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The power of persuasion

I’ve alluded before to the rather interesting, though dubious, types of employment I had before I got a ‘proper’ job. So as a slight aside today I thought I’d share with you a funny story about the power of persuasion from when I was 16 years old and working for a guy who had a market stall on Petticoat Lane in London. The stall sold anything you wanted to buy, and plenty you didn’t want to buy until we’d convinced you that you did. Say what you will, the market-stall education I had certainly taught me more than a few things.

Anyway, one day the boss turned up with lorry full of ladies’ perfume. We opened a bottle. It was [insert expletive] awful. We tried to sell them, and failed. We often had our friends in the audience as we stood selling things, to make fake purchases to get the ball rolling. That normally got people buying stuff but not this time: even if you hadn’t bathed for a week you would smell better without this perfume.

I said to the boss that we would never sell these, ever. So we put them side as waste of money.

Four weeks later the boss told me to get the perfume out

We’re going to sell it all today,” he said

I was dubious. But after we set up and began to gather an audience, suddenly the boss brought out a well-known beauty magazine. As he opened it up, there – in the inside cover position – was a fabulous looking advertisement for our perfume; with a price tag five times more than what we wanted to sell it for before. (Remember at this time there were not many rules around what you could and could not do with advertising.)

Once he held up the magazine and the audience could see the perfume in this well-known publication, they felt the product had been validated. So then we began to sell:

“Normally X; yours for only X today,” we called.

We sold the lot, and for double what we’d originally planned to. We had a lot of very strange smelling customers over the following months.