Ways You're Secretly Tricked By Companies

Here are some shocking ways you're secretly tricked by companies!

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In the consumer-focused society we live in, it seems you can’t even walk out the door without spending $20 on god-knows-what. That’s because big companies know exactly how to manipulate us into parting ways with our hard-earned cash, and often, we don’t realize they’re doing it!

From the subtle to the shameful, let’s investigate some of the sneakiest ways you’re secretly being tricked by companies.

Worthless Wait

They say patience is a virtue. Even so, there’s nothing more boring than waiting around for something. Surely no company would make us wait for something if they could just give it to us straightaway then, right? Wrong.

A few years ago, social media giant Facebook rolled out a “security checkup”. Users who logged in were greeted by a little robotic doctor telling them their account was being checked for security issues. The check ran for about 10 seconds. Only, the Facebook servers are far faster than this, and actually completed the check in less than one second.

Ways You're Secretly Tricked By Companies

The thing is, we inherently mistrust a process if it takes a very short amount of time. For instance, you’d be suspicious if I told you I did all the research for this article in five minutes, wouldn’t you? So, Facebook and other companies purposefully inflate the waiting times of certain processes to, ironically, build people’s trust in them.

And there’s more! In situations where there really is a genuine reason for us to wait, like when our phones are updating, there’s always a progress bar. Companies know that without this small feature, we’d be up in arms. But the bars aren’t even accurate!

Install times vary depending on the phone model, so manufacturers devise progress animations that reflect the average install time instead. It’s why sometimes they’ll speed through 99% in 3 minutes, just to get stuck at the end for 5 hours.

Ways You're Secretly Tricked By Companies

Vanity Sizing

We’ve all been there, you find a new pair of pants that you love, only to try them on and rapidly realize they’re too tight. It’s not a good feeling, and it only gets worse when you have to fish around looking for the next couple of sizes up.

In fact, studies show that after an experience like this we’re less likely to buy even if we do find the right sized pants, because we’re in a worse mood. Clothing companies know this and have a supremely sneaky tactic to make sure it happens as little as possible.

They keep their clothing physically the same, but, crucially, make the sizing charts smaller. Back in 1983, Sears sold dresses with a 32-inch bust as size 14s. Fast forward to today, and that same 32-inch bust is a size 0!

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This smaller size is designed to make you feel better about yourself when you try it on, so you’re more likely to buy it! It wasn’t always this way though. In the US, clothes sizing used to be standardized.

In 1983 however, the rule was abandoned. Since then, stores have used their own sizing charts, and most have opted to label everything significantly smaller than it used to be, which is a phenomenon called “vanity sizing”.

vanity sizing

Alluring Layouts

Shopping malls have been a popular part of consumer culture since they first appeared in the US back in the 1950s. But did you know they’re designed very specifically to milk as much money as possible from you?

The first mall architect, Victor Gruen, was a master of commercial design. He knew that in order to buy more, customers had to spend more time in the retail space.

victor gruen

His malls were designed with intentionally confusing layouts filled with all sorts of interesting sights, smells, and other stimuli. The sensory overload and odd layout make you forget your original intention, and you become more likely to buy things you hadn’t come for, a concept called the Gruen Transfer.

And it doesn’t just apply to malls; it’s used to varying degrees in pretty much every store you go to. Ever noticed how there’s rarely any windows or clocks in grocery stores? That’s another example of the Gruen Transfer in action.

Being aware of the time pulls you out of the shopping experience, which is the last thing store owners want, so anything reminding you of it is removed. To further maximize the time you spend in store, companies regularly change the layouts too.

Ways You're Secretly Tricked By Companies

If we know where something is, we’ll usually make a beeline for that item, grab it, and leave. But if the store's layout changes and we’re unsure, we’re forced to spend more time checking through aisles we wouldn’t otherwise walk down. In other words, more potential purchases!

