How E-Commerce Brands Can Leverage Linguistic Quirkiness and Anchoring Effects
Kyle Hoffman, Director of Growth Strategy | November 08 2023
Language, in all its quirkiness and nuance, is a powerful marketing and branding tool that can shape consumer perceptions, forge memorable connections, and drive purchasing decisions.
It's the clever use of words and phrases, like De Beers' iconic "A Diamond is Forever" or Apple's "Think Different," that can etch a brand into the collective memory of a consumer – especially for high-price point purchases. The psychology behind these linguistic surprises, the subtle twists and turns that capture our attention, have a profound impact on message retention.
Language is not the only tool in the toolbox when it comes to marketing high-price point purchases. Another behavioral science tactic proven to be successful is the concept of anchoring. The anchoring effect causes us to rely on the first piece of information we are given about a topic. It demonstrates how seemingly irrelevant numbers, benchmarks, or references points can influence consumers’ decision making.
Together, these two tools can transform high-price point purchases into a memorable and meaningful experience—proving to be lucrative for e-commerce brands, too.
Let’s take a look at how these concepts play a pivotal role in establishing a connection with consumers and fostering brand loyalty, and which brands have successfully harnessed the power of linguistic quirkiness and the anchoring effects in the e-commerce world.
The Quirkiness of Language and Clever Wordplay
The power of language cannot be underestimated. It can make or break a marketing campaign, having the ability to capture an audience’s attention in a world where brands are competing for consumer’s fleeting attention. Carefully crafting and communicating a message is the difference between obscurity and a lasting brand impression.
What do phrases like “Have it Your Way” or “Think Different” have in common? They are more than just simple taglines. They are a little bit quirky with a dash of unexpected, making them stand out and memorable to the consumer.
Burger King’s slogan, “Have it Your Way,” is a slogan that emphasizes customization, encouraging customers to personalize their orders to get exactly what they want. Not only does the quirkiness make the consumer pause and think, but it makes them feel empowered and in control of their dining experience.
Apple coined the quirky phrase “Think Different,” putting a clever twist on the grammatically expected “Think Differently” to encourage consumers to break away from conventional thinkings and embrace individuality. Not only does the quirky phrase cause consumers to pause, but it also aligns with the brand’s commitment to creativity and pushing the boundaries of technology.
The Science Behind Quirky Language – Why it Works
There are a few reasons why quirky slogans like “Have it Your Way” and “Think Different” work. They tap into how our brains process and respond to information. When a slogan takes an unexpected linguistic turn, it requires us to pause and think, capturing our attention.
We’re wired to notice and engage with the unexpected. And in a world of monotony and familiarity, this tactic can cut through the cluttered world of advertising, where brands are fighting for consumer’s fleeting attention.
Second, quirky language enhances message retention and recall. When a message is presented in a unique or unexpected way, it creates cognitive dissonance and a moment of mental surprise. We tend to remember things that stand out from the ordinary, and quirky language can leave an indelible mark on our brains.
Finally, quirky language can leave a positive, lasting impression in the hearts and minds of consumers. It can induce humor, surprise, or delight, creating an enjoyable interaction with the brand. And, as marketers, aren’t we always trying to elicit positive emotions to connect with consumers?
It’s no surprise that quirky language is a clever way to create a lasting and memorable experience with consumers.
What is the Anchoring Effect?
Language is only one facet of the equation. Another powerful tool is the anchoring effect. The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that causes us to rely heavily on the first piece of information we are given about a topic.
We see the anchoring effect utilized at retailers like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Let's say you’re out shopping for a present and you find a pair of earrings that you love. The suggested retail price is $150, but TJ Maxx is selling them for $65. You normally wouldn’t spend $65 on a pair of earrings, but you feel like you’re getting a great deal because of the suggested retail price. The product’s tag uses the anchoring effect to influence consumer perceptions and behaviors.
Amazon often uses the anchoring effect, too. The e-commerce powerhouse often displays the original price of a price alongside the discounted price for products. By showing the higher ‘list price,” consumers perceive a greater value in the discounted price, which makes them feel like they are getting a great deal and encourages them to make a purchase.
Williams-Sonoma, a home goods and kitchenware retailer, uses the anchoring effect in stores to drive purchases. By displaying expensive items alongside more reasonably priced ones, they make the latter seem like a better deal. A $20 spatula next to a $500 blender can make the spatula appear affordable (even though you can get a similar spatula product for $4 at Target).
