How A 10,000 Year Old Habit Boosted Sales by 114% (Pay Attention To The ‘Sneaky Decoy’ Trick As Well)


We’ve only recently started experimenting with this tactic, but each time we use it, the results completely blow our minds.

We wrote about it briefly, and the next thing we knew was Neil Patel asked us if we would share here. Of course, we said, “We’d love to!”

So here’s something you can literally take and use in your business starting tonight. We’ll be as detailed as possible. This advanced tactic is called a decoy method. It’s used for influencing people and making them choose the option that you prefer them to pick.

So yes, it is extremely sneaky. It’s also a very useful tool in any influencer’s arsenal.

It was originally found and researched by the world famous psychologist, Dan Ariely, after he saw an old ad for The Economist. We simply took it and turned it into an applicable website split test.

To Make This More Digestible…

This article is split in two sections.

First I’ll explain an idea you need to understand as a base. Then I’ll build upon this idea.

You’ll see the exact details of how we used this specific experimental split test to increase a client’s sales by £83,580 (more than $ 130k at the time of writing).

We only used a single A/B split test.

Paleo Marketing

Firstly, you need to understand a concept we invented at Carter and Kingsley called ‘Paleo Marketing.’ The name comes from the behavior engrained in us during the Paleolithic period—around 10,000 years ago.

Paleo marketing is tied to the basis of why we do certain things today. And if you understand why we took these certain actions in the past, you can influence the outcome of future human behaviour.

Our Bodies Haven’t Changed Much in 10,000 Years

As an example, the way our bodies work today are pretty much how our bodies worked 10,000 years ago.

People think that eating fat makes us fat. It doesn’t. (Fat does clog our arteries, though). Eating sugar makes us fat. The reason this happens is because back when our ancestors were hunters, food was scarce.

Meat and vegetables were the staple diet. Sugar was hardly ever around. But on the odd occasion when we may have found a beehive, or a natural supply of sugary fruits, our bodies recognized that this was a rare moment. It then went on to store this sugar as fat because it was such a rare source of nourishment.

When we eat sugar, the body instantly produces a spike in insulin, which then instructs our cells to store this sugary energy as fat, for later use.

The funny thing is, our bodies still do this today. But now, sugar is freely available. But our bodies don’t know this, and haven’t evolved quickly enough to react to all the sugar available today. So today, sugar remains a primary cause of obesity, across the world.

Why Is This Important?

Well just like our bodies, the way our brain works today is very much like how our brain worked 10,000 years ago. For example, if you see a horror film, you may jump, even though you know you’re not in any real danger.

You can’t help but jump, because a long time ago, if there was a threat, you had to react fast to run away or else you may be killed by a big bear, etc. The ‘reptilian’ part of your brain is always on the lookout for danger, and if it sees a threat, it will react and get you moving—fast.

The point is that your brain still works in the same way today, as it did all those years ago.

How Do We Use This In Marketing?

It’s important to remember the ability to jump when we’re scared is not a learnt behaviour. It’s ingrained into our bodies. You can’t escape it. You were born with it.

This is an insight into every human brain on Earth.

Do you think that being able to see a tiny glimpse into every human mind is useful when you’re trying to sell to humans? Of course it is.

There are many other things that are simply engrained into our bodies and brains. If we can identify them, we can use them to market to people, and influence their decisions.

What Else Do Human Brains All Have In Common?

One of the things that our brains can’t do is understand and process a single item by itself.

If our ancestors were given a single stone, they wouldn’t really know if it was useful or not. If we gave them a single black pearl, they still wouldn’t really know whether to keep it or throw it away.

In order to make life easier, we adapted. How did we do that?

We learnt to compare.

So now our ancestors started looking around and comparing. When they compared one stone with a shiny black pearl, they would instantly be able to see which one they liked, and which one they didn’t. They learnt to find what was valuable and what wasn’t by comparing one item with a similar item.

Let’s show you a demonstration of this in action…

Comparing Demonstration

Take a look at the blue button below:


Is that button big? Or is it small? How do you know for sure? The truth is, if you’re looking at the blue button on it’s own, you don’t really know a true answer.

Now look at the next blue button:


Looking at the above blue button, you should agree it’s big. Why? Because it’s the biggest shape out of all the available shapes.

But what happens when you look at the picture below:


Now the blue button looks small. Because it’s now the smallest shape in the diagram. Ask a child these exact questions and you may be amused to hear them keep changing their answers around from “big” to “small.”

Now look at the next diagram:



Of course, both of the blue buttons are the same size. What happened is that the addition of the surrounding circles changed your perception of the button size.

Even now that I’ve told you what is happening, it’s still difficult to look at the blue buttons above and genuinely think anything apart from version 1 is a big blue button, and version 2 is a small blue button.