Anthropomorphic Antics

Can you guess what links food, cleaning products, and insurance? Friendly humanoid mascots, and it’s all to do with basic human psychology. As humans, we find it easier to connect with things if we humanize or anthropomorphize them. It’s why we give names to our cars and other items that are precious to us.

Ways You're Secretly Tricked By Companies

Humanizing things also lends us control over them. When a car starts fine it’s just a car, but when it fails, we get angry at it and blame it like it’s alive. Anthropomorphizing it makes us feel better. It’s very easy to do as well, just sticking a simple face on something is often enough to do the trick.

And we don’t just connect with things more when we anthropomorphize them, we trust them more too. Companies use this to their full advantage. Google for example designed their self-driving car with face-like features to calm down anyone nervous about getting in it.

Google self-driving car

Therefore, a product with a friendly mascot humanizes it, evoking positive emotions and leading to a better overall view of the product itself. Think about Tony the Tiger, the M&M candies, and the Kool-Aid man. None of the brands associated with those would’ve been as successful without their iconic mascots.

And now think about this: every one of them was created to take advantage of kids. Those friendly characters? Just a way of gaining children’s loyalty and lining the pockets of the companies that designed them.

humanized mascots

Shrinking Snacks

Inflation makes pretty much everything more expensive. However, the price of some store products remains suspiciously stable. In response to inflation, some companies opt to avoid raising prices, and instead subtly reduce the amount of actual product you get, something called “shrinkflation”.

This is because people pay much more attention to the price of things than they do to their size. And even if we do notice the size difference, we’d still rather buy a smaller product and pay the same price for it, than pay more than we’re used to.

Take Coca-Cola for example. In 2017, the old 500ml bottles were phased out across the US and replaced with 440ml bottles. But despite losing a whole 60ml, the price remained the same.

COCA COLA shrinkflation

Doritos suffered a similar fate back in 2008, with the bags getting a whole 2 ounces smaller, and the packs shrunk again as recently as March 2022!

And Shrinkflation isn’t just limited to the US, either. Over in the UK, Snickers bars have shrunk a whopping 17% over the last few years.

snickers

On top of this, by reducing the amount of actual product they’re selling, food companies can make misleading claims like “20% less sugar”. Sure, it’s got less sugar, but it’s got less everything else too!

Not that companies always get away with it. When Toblerone made the gaps in their chocolate bigger back in 2016, people got so enraged that they were forced to revert it. You could say they got Tobler-owned.

Toblerone chocolate

Fries ‘n’ Lies

We’re all guilty of indulging in a cheeky McDonald’s every now and again. But as tasty as their fries are, they’re also the center of a life-changing lie! The small bag fits more fries in it than the medium! Or at least more fries for the price.

How could this be?! Well, it’s all about the material of the container. Because the small fries come in a paper bag, it bends to accommodate as many as possible.

McDonald's fries

The medium fries on the other hand come in a rigid card container, which doesn’t have this same flexibility. As such, there’s more unfilled space, netting you less bang for your buck.

Take a look at the Tiktok clip below. The small portion sits snugly in both containers! If you order a medium, you’ll probably get a few more fries, but the difference really isn’t enough considering you’re paying almost an extra third in cost for them.

View post on TikTok

Mirror Manipulation

A good photographer will tell you that lighting is everything. Two photos taken from the same spot six hours apart will look drastically different. This same principle applies to mirrors. It’s why sometimes I look at myself and see a young Brad Pitt, while other times Shrek’s shorter brother is staring back at me.

mirror reflection

And nobody capitalizes on this more than clothing store designers, specifically, the ones responsible for the fitting rooms. To appeal to our vanity as much as possible, fitting rooms are often arranged so their lighting shines out from the mirror as well as down from the ceiling.

This creates a flattering shadow-free reflection. As well as this, the mirrors themselves are frequently angled slightly upwards, elongating the look of the body and making our legs appear lengthier than they actually are.