The first mention of the anchoring bias was in a 1958 study by Muzafer Sherif, Daniel Taub, and Carl Hovland. These researchers were running a study in psychophysics, and they ran a particular experiment where participants estimated the weight of objects. They used the term anchor to describe how the presence of one extreme weight influenced judgments of the other objects.
However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky introduced the anchor-and-adjust hypothesis, which suggests that when we make decisions under uncertainty, we start by assigning some initial value and subsequently adjusting it, but our adjustments are usually insufficient.
The Anchoring Bias: How to Leverage it in High-Price Point Purchases
As you can see, the anchoring effect can be extremely influential, working to frame consumer decisions and encourage them to perceive their products or services as more valuable or cost-effective. When used effectively, it can influence consumer purchasing decisions.
There are a few ways that high-price point products can leverage the anchoring bias:
- Establish a premium anchor: Like in the example of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s suggested retail price, e-commerce brands can present a premium anchor price that is considerably higher than the actual price of the product. This premium anchor will serve as a reference point, making the actual price seem much more reasonable and desirable.
- Highlight value and features: Once the anchor price is set, focus on highlighting the value and unique features of the high-price point product. What makes it stand out from its competitors? These unique selling points help justify the premium price and reinforce the reference point.
- Offer payment plans: High-price point purchases can consider offering payment plans or financing options to make the payment feel more manageable. This can help consumers perceive the products as more affordable.
A Diamond is Forever: The Birth of an Iconic Marketing Campaign
One of the most iconic and enduring examples of linguistic quirkiness and the anchoring effect was established by De Beers, a diamond mining company. De Beers is responsible for coining the iconic slogan “A Diamond is Forever,” a seemingly ‘simple’ phrase that has had a profound influence on consumer behavior.
Prior to the introduction of this phrase in 1947, diamonds were not a symbol of an engagement. What's remarkable is that the campaign was an undisputed success, becoming one of the most celebrated marketing campaigns of the 20th century. It did more than just advertise diamonds; it helped shape the entire diamond industry into what it is today, boasting annual sales exceeding $80 billion, with over 50% of all diamond sales coming from the United States.
This did not just happen by chance. This marketing campaign was meticulously crafted and today a diamond is representative of eternal love.
Anchoring Diamond Prices
Not only did the campaign emphasize the idea that diamonds represent everlasting love with a quirky, stand-out slogan, but it also subtly introduced an anchoring effect. This anchoring effect was particularly influential because it provided a benchmark for how much people should spend on an engagement ring, setting expectations and influencing consumer decisions. A novel idea, right?
De Beers suggested it was appropriate to spend two months' salary on a diamond engagement ring, but at its inception, the impact of this benchmark varied by country.
For example, in the UK, it was a single month's salary. However, in Japan, De Beers recognized that the company had no established tradition of diamond engagement rings, so they were able to push the boundaries even more by setting a high anchor and suggesting that it is appropriate to spend an audacious three months’ salary – that's one quarter of an individual’s annual salary!
Interestingly, this seemingly throwaway guideline proved to be remarkably influential. Today, Japan spends more on engagement rings than any other country.
It’s mind-blowing that the adage and tradition of purchasing a diamond engagement ring began as a marketing campaign to boost diamond sales. By leveraging a quirky logan and the anchoring effect, the diamond mining company significantly shifted consumer perceptions to create a new standard, which is a testament to the power of these approaches.
The Takeaway: Leveraging Linguistic Quirkiness and the Anchoring Effect
Remember, behavioral science is not just for trivial purchases. Richard Thaler, a well-known behavioral economist, suggests that big purchases are infrequent and are particularly influenced by behavioral science biases because people don’t have their own experiences to fall back on. Therefore, they look at what the others have done, or they look for some of these cues like anchoring.
Behavioral science is a fascinating world of cognitive biases that have been proven to shape consumer perceptions, foster brand loyalty, and drive purchasing decisions. Linguistic quirkiness and the anchoring effect have transformed high-price point purchases into memorable and meaningful experiences.
Want to learn more about linguistic quirkiness and the anchoring effect, specifically for high-price point purchases? Check out the Consumer Behavior Lab’s podcast episode that discusses De Beers’ marketing campaign for engagement rings, the power of linguistic quirkiness, and the influence of anchoring on consumer behavior.