Misery Marketing

As a keen observer of social trends the New Observer watches for developments in marketing techniques.

Because all these people (marketeers) are relentless copiers once a new technique emerges it soon becomes widespread.

‘Misery marketing’ is a new technique. This is quite a subtle one. It works with a little twist at the end. In keeping with the broader trend at the moment it focuses on emotional manipulation.

This technique works by making some kind of apparently disinterested and generous offer. You take note of this. You don’t guard against it because it genuinely seems like there is no catch. Indeed there is no catch – until you decide to leave the company (switch brand). At that point it kicks in. You will start to feel miserable. You feel miserable because previously you accepted a kind offer from this company – or in some other way associated your better self with them – and now you are leaving them. In fact you feel awful. The idea is not to encourage more purchases (the usual goal of marketing) but to prevent you leaving.

Two examples:


My electricity company recently sent me information about a price increase (which they amusingly described as “Your new price”). Printed in large letters on the letter – “Don’t forget you can switch providers at any time”. You read this and think – how honest of them, how decent; to remind me that I have the ‘right’ (ha ha) to ‘choose’. But – try leaving. Now you will feel miserable. After all, they were kind enough to tell you you had the choice. It looks like a disinterested act but it is emotional manipulation to make you feel bad if you try to leave.


You get a little token to put into a box. You can ‘choose’ one of 3 charities. It all seems very disinterested. But try leaving Tesco. Now your favourite charity won’t get that little “extra help”. How mean of you. How can you leave? You will feel terrible. They have hooked up your good emotions to their cause in order to make you feel miserable if you think of leaving.

These are just two examples of this technique. The acute observer will find many more.


But – don’t forget, dear Reader, that it is all a con anyway. ‘Choice’ between brands is no choice at all. They are all owned by the same finance capital. The directors and shareholding companies move freely between them. The ‘choice’ in this kind of market is no choice at all.