Fear of loss: How the fitness claims get you

All through my undergraduate “career”, I worked in labs. Just as there are gym rats, I was a lab rat. Great experience for me. Okay pay for a student. But when I finished my undergrad, I already knew I was going to start my Masters in the fall. And at the time, I also felt that I had never really earned an honest dollar. I had never set foot outside the Ivory Tower and so I wanted to experience what a “joe job” might be like. My first choice was to be a waiter–pretty social, they seem to have a lot of fun for the most part, and the pay was probably better than my lab stipends. But in Toronto, getting a job as a waiter is tough competition. In the end, I lucked out, but there was a period of a month or so where I hadn’t found that job.

So what’s a 23 year old, freshly graduated biology major to do? Hit the want ads, of course. What happened next is a story unto itself, but the crux of the story is that I ended up doing a short stint as a door-to-door salesman with a franchise of one of the largest direct sales companies in the world.

What I learned from that job would serve me well for the rest of my life (well, so far anyways, though less so these days). And what I learned is how to make a sale. I learned how to sell a product to a total stranger who wasn’t even in the market for what I was selling within 3 minutes of them opening the door. And modesty aside, I was good at it.

The company I worked for created a very well-supported training program for their “independent contractors”. Every morning we would practice our pitches to each other before spreading out over a particular territory for the day. We would critique each other’s pitches, and get ideas from other salespeople on different ways to pitch. But when we critiqued each other, it wasn’t on delivery, or words. It was on emotion, and it was based around four factors that had to be in the pitch. They’re all important when making a sale, but in this post, I thought I would just focus on one: Fear of loss.

Getting someone to decide to give you money in 2 minutes or less involves appealing to their emotion of fear, and specifically their fear of loss. Or potential loss. The opportunity to gain is temporary and will never return. I almost never went back to a house, even if they asked me to–unless it was to make more sales, in which case they had usually paid me for at least one unit. And I made sure I had a limited supply of product with me at all times (which was mostly engineered by the company, and your previous sales)

When you have a concrete product in your hands, the potential loss is tangible. Pay now, or lose out. But I would argue that in fitness/nutrition marketing, the potential loss is not quite as tangible, but possibly stronger than if it were tangible. Sometimes, it’s a limited time offer, in which case, it’s also somewhat tangible in the sense of potential money-savings.

What almost all fitness marketing sells you is time. Given enough time, you could probably get to where you wanted to go. But if you could get there faster, you probably would. That’s what they’re selling you. A faster way. What do you stand to lose? Time. You stand to lose getting there faster than you would without the product.

Once you know this is the emotion you’re supposed to have in this type of marketing, you can start to recognize when it arises and evaluate it for what it is. It’s a normal emotion in response to a normal fear. And that is all it is. Sometimes, you’re going to get duped, depending on how much fear of loss you’re exposed to. That’s why before and after photos are so powerful and why a single before and after photo will almost always trump any study or logic. Logic doesn’t require emotion. When you decide to buy, it’s almost never rooted in logic.

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