A Sweepstakes Scandal

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  • Topic: Publishers Clearing House, Encyclopædia Britannica, Ed McMahon
  • Pages : 5 (1552 words )
  • Download(s) : 997
  • Published : April 15, 2001
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Persuasion is "the process by which a person's attitudes or behaviors are, without duress, influenced by communications from other people (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). There are numerous types of persuasion and in many forms. In the following pages I will take you on a journey through the tactics of sweepstakes companies, one in particular - Publishers Clearing House. This is an interesting subject matter that I have grown up around. My mother has sent in each and every Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes letter she has received since she was twenty years old. She is positive that someday she will indeed win big money even though she has only won a few prizes worth about a dollar in over 30 years of doing it. Why? Simply because she is persuaded by someone or something to keep doing so. Sweepstakes companies have become very skilled at creating a web of deception by the headlines, the words; in fact many things about their mailings are intended to get people to buy products they would not likely buy otherwise. Sweepstakes companies target generations that are very trusting. These letters are mindfully designed to look like authentic government documents. Companies misrepresent the possibility of actually winning through the involved use of graphics which manipulate font, color, type size, layout, and text to hide the contest conditions in order to emphasize the likelihood of winning, when in fact it is simply a mass-market mailing. They even have personal notes from celebrities such as Ed McMahon that makes it difficult for a person not to believe that he is a winner. Other convincing techniques they use are the associated publicity release forms and pre-authorization of how one would like the prize payoff. Publishers Clearing House, one of the United States largest operators of sweepstakes competitions, was founded in 1953 and has been holding sweepstakes since 1967. They sell magazine subscriptions, videos, collectible figurines, sport memorabilia, coins, household and personal care items, along with books and tapes. The company has given out approximately $137 million in money and prizes (pch.com). In contrast, during 1997 and 1998, the company had annual sales of about $375 million. Publishers Clearing House started out in the business of selling magazines but are now in the pursuit of selling sweepstakes, and instead of people being sold the benefits of the magazines, they are sold on being a winner, finalist, or having a better chance to win. There are many people that get these letters in the mail and just throw them away; but there are many more that get very excited because they think that they could actually win. These people try to justify the situation and begin to think that if they purchase a magazine or something from Publishers Clearing House they would have a better chance. The more they purchase and enter the sweepstakes, the more letters they receive which causes them to anticipate winning. It becomes a routine and the more commitment and consistency one has, the more likely they think they are to win that big prize. Cialdini states that "commitment is the key" (Influence, pg. 67). This explanation of Publishers Clearing House subscribers makes sense. These subscribers are persuaded by the term that Cialdini calls "click-whirr". Once a person makes a commitment to purchasing the products or to the sweepstakes in general it becomes an automated response when the letters come in the mail. When they receive the letter (click) they fill them out and return them (whirr). This works for Publishers Clearing House because it causes a response in subscribers minds that the more they enter, the better their chance of winning and thus, the more they buy the more likely they will win. Along with this comes the issue of the "scarcity principle - that opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited" (Influence, 238). Publishers Clearing House uses this by deadlines on the...
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