Hard Sell

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In advertising, a hard sell is an advertisement or campaign that uses a more direct, forceful, and overt sales message. The term is also used to describe aggressive sales techniques used by company representatives, particularly in the context of doorstep selling.

The concepts that distinguish a hard sell from a ‘soft sell’ (subtle, casual, or friendly sales message) have to do with directness of an advertiser or seller, rational appeal, and the amount of information given to the buyer about a product. A hard sell is extremely direct in nature. An advertisement will contain a forceful, loud slogan in order to grab buyers’ attention, or a salesperson will be very persistent, cornering their buyer into purchasing the product they are selling.

In a hard sell, the advertisement or seller will focus heavily on the quality of the product and explain how purchasing such a product will be a rational decision that will help improve the buyer’s life. In this type of sell, an abundance of information is supplied to the buyer in order for them to receive as much information about the perks of the product as possible. The advertisement or seller uses such tactics to overwhelm the buyer with explanations, information, and persistence in order to ultimately create large incentive to purchase what they are selling. This selling tactic is best described as quick and forceful.

A soft sell is much more emotionally focused by comparison. An advertisement or seller will hone in on triggering feelings in the buyer that will make them want to buy the product that is being advertised. This selling technique is also a lot more indirect in nature than that of a hard sell. The subtlely of a soft sell is very evident, and many buyer’s often do not realize that they are being purposely directed. This type of sell’s ultimate goal is to create a mood or image that will appeal to the buyer and make them want to invest their money in a product, all without the buyer realizing that this is occurring. Persistence is not as involved in a soft sell like it is in a hard sell.

The advantage of immediacy plays a large role in the concept of a hard sell and why so many advertisements and salespeople favor it. Because this type of sell is so direct and blatant in nature, the consumer often buys the product on the spot. A perfect example of this are mail order ads, where readers are urged to fill out a coupon right away. In opposition, a soft sell ad, because of its indirectness and subtlety, will allow for a person to have more time to make a decision as to whether or not they would like to invest their money in a product. A prime example of this type of sell would be life insurance ads where emotional appeals of family and security are mentioned. Consumers are put in a less pressured environment, allowing them to contemplate their decision on whether or not to buy a product. Immediacy is more evident in a hard sell.

A hard sell may alienate some customers, who find it off-putting. Sometimes the pressuring nature that comes along with direct tactics can overwhelm a consumer to the point where they dismiss the sales pitch or turn away from the advertisement all together. Emotional appeal is more involved in a soft sell and with the absence of this in a hard sell, business can be lost if consumers do not respond well to the tactics, especially when times are hard. During the Great Depression, soft sell tactics, like brand relationship and humor, proved to be successful approaches. People’s inability to spend on luxuries meant they required some wooing before a sell would go through. More direct hard sell tactics pushed away already stressed, calloused minded consumers during this time period of economic hardship. There is also criticism of hard sell tactics in regards to lack of creativity on the part of advertisements and sellers, which causes the consumer to never acquire intrigue towards the product being sold.

The frequency with which either a hard sell or a soft sell is used is dependent upon the intent of its use. Hard sells are more common when a seller wants their consumer to do something soon—to make a call, to sign up for a subscription, or to buy a product in person on the spot. Sharpness and urgency is key in these situations in order to successfully make a sale. These tactics do not involve personable qualities or emotional appeal. Soft sells are used to help promote a brand and make the product likable in the eyes of the consumer. Warmth and desire towards a brand induces a connection between the product and the consumer, rather than action on the product by the consumer. Immediacy and urgent buying is not involved in a soft sell, but long-term value and loyalty to a brand can be established.

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