Some mirrors are also tinted to give our faces a healthier glow! All this makes us feel better about ourselves and brings us one step closer to that all-important purchase.

fitting room mirror

To test the theory, British Australian tabloid journalist Amanda Platell decided to try on the same dress in several different stores and she was shocked at the result. Despite the dress being the same, her look varied wildly.

In some places she felt like she looked great, but in others she felt significantly more “lumpy”, in her own words. Which explains why our entire appearance can be altered just by walking from one room to the next.

fitting room mirror reflection

Sped Up Shows

It’s no secret that streaming services are fast becoming the go-to way of consuming television over their more traditional cable counterpart. In response to this, TV executives have come up with a seriously sly solution, speeding up their broadcasts.

Because cable is drawing less profit than it used to, companies are scrambling to recover that lost cash any way they can. And how do TV execs make money? Commercials. So, by increasing the broadcast speed of their shows just a tiny amount, more time gets freed up for advertising instead.

Both TBS and TNT have been exposed for doing this, speeding up Seinfeld by about 8% and freeing up an additional 2 minutes of broadcast time.

Ways You're Secretly Tricked By Companies

Two minutes might not sound like much, but that’s four 30 second commercials, which is almost $70,000 more in advertising revenue! Now, you might think doing this would ruin the show, however the difference between the original broadcast and the G-fuel one is pretty subtle:

Watch on YouTube

Even so, less subtle are the extra four commercials for every 20 minutes of showtime. Like there weren’t enough adverts already. This is probably only going to drive more people away from cable in the long run.

Dupin’ Decoy

It’s commonplace for all kinds of companies to offer customers so-called “plans” or “packages”. These are bundles that present different levels of service for sale depending on what a customer wants. Did you know, though, that they’re nefariously designed to make us go for the more expensive option?

Take the popular magazine The Economist, for example. At one point, the publication had three packages for sale: web only for $59 a year, print only for $125 a year, and both web and print also priced at $125 a year. One of these options is obviously a terrible choice: print only.

decoy option

So, why even include it? Was it just an oversight? Far from it. The print only option was a “decoy”, designed purely to make the third option, web and print, seem like better value for money.

Without the decoy, the price hike of $59 to $125 seems pretty big. With the decoy however, the blow is softened because there’s an inferior option between the two main packages. Suddenly, web and print doesn’t seem so expensive anymore.

And it worked like a charm. Before the decoy was added, only 32% of buyers opted for web and print. After it was added, this rose to a whopping 84%! Of course, The Economist is just one example – you’ll start seeing it everywhere now you know about it.

decoy pricing

Small But Mighty

Imagine you’re the manager of a clothing store and you want to promote a sale. When printing the sale prices, would you go for big, bold lettering or small and subtle? You'd probably go for big and bold every time to grab people’s attention, surely?

sale price psychology

But apparently this isn’t the right answer. According to a 2005 study, people shopping for a bargain are more likely to buy something if it’s advertised in a small font. This is because, unconsciously, our brains associate the smaller font with a smaller price.

So, if we see two identical t-shirts for the same price but with different sized price-tags, we’re more likely to buy the one with the smaller tag! Researchers call it “magnitude representation congruency”.

t-shirt price tag

The Health Lie

Everybody wants to be fit and healthy. Because of this, we’re drawn to certain buzzwords on the food we eat, such as antioxidant, wholegrain, and organic. The thing is, these words don’t carry as much meaning as they seem to, and they’re frequently used to mislead us.

You see, even if we know something is inherently unhealthy, let’s say, Pop-Tarts, if it’s advertised as “wholegrain” or “baked with real fruit” we see it as slightly less sinful, which can be enough to convince us to buy it.

