Evil by Design: Mephistopheles Interfaces (Part Two)

Last week, I started talking about Chris Nodder’s book, Evil by Design , which describes how to get users to sin by taking advantage of it, and briefly outlines the techniques from the first chapters. Today I talk about the remaining sins - anger, envy, lust and greed: what lies behind the types of behavior that we describe with these concepts, and how marketing tactics use the corresponding weaknesses of human nature for their own purposes.


Anger is the desire to eliminate the source of discomfort. Usually it arises as a reaction to an unpleasant situation that has developed through the fault of another person. Unlike the others described, this is an active and potentially dangerous emotion, but also a very rich source of motivation.

There are two tactics for working with anger: either avoid and extinguish it, or try to turn yourself to your advantage. The first one is safer and can be implemented by the following methods:
1. Use humor to defuse the situation

Laughter is incompatible with anger and can easily interrupt it, however, this method carries a known risk. Humor is most effective when the error does not cause serious consequences (compare: social network and banking service), the user is not too annoyed and the content does not contain aggressive motives. You also need to consider that the joke will be funny only for the first time - do not let the user see a funny error message regularly.

The Tumblr social network invites users to laugh together at bug
2. Make changes step by step.
People do not like changes and perceive any of them as a loss, therefore it is best to introduce any updates smoothly, in small portions. If each individual change is not too significant, the first steps can be turned off and you give users time to get used to the previous one, before adding the next, the negative reaction will be minimized. In your communication with the audience, emphasize that the interaction scheme with the product practically coincides with the previous one and that new features were introduced at the request of users (see the chapter “ Pride ”).

Despite all that has been said, anger is a feeling that we experience almost more often than not, an integral part of our inner life. Therefore, you should not rely on the fact that it can always be avoided. It is necessary to anticipate dangerous situations and moments in advance and prepare to resolve everything as painlessly as possible. Here are a couple of tactics to help with this:
1. Monitor anonymous communication

Anonymity, as well as the effect of the crowd, removes restrictions and provokes people to actions that are not typical for them under normal conditions. This happens for a number of reasons: a sense of security (no one will know that it’s you), lack of personal contact with the interlocutor (empathy is muffled and it becomes easier to create a negative image in the head), asynchrony (reaction to the action does not come immediately), the feeling that everything “Make-believe”, and the lack of hierarchy (everyone is equal on the Internet).

At the same time, anonymity helps to detect hidden problems and helps create a community around the product. The ideal balance between the risk of aggression and the stimulation of frankness is pseudo-anonymity, that is, a situation where the user is assigned a permanent nickname that does not match his real name. This helps to eliminate some of the listed factors (impersonality of interlocutors and lack of social consequences). In addition, anonymous users tend to join groups and accept their rules and values. Accordingly, it is worth moderating the sites carefully and introducing the necessary behavior patterns until the group becomes “accepted” to communicate more or less correctly.

2. Distill anger into other emotions

According to the definition that we gave at the beginning, the main components of anger are an unpleasant situation and someone else's fault. If any of this is lacking, it transforms into other emotions. Say, when there are no perpetrators, anger becomes alarm, and if you can convince that the problem is in the actions of the user himself, he will begin to feel guilty. You can take the risk of “turning arrows”, but keep in mind that this is an extremely risky method.

3. Refer to irrational arguments

Suppose your actions irritated some part of the audience and controversy is inevitable. How to act then? Take advantage of the fact that in anger people are not too strong in terms of rational thinking, so they are easy to confuse in the dialogue. To argue becomes much more difficult when one of the parties departs from the facts and begins to lead metaphysical arguments, appealing for the most part to emotions and “spirituality”. Such a position gives a kind of invulnerability (any criticism can be “refuted” by general phrases), but it requires charisma and caution.

4. Give authoritative permission

In some cases, anger (if it is directed not at us, but at the situation as a whole) can be very useful. He gives us a surge of energy and a thirst for action. According to scientists, angry people, oddly enough, are more optimistic about their strengths and capabilities and are therefore prone to impulsive actions. Sometimes, in order to release this energy, it is enough to give users an authoritative permission - to put forward an idea, present it as coming from a reputable source and thereby at the same time give them a way to throw out feelings and remove from them a sense of personal responsibility for the consequences.

5. Scare people and then offer them a solution.

Anger is essentially fear that has been given direction. Both feelings are so unpleasant that they give people a strong impetus for action. Use this to push the audience to the desired action. Create a problem, connect it with fundamental fears (for health, for children, for personal safety) and show how your product will help to rectify the situation. The picture of the consequences of the problem should be very gloomy, and the solution should be simple, affordable and enjoyable. If necessary, you can distill fear into anger by directing it to the image of an “enemy” against which the proposed actions are directed.


