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Reverse Psychology Marketing

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"The Virtual Boy's marketing was bizarre. Many commercials portrayed it as a B-movie monster with the player running away from it. Ah, reverse psychology, not a bad idea."

Gotta say, clicking on this article was a bad choice. Seriously, who would want to read about people trying to sell their product while actively mocking it? Sounds like a pretty stupid trope.

Essentially, the idea of this marketing tactic is completely at odds with normal marketing. Normal marketing is all about convincing people that your product is the best. Instead, when using this tactic you take a product that is very good, or very popular and proceed to jerk the fans/customers around. You run a campaign that makes people think your product isn't that great, or confuse them about what to expect when they buy it. Apparently the idea is to lower expectations so that when the customer gets the item, they are excited because it's so much better than expected.

The method behind the madness is that Word Of Mouth is the most powerful advertising you can have. But how do you get people talking about your product? What better way to start a conversation then acting in precisely the opposite manner from that expected of someone selling something. That starts people talking about it, then if those people talking about it run into one person who has actually used the product and they give a good glowing review. Well then, it sparks even more interest.

Taken to extremes, it can come across as a big Take That! to Fan Dumb.

An example of Reverse Psychology Marketing:

  1. Be as abusive toward your core clientele as you can. Engage in deceptive advertising—not the sleazy kind that makes them think your product is great when it isn't, but rather irrationally make them think your product is crappier than it is. Maybe run a Non-Indicative First Episode that makes your product look worse than it is, instead of better.
  2. Promise an exciting new version/season and then keep delaying its release. Then announce that it's been canceled, but spread rumors that the cancellation is just a promotional gimmick.
  3. Release rumors that a new long-awaited version/season is finally coming out, but then explain it's actually just a re-release of the old product with new packaging. Then include new content without telling anyone.
  4. Then reveal that the new content actually isn't what you had been promising for several years, but consists of something superficial, like extra color variations allowing for shallow aesthetic changes.
  5. Then reveal that this was all really a promotion for the new version/season that you promised in the first place.

By keeping your customers completely confused and shell-shocked with the shift between giving them their dreams and then crushing those dreams before their eyes, Stockholm Syndrome will soon set in and they will become your mindless minions. Unable to resist buying whatever merchandise you set before them.

Contrast No Such Thing as Bad Publicity. Might be based on the same type of appeal as the Tsundere, only applied to marketing instead of romance.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth: So they ran out of money for the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but we are told we are going to get a movie to finish the story. Then we get Death and Rebirth, which was only half of the movie. That was seen as either jerking the fans around in order to hype the future release of End of Evangelion, which was the full movie or a pointed attempt NOT to viewers around. Gainax just didn't have the movie ready, and they wanted to put out something for the fans.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya:
  • Perhaps unintentional but Powerpuff Girls Z was first announced on April 1st, 2005, just a month after the original show ended, leading people to believe it was a hoax.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In-Universe example: The film Crazy People is about an ad executive who has a nervous breakdown, then enlists the help of the people in the psychiatric hospital he's sent to and makes adverts that use this trope, being entirely honest about what the product's really about or its negative aspects.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The makers of Battlestar Galactica were a bit like this during the last few season breaks. They also went out of their way to offend fanboys of the original BSG series, the ones who had been dreaming of new stuff for 20 years. They took Starbuck, the most masculine character in the show, and turned him into a woman. After some fans dubbed the series "GINO" (Galactica In Name Only), the creators said they would address it in a coming episode. They did — by naming a character who is repeatedly raped and beaten "Gina".
    • No one was more offended than Dirk Benedict, the actor who had played Starbuck. His rant, if you have not read it, is legendary... for its He-Man Woman Hater-level frothing, insane Stay in the Kitchen misogyny (guy's psychotic enough to actually say "Men hand out cigars. Women `hand out' babies." You have been warned). However, all the press from this is probably what gave the BSG execs the idea to execute this trope.

