Cialdini Social Proof or Hotchkiss Imitative Suggestion?

Throughout history various smart minds have figured out the secrets to increasing perceived value so that items could be sold for more money.

In 1637 Baltasar Gracián y Morales wrote the following in his book of maxims under the heading Know How to Get Your Price For Things:

“A product’s intrinsic value is not sufficient ; for all do not go deep into the qualities of a product. Most go with the crowd, and go because they see others go.”

In 1924 George Burton Hotchkiss wrote the following in Advertising Copy:

Imitative Suggestion

One of the strongest forms of suggestion is by action. The human being is naturally imitative. In any large city a man who stands on the street corner and gazes into the air will soon attract a large crowd around him doing likewise.”

Since then social psychologists have found it necessary to “prove” what skilled marketers, salesmen and copywriters already knew.

For example, in 1969 Stanley Milgram and two other social psychologists conducted an experiment on 42nd Street in New York where they had various numbers of participants (insiders that were part of the research project) staring at a sixth floor window. The researchers recorded how many passerby stopped to look up. Here are the results: If one person was looking up at the sixth floor then 45% of the people who passed looked up. If 15 people were looking up at the sixth floor then a massive 85% of the people passing by looked up.

As Mr. Hotchkiss said in 1924 once a single person stands and gazes into the air, a second will soon follow and then a third, fourth, etc. – until there is a large crowd of people stopping and staring in the air.

Other social psychologists like Robert Cialdini have popularized the research projects involving our natural imitative nature and labeled it “social proof.”

But I think Hotchkiss’s label – “imitative suggestion” is more accurate than the modern Cialdini label.

“Imitative suggestion” better describes what is really going on. When we encounter a situation where we have insufficient information our other-than-conscious mind searches for information cues. One of those information cues is what other people are doing. If many people are doing the same thing then our mind figures that there is a good probability that they are doing the right thing.

So when we have incomplete information and need to make a decision (even about something as simple as looking up to the sky) – we go into a trance – a hypnotic trance and information cues then become non-verbal suggestions (“suggestion by action”) that create effects in a similar way that verbal suggestions create effects in a formal hypnotic session.

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About Christopher Tomasulo

At home Christopher Tomasulo is your average dad with three kids. However, here at Covert Comm he is known as “Doc Sulo” and he mind-warps crowds with a tiny flutter of his left hand. He clothespins ideas to unsuspecting gray matter. He speaks lemon-yellow words that splash into ear canals and squeeze themselves into refreshing influence lemonade. It has also been said he's half-way decent at making complex persuasion and influence techniques simple.
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8 Responses to Cialdini Social Proof or Hotchkiss Imitative Suggestion?

  1. Drayton Bird says:

    It’s so good to be reminded about things we know, or ought to, but forget.

    I wonder how many people have read Hotchkiss? I did about 50 years ago – and immediately forgot almost everything I read.

    Wouldn’t it be a good idea to give a list of examples of how to apply what you are talking about?

    • Thanks for stopping by Drayton.

      “I wonder how many people have read Hotchkiss?”

      I doubt it’s very many but I have noticed that most of the people I consider top copywriters have. But hey – the guy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry even though he’s written over 12 books including some of the best books on marketing history that I have ever read.

      In 1933 Advertising Copy was chosen by the readers of Printer’s Ink as one of the top 18 books on advertising (out of 100 nominated). Since 2004 I have asked dozens of marketers and copywriters if they have read it and they all have said no (although that will most likely change now that I have posted on this book twice) and I have never seen it on a modern list of “top copywriting” books.

      “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to give a list of examples of how to apply what you are talking about?”

      Yup. I realized I should have right after I hit “Publish.” But you’re helping out with one example just by reading and posting on my blog – especially since you’re a noted authority on advertising…

      I can create an example by using your comment to create an imitative suggestion with the added power of “association with authority”. I can do it all in one shot just by saying “Drayton Bird and dozens of other marketing and advertising greats read and comment on the Covert Communications website.”

      Here’s how I would do it visually: Imitative Suggestions

  2. Jim Van Wyck says:

    This is a GREAT piece!

    I never heard of Hotchkiss…
    and in my opinion, he’s right on.

    Imitative suggestion is a great new meme
    that I am adding to my vocabulary.

    Here’s how I think of it….
    we evolved has herd animals moving in small groups
    through a very dangerous environment.

    We have lots of primitive and powerful circuits
    that run in our brains … completely outside of volition & consciousness…
    that compel certain actions…..

    So in this case,
    when lots of other members of my herd
    are staring in the same direction…

    there might be a lion over there,
    or at least the danger signs of a predator…

    there might be some food over there,
    or at least the promising signs of a food source…

    there might be an opportunity for mating over there,
    or at least the promising signs of (don’t go THERE — I’m being serious)…

    It’s easy to see how this behaviour
    gets coded into the brain thru the evolutionary process
    of delivering greater survivability of the individual
    and delivering more progeny into the gene pool….

    Jim Van Wyck
    PS…. on my new DVD set Instant Hypnosis
    I show precise methods to use six more similar
    “brain hacks” that we’ve evolved —
    — in the context of persuasion, covert hypnosis, and leadership.

    For example, you can learn how to use the mammalian shock response
    to make another individual do precisely what you command in moments of surprise…

    On DVD3 I show 2 techniques of non-consnsual hypnosis —
    — and the second uses “imitative suggestion”,
    though I was not familiar with that formulation of the concept.

    Thanks Christopher … this article made my day!

    • Hey Jim.

      I was debating using an example involving a group of humans running from a tiger to show how we most likely ended up with this mental shortcut. I’m glad I didn’t because your illustration is much better than mine would have been. Thanks for posting it.

      Is your Instant Hypnosis DVD set aimed at hypnotists or lay people? Sounds awesome.

  3. John Breese says:

    Hi Christopher,

    I really enjoyed this piece and being the info-junkie I happen to be, I immediately searched through Amazon & Ebay for an edition of Advertising Copy.

    They had plenty of books by Hotchkiss, just not that one.

    I also checked about for PDFs on Google and came up snake eyes.

    If you happen to have a lead on this book, I would love to read up more on imitative suggestion.

    • Hi John.
      I found a few copies available here
      They’re going from $52.50 to $142.51

      As far as reading up on imitative suggestion… there are only a a few paragraphs in the book on it. BUT – the book has lots of good stuff in it besides just the imitative suggestion. It’s worth having if you are a marketer, copywriter, or even if you just have an interest in copywriting history.

  4. I’ve added Imitative Suggestion to the Resources/Definitions-Terms pull-down menu at the top of this site. Or just click here.

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