The Persuasion Secret Driving Shoppers To Empty Store Shelves Before Snow Storms

The Persuasion Secret Driving Shoppers To Empty Store Shelves Before Snow Storms

Like clockwork, it happened again. Making my way through Target at 5:30 made me wonder if an end of the world asteroid might be approaching. People ransacked shelves like animals. Lines corralled into all sorts of funky shapes to let other shoppers navigate. Even the boxes of kitty litter disappeared from shelves.

What caused this mad rush to hoard litter? A snowstorm. Forecasts called for six to ten inches. A storm like this in New Jersey leaves people marooned for up to twenty four hours. So, why stock up on kitty litter for an event that might keep you sidelined for a day? Don’t wield any fancy logic to answer. Emotion drives us in these situations.

It’s not just the litter that was hoarded. Napkins, peanut butter and banana’s all but disappeared. What explains this shopping madness when faced with an impending snowstorm? What does it teach us about harnessing this power in our persuasive writing?

Here’s the takeaway from this madness:


The thought of a big snowstorm creates fear. We fear the big mean storm trapping us in our homes without food. In persuasion, fear causes your prospect to respond in one of two ways. They either deny or over prepare.

Raise the specter of fear without a solution and your prospect denies its existence. If a doctor tells you that you suffer from a terminal disease with no hope of a cure, you’ll enter a denial phase. On the other hand, if the doctor diagnoses you with the same disease and gives you a pill to cure it, you’ll accept the diagnosis because you have a solution.

The same holds true in marketing. Tell me the dollar will crash and there’s nothing I can do about. I’ll call you a fraud. Tell me the dollar will crash but this one investment protects you. I may just believe you and buy your investment.

Peace Of Mind

The risk that we run out of supplies in one day from a snowstorm may be low. We humans, however obsess with zero risk. Buying seven days worth of food also buys me peace of mind. It could be twelve or even eighteen inches and I have nothing to worry about.

The insurance business survives by our need for peace of mind. How much would you pay to reduce the risk of running out of food from 75% to 74%? Not much, right? Now, how much would you pay to reduce the risk from 1% to 0%?  

Social Norms

Let’s pretend you’re super-human. You resist fear. Peace of mind means nothing to you. We’ll still get you. Enter a grocery store before a big storm and what do you see? People frazzled. Carts filled. Anxious employees trying to keep up. Even if you walk in feeling calm you sense the tension. It creates doubt.  

When in doubt we follow the crowd. We see shopping carts filled with food and supplies and conclude we may as well do the same. What do they know that I don’t? I knew that in two days everything would be back to normal. My shopping list at Target consisted of just milk and litter. I left with $94.23 in groceries. My logical brain ceded control to my emotional brain.

Fear, peace of mind and social norms control our lives more than we recognize. Think about how they might influence your audience.


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