Envy arises as a reaction to the success of other people. Evolution has formed in us an aversion to losing: we want to have not just a lot of resources, but more than everyone else. Envy can result both in productive states (to achieve the same) and in destructive ones (taken away from others) - companies use both types for their own purposes.

Desires and aspirations
In order to monetize envy, you must first arouse it. This is achieved by awakening the desires and aspirations in clients. How to make an object desirable? Give it the following characteristics:

  • Secrecy (the product is for the elite)
  • Rarity (the product will not always be available)
  • Belonging to something valuable or status (lifestyle, group of people, occupation)
  • Aesthetics (nice to interact with the product)
  • Functionality (the product is able to solve a problem that no one else solves)

Aspirations are connected with ambitions; they, as a rule, come from benign envy. The product should set a level slightly higher than that at which the intended target audience is located so that it can “catch up” at the expense of it. This is not only about the socioeconomic level: you can tease users with the opportunity to feel smarter, more sophisticated, more popular or even older (a tactic often used by teen magazines).

Another way to increase the value of the product in the eyes of the buyer is to create a connection between them, which he will be sorry to break off, a sense of belonging. The author offers several proven methods:

  • emotionally engage the user in the product creation process. This tactic is actively used by game designers, setting up accounts on social networks long before the release and publishing various kinds of in-processes and teasers. This not only stimulates the curiosity of visitors, but also gradually makes them part of the community interested in the success of the project.
  • provide demo copies of goods that customers can freely play with. The stronger they remake the product for themselves (changing settings, rearranging elements), the harder it will be for them to part with it.
  • provide the opportunity for some time to use the product for free (those same free trials). At the same time, the functionality can be trimmed, but it should remain attractive enough to form an attachment and a desire to receive a full range of services.
  • Create sites where potential customers can communicate with those who have already purchased the product. A sense of belonging to the community and a desire to get closer to it can encourage buying.

Kickstarter - the apogee of early involvement.
Thirst for status.
Envy is based on the idea that some groups of people are higher than others. Underlining the difference in statuses, you can lead users to the necessary actions. The emphasis should be not only on the envy of the elite, portraying them successful and happy, but also on contempt for those who are not members of a particular group, discouraging their likeness.

The simplest division is those who have already bought the product, against everyone else. However, the customer base can also be differentiated by building an internal hierarchy. In such cases, emphasis should be placed on a sense of superiority, rather than contempt, and to arouse “white” envy in people. If customers are neutral or even willing to help each other, the community around your product will flourish.

Examples of stratification within the customer base are all kinds of loyalty programs and premium accounts. A sense of superiority in such schemes is usually supported by specific benefits and advantages. Other psychological mechanisms that have already been mentioned contribute to the advancement of the hierarchical ladder: the desire to reach the last step, the fear of irretrievable expenses and the desire to recoup them.

In some contexts, say, online games, a client falls into the category of favorites not just for consumption, but for certain actions that require skills and efforts. A delicate situation arises here. On the one hand, it is necessary to give people the opportunity to somehow “pay” their way up, saving time and labor. As practice shows, if you do not, the initiative will be seized by third parties. On the other hand, you cannot provide this option too frankly, otherwise users who honestly earned their statuses will feel that their achievement is depreciating. It is best to act indirectly and facilitate upward movement only to a certain extent. This is especially true for the highest steps - they must remain especially desirable and exclusive.

The table of grades on the xda-developers forum
The status warms the soul less if others do not know about it. Therefore, provide visual insignia for privileged groups (stickers, badges, dies, and so on) and the features built into the product unobtrusively show off your position. A great example of the latter is Apple's automatically generated “Sent from my iPhone” signature in emails. As practice shows, people are not too keen to remove it - not only because laziness keeps them from unnecessary action, but also because they like to feel like the owner of the iPhone with all the consequences, and the signature gives a legitimate reason to emphasize this fact.

Special attitude

Being a part of the elite is pleasant, but even more pleasant when you yourself are special. Companies do not stint efforts to show that each user is important to them and deserves special privileges.

Among these privileges are:

  • personal offers ("This loan is designed and approved specifically for you")
  • free surprise gifts, sometimes personalized to suit your preferences
  • interest in their opinion (personal requests for feedback, the ability to vote on some issue or offer your content)
  • space for self-expression (sections with comments)


There is a distraction from sexual associations, lust is simply an irresistible desire that disables rational thinking. In fact, it is this that underlies envy and greed.

