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Can 'Forced Choice' Still Work?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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We have been living in the age of the "connected consumer." Consumers have more access to information and options than ever before, causing their voices to be heard by brands and advertisers at the loudest level in history. 

As brands and advertisers vie for the attention and patronage of the consumer, we are attributing to the environment the consumer uses in order to make a decision. Our industry's biggest obstacle is that with social and digital media, it is harder and harder for us to control that environment. When we want to do make a business or operational decision, consumers can band together and create a public outcry against it. The producers of Maker's Mark saw that all too clearly; their announcement to "water down" their premium whiskey was met with so much public backlash, the only thing Maker's Mark could do was back down.

So then, can "forced choice" still work?

Forced choice, under the realm of consumer behavior, happens when the consumer is required to make a decision; they cannot do nothing, nor can the decision be made for them. With that being said, the brand or advertiser must be able to create such an environment where a consumer's hand is forced. This little technique appears when we study habit, and how we can get consumers out of a specific habit. Usually a consumer relies on a habit when a decision is complex, the consumer is out of their comfort zone, or the environment is different. In this day and age, can advertisers and brands isolate these cases, and position their product or service in the best possible light to force a winning decision?

We think so.

This is where the dreaded buzzword of "engagement" comes in. We can still pick the options, but as long as we stick to our resolve, stick to a deadline, and remove whatever "comfort lining" the consumer may have, we can then invite them to join in a conversation about what option may be best for them.

Is this a bad technique? Should consumers have a right to choose whatever they please? Not necessarily. It's been proven time and again that when confronted with a lot of choices, consumers face "choice paralysis," meaning that they revert back to what they know, choose nothing at all, or worse, choose an inferior product or service.

But the ad industry will never get a "thank you" for making a decision easier.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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