So now you know:

  • Why exactly you compare things
  • How your mind compares things
  • Exactly how important it is to compare things
  • How comparing works when you’re making choices

When Does Comparing Become Difficult?

Comparing the previous blue buttons was easy. We were only comparing circles with other circles. So the differences were very clear.

But there are times when it’s not so easy to compare one thing with another. For example, it’s not easy to compare a brown bear with a red car.

But like we saw previously with the blue button, comparing a brown bear with a black bear is simple.

The key thing to remember is that comparing two similar things is easy and comparing two very different items is much harder, as there is less to directly compare against.

Once you know this basic information, you can use it to influence people’s decisions.

So What’s The Sneaky Decoy Tactic & Does It Work?

Think back to the brown bear vs. red car example. Imagine that you have a similar difficult choice on your website.

We are trying to influence the decision that people make. We do this by introducing a decoy as a third ‘fictional’ choice.

This third ‘decoy’ choice is purposely made to be an obvious poorer version of one of the choices.

This makes it simple for you to compare the poor (and easily comparable) ‘decoy’ choice with one of the earlier options. The result is that you end up picking the more attractive choice as the most attractive of all three options.

What’s So Sneaky About That?

The sneaky part is that even though it’s offered as a choice, you never actually expect the decoy choice to be picked!

Here’s a visual demo:

fruitcompare2Image source:

The introduction of a ‘lesser’ but easily comparable ‘decoy’ option makes the better of the easily comparable options much more attractive.

It’s infamously difficult to choose between apples and oranges. They just can’t be compared easily. But if you introduce a third ‘decoy’ option, something very interesting happens.

Let’s say we add in a rotten apple as a decoy. You can now easily compare the rotten apple with the good apple. This also makes the good apple seem better than the orange as well. So the good apple gets picked.

But if you had a good apple with a ‘decoy’ rotten orange and a good orange, then the oranges are now much more easily comparable. The good orange seems most attractive. The good orange also will seem more attractive than the apple. So this time, the introduction of a ‘decoy‘ rotten orange will make the good orange the most popular item!

What we are doing is influencing people’s choices by the addition of a sneaky decoy.

Here’s The ‘Sneaky Decoy’ Split Test Which Boosted Sales By 114%

There are specific times when you really need to split test. Below is a recreation of an A/B split test we ran for this client.

split-tests-subscriptionImage source:

Decoy split test in practice: Sales of the £199 package were boosted by 114% with the addition of a decoy option.

As you can see, version 1 is what the payment area looked like before we helped. It had two choices. At this time, the Bronze package for £99 was chosen by 63% of all buyers.

How Did We Improve This?

We decided to add a third ‘sneaky decoy’ option to this list of two options. We did this by creating a new option which was a ‘lesser’ version—the Gold package for sale on it’s own.

But to make it easily comparable we had to add in the ‘sneaky part.’ We did this by offering the Gold package alone for the exact same price as the Bronze & Gold package. You can see this under version 2 (final) in the picture above.

So What Does This Do?

People now have two items they can compare to each other very easily—because we made them both the exact the same price! Of course, we didn’t expect anyone to buy the Gold package alone when you could buy the Bronze & Gold package for the exact same amount of money.

Did It Make a Difference?

So did it work? Did a larger percent of people now buy the higher priced and ‘better’ option because they could easily compare it and see it was the ‘best’ option? Yes, it did work and very well too.

Here Are the Results

Visitors could now easily compare the Gold package alone for £199 with the option of getting the Bronze AND Gold package for £199. This made the Bronze and Gold package look much better then the Gold package alone.

As if by magic, it also makes the Bronze and Gold package much more attractive then just the Bronze package alone for £99.

Sales of the Bronze and Gold package went from 37% to 79% of all buyers.

The proof that the sneaky decoy is influencing people is that no one actually bought it—just like when it wasn’t present at all. However, when it wasn’t present, the Bronze and Gold package only sold 39% of the time.

So sales of the Bronze and Gold package were actually boosted, by 114%.

Across 50k visitors (approx.), this boosted sales of the Bronze and Gold package from £73,630 to £157,210.

That’s a boost of £83,580 in sales of the Bronze & Gold package alone. And it was all done with one A/B split test.

We haven’t even taken the sales of the Bronze package into account yet (although we do know the final numbers).

Overall, we can tell you that this strategy puts you in a much stronger position against your competition when buying advertising and other ways to use your ad spend for lead generating etc.

£83k In Extra Sales – And It Cost Nothing

The total cost to get an extra £83k in sales was nothing. There was no extra advertising. No more phone calls were needed. We didn’t have to pound the pavement for a longer time or send a single extra smoke signal to the next village to find new customers. None of that.

All we did was a simple optimization of the existing business. And there are plenty more optimizations that can still be done.

Needless to say, this is why we love split testing. And that’s why you should love it too.

Was that insightful? Then see other Crazy Egg articles by Michael Maven.

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