The first step to making a person passionately want your product is to arouse his sympathy and affection. It may seem that this is a matter of taste and it is impossible to manipulate people's reactions to such an extent, however, in fact, there are some tricks here.


Above, we talked about the fact that people tend to "mirror" the emotions directed at them. Therefore, you can simply take the first step and yourself show a liking for users - this will attract them to you and what you offer. As experiments show, flattery works without failures, even when it is so rude that respondents recognize it and try not to give in.

The classic scheme associated with this tactic is to assign some positive qualities to users, and then call them into action that will allow them to manifest. For example, if you convince a visitor to a site that he is not indifferent, preoccupied with global problems, it will be easier to sell him products with the "eco" label.

The flip side of love for compliments is anxiety about how others around us relate. For this reason, some social networks successfully charge users for the opportunity to learn more about their relationships with other participants (who viewed the profile, visited the page, and so on).

The coveted second place
According to the laws of logic, the best option should be the most attractive. According to the laws of human psychology, those who are close to perfection, but a little short of it, cause more irrational sympathy. Complete perfection scares, minor flaws cause sympathy. Especially men are subject to this effect.

This is another reason why you should not worry too much about critical lunges. If the product reviews are mostly positive, a bit of negativity is more likely to inspire people with confidence that there is no catch, and a more condescending attitude.

Finally, you can turn the company’s lesser popularity inside out by showing what advantages it gives the client: faster or more attentive service, less expensive, fewer queues and expectations. In the sixties, Avis, the second most popular car rental company, built its entire advertising campaign on this.

“We cannot afford a casual attitude”
Group thinking
As examples from the previous chapters show, people are always happy to fall into the “we are against them” way of thinking. Give them the slightest reason to feel unity with any group, and they will begin to show these people a special attitude. "Your" will receive privileges, and "strangers" are perceived much more biased.

Your task is to create a sense of belonging to the group among clients. Draw a clear line between those who are in the “circle” and everyone else. Give both groups contrasting characteristics (of course, so that customers are flattering) and emphasize the difference between them in every way. Pay particular attention to those positive qualities that can later be used for manipulation (see above).

Do not forget that different identification marks contribute to better self-awareness as part of a group: clothing with logos, stickers, or even special names and attributes of “fan clubs”.

What is the advantage of forming groups? First of all, among “your own” people easily pick up ideas and values ​​that you, as an organizer, can throw to them. Secondly, the effect of the crowd makes the individual more categorical and decisive - in other words, he will be much tougher to protect his newfound views from "strangers."

From sympathy to involvement.
Suppose you have achieved something that treats you well - but it still does not bring money. To ensure the conversion, you need to push the audience to the target action. For this, a complex of two techniques is used:

  1. Rely on social laws, that is, the desire for reciprocity
  2. Leave aside the laws of the market, that is, the pursuit of profit

The easiest way to kill these two birds with one stone is to give the client something. This will lead, on the one hand, to the fact that he will trigger a reciprocity trigger (“I have done something good, I must pay the same”), on the other hand, it will create a feeling that you are not pursuing profit and you can be trusted.

A gift can be either really valuable (discount coupon, additional product), or purely symbolic (additional product information) - the main thing is to be able to unobtrusively emphasize that you did something for the user. The request should be proportionate to the service, but do not forget that the service can be submitted in different ways.

“Pay us with a tweet,” the Shareable service offers.
Practice shows that playing on reciprocity, although less common as a marketing move, works no worse than trying to bribe people with promises of rewards. Therefore, the author recommends trying just this sequence: first a gift, then a request for action or data. In this case, it is necessary to ensure that these two events are not too far apart from each other in time - they must be connected in the mind of the user.

Is free!

“Free” is the magic word in marketing. No discount equals a gift. In his research, Dan Ariely notes that people perceive the transition from “cheap” to “free” as much more significant than from “expensive” to “cheap”, even if the amount saved is not different. This is explained by the fact that they calculate the profit as the difference between losses and value. Losses from a free product appear to be zero, therefore, people believe that they will benefit in any case (without taking into account factors such as the quality and suitability of the product).