In reality, “baked with real fruit” is about as vague as it gets. Pop-Tarts make this claim, yet the filling inside the strawberry ones only contains a measly 2% fruit. The rest is artificial coloring, sugar, and palm oil! Of course, none of these ingredients are mentioned in the commercials.

pop-tarts

Similarly, Welch’s Fruit Snacks are quick to point out the “real fruit” they contain but fail to mention the artificial colors and heaps of sugar that come with it. Furthermore, if you see "low fat" on something, just remember it’s probably been pumped full of sugar, sweetener, and salt to make up for the lack of flavor that fats usually bring to the table.

So, next time you’re thinking of buying a product because of its so-called health benefits, don’t just throw it in your cart. Read the ingredients list first!

Baffling Bags

Chip bags nowadays are more like air bags with a couple of chips tossed in for fun. We’ve covered shrinkflation already, but this phenomenon is even more deceitful, because the bags don’t physically change in size.

With chocolate bars, you can at least notice the reduction. Chips on the other hand have a trick up their foil coated sleeve: the bags are filled with air. Or, rather, nitrogen, as ordinary air would make the chips go soft.

chips

This effectively means manufacturers can keep the bags the same size while reducing the contents right under our noses. Even more frustratingly, they claim the nitrogen is there for good reason to protect the potato pieces while they’re in transit.

Brooklyn-based artist Henry Hargreaves decided to test this by loading his car up with an assortment of different bags, then driving around with them all. In complete opposition to the manufacturers’ assertion, he found the chip bags with the most air suffered the worst breakages!

Furthermore, Hargreaves found out that both Lays and Doritos bags were an astonishing 86% air!

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Dark Patterns

Conniving companies have been doing everything they can to get our cash since forever. In the last couple of decades though, the Internet has brought forth a whole new slew of techniques they can use. The most pervasive are known as “dark patterns”.

These dark patterns are built into a website’s interface design, take, for example, web cookies. More often than not, a big vibrant button asks you to “accept all” cookies. But what if you don’t want to? Then you’ll probably have to click the dull gray “preferences” button and manually untick every single one.

cookie setting

Most of the time, you probably just click “accept all” out of sheer simplicity and I don’t blame you! But then the website has done exactly what it wanted to take your information.

Another common dark pattern is the account closure process. It goes without saying that no company wants you to close an account with them, so many will do whatever they can to make it as hard as possible. Ever tried to close your Amazon account?

Well, the homepage doesn’t give you any clues as to how you might go about doing that. You’ve actually got to navigate to “My Account” then “Help” then “Contact Us” then “Open Chat”, then four more options, before finally requesting to close. The key word being “requesting” after all that you’re still left with time to change your mind!

how to close an Amazon account

The prize for “most devilish dark pattern of all” though has to go to Chinese footwear manufacturer Kaiwai Ni. The manufacturer overlaid the image of a strand of hair onto an online ad for a sneaker they sold.

When people swiped their screens to get the “hair” off, they were taken to the website instead! That really puts the “sneak” in sneaker.

Kaiwai Ni sneaker ad

Brandwashing

Of all the sly, calculating ways businesses trick us into handing over our hard-earned money, there’s one so deceitfully devious it almost doesn’t seem believable: companies can influence your buying decisions before you’re even born.

As early as 20 weeks into pregnancy, fetuses respond to sound and at 30 weeks, they can smell too. At this point, a pregnant woman’s listening and eating habits will have a profound effect on her unborn child. So profound in fact, that it’ll affect their behavior later in life.

A Philippine candy brand called Kopiko exploited this information a few years ago. First, they sent doctors free candy to give to pregnant mothers. Then, a few months later when the kids were born, the brand released a new type of coffee which tasted just like the candy.

The mothers that had been given the free candy found that when their children played up, feeding them the candy-flavored coffee calmed them down; they absolutely loved it!

kopiko marketing trick

So, naturally, the moms kept buying it. Just four years later and Kopiko coffee was the third largest brand in the whole of the Philippines. Those babies were effectively “brandwashed” into becoming loyal customers. I bet most of them still drink Kopiko today.

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