Journal of Marketing Behavior > Vol 1 > Issue 3-4

Manipulating System 2 and the Illusion of Caveat Emptor

Stijn M. J. van Osselaer, Cornell University, USA,
Suggested Citation
Stijn M. J. van Osselaer (2016), "Manipulating System 2 and the Illusion of Caveat Emptor", Journal of Marketing Behavior: Vol. 1: No. 3-4, pp 261-266.

Published: 24 Feb 2016
© 2015 S. M. J. van Osselaer
Government programs and public policy,  Health Economics: Insurance Economics,  Health Economics: Medical Care Markets,  Industrial Organization: Regulatory Economics,  Law and Economics: Torts, Contracts, and Property,  Public Economics,  Behavioral Decision Making,  Individual Decision Making,  Regulation

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In this article:
1. You can’t not Manipulate
2. Some Effects of System 1 Manipulation ain’t that Bad
3. The Worst Manipulation Often Involves System 2


In response to Sunstein’s “Fifty Shades of Manipulation (2015), I reinforce and expand on two of Sunstein’s points. First, I argue that almost any action by a marketeer, such as the order or context in which information is given, affects the salience of choice options or consumption benefits. These effects on salience in turn impact choice in subtle and often subconscious ways. Thus, if manipulation is defined in terms of lack of reflection and deliberation (Sunstein 2015), one might argue that “you can’t not manipulate.” Second, I argue that some non-deliberative manipulative processes may increase consumer welfare by increasing the pleasure of consuming the product. Thus, I agree with Sunstein that some effects of manipulation that rely on more automatic, lessdeliberative processes are not all that harmful. In addition to these two points, my main argument is that defining manipulation mostly in terms of less-deliberative processes misses out on several ways to influence consumers that are particularly harmful and that most consumers would consider manipulative. I argue that, for example in financial decision making, consumers often try to think hard and carefully, but are overwhelmed by the amount and complexity of information. This leads, for example, to confusopolies, and should undermine our confidence in the principle of caveat emptor. Consumers try to perform due diligence but still cannot avoid making suboptimal decisions.