Shareware offers are easily integrated into various schemes:

  • a free product or service is used as a decoy to force a customer to buy more ("Delivery for orders from $ 199 is free", "Collect goods worth $ 199 and get a gift ...")
  • the cost of a “free” product actually just passes under the guise of something else (free delivery only for those who have issued an annual subscription)
  • the company receives some benefit from the transaction, but not in cash (you can use the service for free, but you consent to the processing of personal data)

The third tactic is especially relevant today - it has not yet had time to become familiar and does not act as much on the forehead as the first two. According to Nodder, it is effective in cases where visitors are "not an audience, but a product." This is the case, say, in social networks that first of all need personal information from users in order to sell it to other companies for advertising targeting.

Dissonance from one's own generosity.
Various combinations of requests, services and answers to them can give a wide range of psychological reactions. We have already talked about the exploitation of guilt for refusal and the arithmetic progression of requests (chapter “ Gluttony ”), As well as stimulation of gratitude (paragraph“ From sympathy to involvement ”above). There is another option - please users because they remain with them in debt.

From an old story from the biography of Benjamin Franklin it is known: having done someone a favor, people begin to treat him with more sympathy. This is explained by the desire to overcome cognitive dissonance: because if we rendered a person or organization a service without calculating to get something in return, there must be a reason, and the most accessible reason is personal location.

Google very cunningly applied this technique, wrapping a potentially negative interaction in its favor. The company began to actively invite users to leave feedback about bugs and thank them for reporting an error. In such a light, everything began to look like users were not complaining about poor service, but were collaborating with a team of spiritual goodness — and their attitude had changed accordingly.


Greed is a desire to have more values ​​than necessary. Unlike envy, greed is not based on comparing oneself with others and does not act purposefully to their detriment, but it contributes to selfishness and indifference to the interests of others. The exacerbation of greed is facilitated by special mechanisms for issuing rewards, exploitation of the desire to receive benefits, and blurring of ideas about the norm.

Partial reinforcement
It is used not only to develop reflexes, but also to develop engagement. The bottom line is that the individual receives a certain reward for his efforts at irregular intervals. The ability to “win” keeps the user in the service, and unpredictability introduces an element of tension and interest.

The mechanics of video games are built precisely on the balance of these intervals: the user pursues several goals at the same time and receives awards for different types of actions in turn, which prevents him from getting distracted and bored. The introduction of negative reinforcement, that is, the threat of an undesirable event that needs to be eliminated, also diversifies the process.

How to transfer gaming technology to other areas? The principle of gamification is based on the fact that for the really useful actions of the user, a reward is offered not of a material but of a game type. In some cases, it may just be a pleasure from the process - for example, in Stockholm, Volkswagen sponsored the installation of music steps to encourage people to walk instead of using the elevator. In an online environment, you can easily develop a game element even more by linking the action to a system of levels and points or plot. The DigitalKoot project, for example, motivated many volunteers to help decrypt corrupted text by scoring points and visualizing their contribution in the form of a bridge built by cute moles.

Another proven method is the element of competition. This can be either a side effect of scoring, or a direct invitation to play against another user. Any opportunity to compare oneself with others generates excitement. It is extremely useful to display signs with the best results, as a constant source of motivation.

Gamification does not mean dimming the essence - you do not need to hide the true purpose of user actions. If it serves for some lofty purposes, on the contrary, it is worth mentioning it as often as possible.

Not a purchase, but a win

Is there a difference between a lottery and an auction? Researchers came to a rather unexpected conclusion: in the situation of winning - no, in the situation of losing - there is, and substantial. People react much more sharply to the fact that someone “seized” their goods at auction than to simple bad luck in the lottery. The competitive element makes loss more painful.

For the same reason, people love sales - not just for low prices, but also for the sense of pursuit of profit. The experiment of the JCPenney store, which tried to remove the word "sale" from its dictionary, failed miserably: buyers preferred to chase short-term profitable offers, this gave them a sense of "victory".

To ensure engagement, make people feel that the benefits depend on their speed, quick wits, or perseverance. Arrange "quests" for which you can get a reward. Even in situations where everything depends on luck, it can be useful to create the illusion of control, maintaining in people the belief that there are “strategies”, “secret moves” that will allow you to replay the system. As already mentioned, the efforts made and the need to make a choice increase the value of the award in the eyes of the user and form loyalty.

The desire to earn with your talents goes well with the Dannig-Krueger effect - the inverse relationship between competence and confidence in your knowledge and skills. The Dannig-Krueger effect feeds numerous bookmaker services that offer to bet on the increase or decrease in the exchange rate of currencies, stocks and so on. The apparent simplicity of the rules and the whole process makes people feel that they can easily win even without special knowledge in the financial sector.

