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Unthinking: The Surprising Forces Behind What We Buy

Employment law attorney Mike Maslanka reviews Harry Beckwith’s book Unthinking: The Surprising Forces Behind What We Buy.

Take a look at Harry Beckwith’s insightful new book Unthinking: The Surprising Forces Behind What We BuyMarketing Consumer Behavior Books). The book reminds me of a quote from Dr. Samuel Johnson: “It is always better to remind than to lecture.”


Beckwith sketches out an experiment in which researchers filmed people going to a movie, counting how many had their seatbelts buckled. Before the movie started, the audience was shown a graphic film of auto accidents. The movie’s message: See what happens when you don’t buckle up. The researchers then counted how many of the moviegoers buckled up on their way home. Morepeople left without buckling up than had arrived without their seatbelts fastened.

Beckwith says people don’t like to be lectured to, and when they are, they often do the opposite of what you ask them to do. So if you can’t appeal to emotion, should you appeal to facts and reason to get people to buckle up? Not really. Beckwith talks about a campaign called “Buckle up. It’s the law.” It was expensive ― and a huge failure.

But here’s the question: What does work? Well, a campaign channeling Dr. Johnson called “Click It or Ticket.” Why? Simple. It gives people a choice; it doesn’t tell them what to do. They decide for themselves. It reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Hoosiers, in which Gene Hackman plays the new basketball coach in a small town. He’s under pressure to get Jimmy, a former player, back on the team. Hackman’s character walks up to Jimmy, who is shooting baskets, and quietly tells him that the decision is his; he doesn’t care one way or another. That’s powerful stuff. (Of course, you must be authentic and mean what you say, hand to heart.)

Michael Maslanka is a partner in the Dallas, Texas, office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP. He has 30 years of experience in litigation and trial of employment law cases. He is the editor of Texas Employment Law Letter, and he also authors the “Work Matters” blog for Texas Lawyer.