Cold Reading Applications in marketing: Part 1 The Forer's Effect | Behaviour Marketing |

The internet a social beast, behavioural psychology and economics can play a role in influencing social dynamics. The closer we get to personalising our communication with customers the more effective our communication is. Personalisation can be costly exercise involving the purchase of expensive software, but there are techniques that we can utilise that can have a similar effect.


Let me introduce a term to you. COLD READING. You may have heard of it or seen it used in various contexts but it has had very little application within marketing communications. “Psychics” traditionally use cold reading to provide “accurate” personalised predictions about an individual. Have you ever wondered how people can be so convinced that the psychic can know things that they could not possibly have known? The psychic can connect with their customers in ways that really engage because they make it extremely personal. Cold reading is the range of tools that they use to achieve this. Marketing can learn a lot from cold reading and I will introduce a number of cold reading techniques within this blog (over time) to give you an insight into their commercial application.


The first cold reading technique I want to introduce is the “Forer’s Effect”. Also known as Barnum Statements, which in psychology refers to the gullibility of people when reading descriptions of themselves. By personality, we mean the ways in which people are different and unique. However, it is possible to give everyone the same description and people nevertheless rate the description as very accurate. You may be surprised to learn you are not as unique as you thought you are. The following statements are classical examples of Barnum Statements:


You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.


You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage.


Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.


You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.


You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others statements without satisfactory proof.


You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.

At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.


At times you are extroverted, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.


While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.


How accurate do the above statements reflect you and your self-perception? Typically the above statements when rated in psychological experiments on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 5 (excellent) the a typical average score 4.26 , very accurate. In a typical psychic cold reading, subjects tend to have a higher recall of accurate statements, blindly forgetting inaccurate ones, so when questioned after an event their perception of the readings effectiveness is actually greater.

The Forer’s Effect works on commonalities within a demographic that are generally true to all. From a marketing perspective, your customer targeting and segmentation can narrow down your demographics. In combination with market research and online conversational analysis, you can build up quite accurate profiles of each segment. With this information, creating general descriptive statements in your marketing messages could be a power tool to enhance engagement.


Given the scrupulous nature of psychics, how ethical is cold reading and Forer’s Effect as marketing methodology? The rational for a psychic’s use of cold reading is to deceive, spread lies and false hope. The Forer’s Effect and cold reading in marketing is really an extension of customer insight, understanding them, their behaviours, their thinking and demonstrating that you understand this. If used correctly customer can connect with your marketing messages and brand. Increasing customer affinity leads to greater engagement; this in turn can lead to sales.

In trying to change customer behaviours, cold reading has the potential to make a real difference to your marketing.



Forer, B. R. (1949). The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration of gullibility. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 44, 118-123.