Fenced area

Everyone wants the user to spend as much time on the resource as possible and go to another page as late as possible. This was achieved before, trying to complicate the transition with unnecessary steps ("Are you sure you want to follow this external link?"). Now these artificial fences are being abandoned - they annoy people and do not give the desired effect. Other methods come to replace:

  • eliminate the impulse to leave the page by adding the most requested functionality (when Facebook had the opportunity to edit photos, users no longer need to go to Instagram)
  • maintain a careful balance between advertising and content, so as not to scare away users
  • make borders flexible - find a way to remind you of your service on other sites to attract users back (authorization via social networks, Share buttons)
  • Also consider whether it’s possible to obtain data about user movements using such agreements, so that you benefit even outside your site.

Binding effect
In most cases, the buyer has in mind a certain gold standard for the price of the goods, in relation to which he evaluates all offers as profitable or unprofitable. This standard is quite dynamic and changes under the influence of fresh experience, which can lead to subjectivity in assessments. Say, having returned from a trip to a country where gas is much more expensive, we will be inclined to consider the price, which earlier would have seemed too high, within the normal range.

This dynamic perception can be used to your advantage, tossing the user the right numbers at the right time. As a rule, the first price seen (and in some cases even just the first number seen) becomes an anchor. That is why restaurants often put expensive dishes in the first positions of the menu, so that the rest of the positions seem cheap in comparison.

With a flick of the wrist, $ 600 turns into “just $ 600”.
Another example is accessories and all sorts of little things that are often offered at the box office after a major purchase. The buyer, who came specifically for them, will compare and calculate; the buyer, who takes them as an addition to the main, much more expensive product, will subconsciously perceive them as cheap.

More currencies

It was mentioned above that the issue of its currency, which must be constantly converted to real money, stimulates spending. This works especially well in cases where the difference is not so large as to justify mental efforts, but enough to give the company a good profit. The currency of Microsoft, let's say, goes at the rate of 80 points per dollar - so close that paying 79 points for a song seems more profitable than the $ 0.99 that iTunes asks for.

To enhance the effect, it is desirable that the purchase of tokens is not confined to the transaction - so the connection between the purchase and spending of “real” money is completely lost. Many companies sell their currency in large packages (10-15 times the cost of the cheapest product), which users then spend gradually on a number of purchases.

Try to set the prices and volume of packages so that the user does not manage to reduce the balance - either something remains, or you have to pay extra. With this calculation, the values ​​of gift cards are often set. If a client wants to use a $ 5 coupon in a cafe where all drinks cost around $ 3, he would rather prefer to pay the missing dollar and take two than to accept that part of the amount will “burn out”.

Price games

Cheap goods will always have a target audience, but the same can be said of expensive ones. Spending more than necessary has its own pleasure - the feeling that we indulge ourselves, or the realization that we can afford not to save. Therefore, in addition to budget options, the assortment will never be superfluous and analogues are more expensive. The difference between the former and the latter may not be so significant - the main thing is that luxury products have the appropriate design.

Value, like all other characteristics, is usually established in our consciousness not as an absolute value, but in comparison with other options. In order to push customers to the desired product, the author recommends using contrasts in perception. The first is to show a worse option - decent enough not to create a bad impression about the company, but clearly inferior to what you are actually planning to sell. Demonstrating the best option next, make sure that it is described in more detail: such detail is associated with high quality. Usually, the price of the worst product is clearly overstated so that the product you are betting on seems to be profitable too (so many advantages for a small overpayment!).

If, on the contrary, you want to avoid price comparisons, try to present products as not belonging to the same category. There are several ways to do this:

  • product design - more "elite" colors (black, purple), another form of packaging
  • physical distance - place the product on a special page on the site or on a separate microsite
  • emphasis on other characteristics (e.g. quality of materials)

In conclusion, the author addresses a question that inevitably arises by name: is it ethical to use all these practices in your business? There is no definite answer here. Some of the tactics (mainly from the chapter “Sloth”) are definitely located in the gray zone - they border on fraud and brought some particularly daring companies to court. Others are harmless in small doses, but can lead to misunderstandings if they are too carried away. In general, when writing a book, the author was guided by two principles:

  • In any case, user satisfaction always remains a priority. If he does not get a positive experience (he will be disappointed, will regret his decision), this will affect future conversions and bring you a loss
  • there is nothing reprehensible in the knowledge of all the listed techniques - it is always better to understand what and why you are doing, than simply copying popular practices. When the user's thinking process is clear, it will be easier for you to decide whether you want to include this or that method in your arsenal.