  • The depressing ad by 6 Hour Power which was basically a picture of a few bottles of the energy drink and a dry narrator voice giving a pitch that more or less amounted to "Please buy our product, please."
  • Vitaly Borker runs an online company "Decor My Eyes" that sells eye ware. When a customers complains that he didn't fill their order correctly, he refuses to refund their money. He even has gone as far as sending ominous and vaguely threatening emails to the complaining customer. This causes the customers to complain to industry watchgroups. Because his site is mentioned on these sites his google score goes up, thus bringing in more customers than he loses. During his interview with the New York Times, Mr. Borker openly explains that this is his deliberate strategy.
  • Volkswagen used a mild example of this trope when advertising the original VW Beetle in the US, including a famous one with basketball's Wilt Chamberlain stating, "They said it couldn't be done (fit Chamberlain into a Bug)." Beat. "It couldn't." Another had a model of the Apollo program's lunar lander with a VW logo on the side, which said "It's ugly, but it gets you there."
  • Whether it's intentional or not, Yorkie bars used to pull this off. "It's not for girls," so girls bought them to be contrary. That'll sure show Nestle! Plus, it got people talking about how sexist that is. However, the point was probably actually to market them to boys and men. In any case, they've phased out that slogan nowadays.

    Video Games 
  • Perhaps the most infamous example of this trope is the EarthBound "This game stinks" ad campaign. When Nintendo of America decided to localize Mother 2, they decided that the best way to sell such a unique game to Americans wasn't to spotlight its story, characters, or quirky sense of humor in comparison to other RPGs, but rather to focus on Toilet Humour. Described as "the first role playing game with B.O." by Nintendo Power magazine, every single print advertisement would declare that the game "stinks" with an accompanying illustration of a fart cloud and typically some additional fart-related joke written in. And as if that wasn't enough, several of these print ads also included scratch and sniff sections with equally rancid scents, which could in turn spread the scent to the entire magazine or even other pieces of mail if they weren't handled properly. Not only did this not properly reflect the contents of the game at allnote  but it also went horribly wrong — or, in a twisted way, went horribly right — as the only thing ad campaign succeeded in accomplishing was turning players away. This resulted in the game selling horribly stateside, and while it has gone on to be Vindicated by History, the effects of this marketing blunder can still be felt today as Nintendo barely acknowledges the series outside of Japan and actively refuses to localize the third entry.
  • One wonders if this trope is what Tiger Electronics had in mind when they released this gem. Of course, given how long that lasted on the market...
  • Averted when Sega announced NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams on April Fools Day as the date is actually significant in the series (mainly as a way to unlock Reala).
  • Telltale Games decided to announce their crossover game starring Sam, Brock Samson, Claptrap, and Ash Williams on April 1st, making many assume it was just an elaborate joke.

    Web Original 
  • Our own example is Better Than It Sounds. Admit it: You write unappealing summaries for your favorite shows only to advertise them to other tropers, or at the very least, amuse tropers who are familiar with the series.
  • YouTube creator Lilith Walther, who is best known for making a PS1 demake of Bloodborne, has a set of short videos on her channel simply titled "DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO" where her original character acts out various memes (presumably as a way to test out animation). As one might expect, they are some of her most popular videos.
  • Markiplier will occasionally invoke this with his video titles:
    • In keeping with the spirit of the series, his videos on the There Is No Game games are "DO NOT CLICK" and "DO NOT WATCH" respectively. They have a combined 28 million views.
    • "CURSED VIDEO: DON'T WATCH" is a video where he reads an absolutely bonkers Tumblr post written entirely in "UwU speak" that has been viewed over 1 million times.
    • Simiarly, the thumbnail to his video on Penis Cloner is simply a picture of his face with the text "DON'T CLICK." It has 5 million views.
  • The page quote comes from Scott the Woz's video on Nintendo's Virtual Boy, where he jokingly implies that Nintendo was attempting to invoke this method of marketing towards the console.
    AUGUST 1995 | 0 VIRTUAL BOYS SOLD — Scott (as Nintendo): Oh, don't buy the Virtual Boy. You'll f**king hate it.
    DECEMBER 1995 | 0 VIRTUAL BOYS SOLD — Scott: Seriously, don't buy it. It'll kill you.