my friend. Now that my lesson is over, I need to go clean up debris after the windstorm. Have a great weekend.


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