3 Simple Reasons We Love “Sneaky”

Like all of you, I’m frequently given the opportunity to learn “one weird tip,” or “one little trick,” or occasionally “one sneaky trick” that will enable me to improve something very suddenly with a minimum of effort.

Mostly, these are the things that normally bedevil people, like losing weight or regaining your mojo with the opposite sex. I once got an email saying there was “one sneaky trick” I could learn that would help me “smack monster drives” on the golf course. As a very mediocre golfer, this had an instant appeal to me because my drives smack me as often as they do any other place.

“Sneaky” sounds like you’re doing something slightly wrong … one “sneaky” trick for smacking monster drives in golf, for example, is to kick the ball forward when your playing partner’s not looking. That’s pretty sneaky. Short of that, I can’t think how hitting a ball with a club in full view of everyone could conceivably be “sneaky.”

SO, WHY DOES THE IDEA OF A “SNEAKY” TRICK APPEAL TO THE HUMAN BRAIN?

• The obvious thing is that people want something for nothing. They want to learn that there’s a switch that they never noticed and that has always been in the “off” position, and all they have to do is turn it “on” and their results will be much, much better.

• I believe they want to do this in a way that proves they’re clever, but not outright cheaters. A “sneaky” trick isn’t a “dirty” trick. No one needs to know what the dirty tricks are … they’re obvious, like my ball-kicking technique (or using the Foot Wedge, as I often say. Sorry, golf nerd terminology). I had a “sneaky” trick once at LAX. There was a security gate up an elevator from the main departure level that was almost always completely abandoned by passengers, and I could get through there in a couple minutes, while staring down at the suckers waiting all morning to get through the normal gate. Yeah, that was awesome. Of course, if I shared this “sneaky” trick with too many people, it would be totally ruined, so I never put ads on the internet about it.

• Perhaps the third factor is wanting to feel like you’re on the inside of something. I not only thought I was better informed than the poor shlubs waiting on the lower level; I knew I was. It was silly, but still true. (Never mind that the whole reason I knew this “sneaky” trick was because I had the misfortune of being at LAX so much.)

ONE MORE THING: People feel almost compelled to hear the punch line of something. It’s like that scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where Roger can’t resist finishing “shave and a haircut … ” by breaking through the wall and screaming, “Two bits!” even though he knows he’s going to give himself away to the bad guy. J.J. Abrams calls it The Mystery Box, and even if we know there’s not really anything too special in the box, we just feel compelled to see what it is. Oh, the island is heaven? Oh, they’ve been on Earth all along? Still, we want to know.

So, even though the “one sneaky trick” concept is just a dumb gimmick for getting some extra clicks on some dumb ads that probably don’t produce much actual revenue for the people who create them because they’ve been vastly overplayed, they do tap into some pretty basic stuff about human nature in a way that most marketing never does.

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