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Modern Marketing Ecommerce Retail

The caveman and the buy button – or why the buy button is the ultimate marketing tool

By Harry Wright | Creative

January 10, 2017 | 7 min read

Ever found yourself in the situation of trying to explain the return on investment of social media to a client? It’s usually accompanied by feelings of deja vu, despair and pure dread.

buy buttons

It baffles me that some of the largest companies in the world still don’t see the importance of a bold social presence, nor the potential for prising consumers away from their hard earned cash, in the comfort of their own home. In an age where advertising monoliths battle for supremacy through increasingly complex campaigns, social media has given us the gift of simplicity in the form of one of the most ingenious and divisive marketing tools to emerge in recent years – the buy button.

There are currently over 500 million active users on Instagram and over 100 million on Pintrest. If you combine this with the fact that, according to Ofcom, we spend over two hours every day trawling the internet on our phones, then the potential exposure for brands is patently clear. With this in mind, I was interested to see the result when Asos decided to trial buy buttons on Instagram and Pintrest, in 2016. I’m guessing it went fairly well considering the National Retail Federation recently declared that buy buttons unlock the true power of social media. But what elevates this client-appeasing call to action above a device used merely to measure click through rates, and why is it so devastatingly effective?

Well, first we should look at how brands like Asos traditionally use social media. In the ever-rising tide of status updates, motivational pictures and the occasional YouTube link, brands fish for consumers using visual stimuli as bait. They attempt to halt absent-minded scrolling with videos of attractive models, posing in exotic settings, wearing the trendiest clothes, making you wish you’d been born with a chiselled jawline and pushy parents. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to change the composition of your face or your family but at least you can dress like the cool person in the photo, right? The idea is that, with combined discounts and bespoke offers to followers, you’re encouraged to buy, reinforcing your social status with each item you purchase. And this is an over simplified explanation of how social media has helped retail sales grow in the digital age.

However, if that’s what all brands are doing, how do you ensure you convert the interest into a sale, rather than the user go to a rival company whose models are equally as attractive and wear what, for all intents and purposes, is pretty much the same outfit? You excite the caveman.

To explain this further, you need to understand that there are two sections of the brain that help us function and get us through day-to-day life. In his book, entitled The Chimp Paradox, Professor Steve Peters explains that the frontal lobe is the rational, decision-making part of the brain, which effectively makes us human. The limbic system, on the other hand, is the primitive (caveman) part of the brain which is responsible for fight or flight reactions and works entirely on emotive stimuli. It’s irrational, it’s outdated and it’s the prime target of the buy button.

At the risk of sounding cynical, do you ever get the feeling that most modern marketing campaigns seem to be unnecessarily elaborate, as agencies try to shoehorn big data, OOH and behavioural economics into every strategy presumably in order to win a handful of Cannes Lions and occasionally make their clients more money? Well, you’d be right, to a certain extent. What you need to realise is that ad campaigns have the arduous task of convincing the rational part of your brain to part with your money. They have to play on our experiences, our expectations and our emotions, using intricate strategies, to convince the frontal lobe that the product in question is worth the financial loss. Why is this so difficult? Because ads need to appeal to an evolved intelligence, there are no mechanised constructs with a formula equating to guaranteed success.

However, humans developed rationality later than instinct. We react to our more primitive impulses faster than our reasoning because they’re effectively our default response, even though nine times out of ten they aren’t the most sensible. If you bear this in mind, it’s easy to see why the buy button is so dangerous for consumers. Firstly, if it’s part of a social media platform, there’s the feeling of a bespoke service: “I follow these people, they create things I like, they created this for people like me so I should buy it!” But you worked hard for your money so you don’t want to part with it. How do brands get round this? A loss aversion switch. They advertise the product at a discounted price, for a limited time only. The consumer then fears missing out on the deal more than spending their money. Finally, you make the transaction process incredibly easy and almost instantaneous. Make that all-important purchase only a click away, using the buy button. No time to think. No time to rationalise. No time to lose. Clever stuff, right?

With all of these factors playing on a part of your brain which acts on impulse and emotion alone, the potential effect on consumers’ wallets could be devastating. So, if you now feel deceived, having recently bought something as a result of this digital Trojan Horse, you shouldn’t feel too bad about it. People tend to make very commercial decisions based on irrational, subconscious feelings. With this in mind, you could argue that the buy button is the ultimate marketing tool: it’s cheap, it’s simple and it targets the most vulnerable part of our brains.

Harry Wright is a content manager at SHARE Creative, with a penchant for linking psychological theories to modern advertising techniques. Follow him on Twitter @hazmccaz

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