Horoscopes: A Great Marketing Success Story
So simple and repetitive — yet so interesting
There are usually two types of people when it comes to believing in horoscopes. The first kind believes in them religiously, probably pays for horoscope apps, and asks about the zodiac signs of people they’re meeting for the first time.
Then there is the second type. These people think it's stupid to believe in horoscopes, and they are repelled by people who talk about their signs. However, I’m sure that even these people have come across their horoscope and thought that it was very accurate at one point in their lives.
Although daily horoscopes are very general and repetitive, people still find them interesting. Naturally, there are many businesses that take advantage of this and make incredible amounts of money from something so simple and effortless.
For example, Tomas Pueyo explains in his article how his horoscope app gained tens of millions of users in a matter of months. What’s interesting is the fact that he doesn’t even believe in horoscopes. But he still managed to build a successful business based on horoscopes by understanding why others believe in them.
Since I’m a marketer, I look at the concept of horoscopes from a marketing perspective, and I find very valuable insights in it. By understanding how horoscopes manage to attract so many people with such a simple concept, you can implement the same tactics to your business too.
Barnum (Forer) Effect
In 1948, psychologist Bertram Foret created an experiment. He gave his students a personality test and told them that they would receive a unique outline of their character afterward. Once the students got their results, Foret asked them to rate their accuracy.
All of the students said that their results gave an excellent description of their personality. However, the students were actually given the exact same outline. Foret repeated this experiment many times and consistently got similar results.
This psychological phenomenon of individuals giving high accuracy ratings to general personality descriptions is called the Barnum Effect. And it’s one of the main reasons that people make money from things like astrology and fortune-telling.
It works because human beings love to take things personally. So when you give someone vague information and say it’s unique to them, they will believe it. This is exactly why personalization works wonders in marketing.
Think about it. Have you ever read an email that you wouldn’t normally open just because it had your name in the subject? Well, you’re not the only one.
According to an Epsilon survey of 1,000 consumers aged 18–64, 80% say they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences, and 90% claim they find personalization appealing.
Another simple yet effective example is Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. It’s such a simple idea: Identify the most popular names in a country and put them on the bottles. Lucie Austin, a marketing director at Coca-Cola, says when she saw her name on a Coke bottle, she knew her team had a hit on its hands.
“My reaction was childlike,” she says. “I knew many others would have the same reaction.”
And she was right. With such a simple trick, in the summer of 2011, Coca-Cola managed to sell more than 250 million named bottles and cans in Australia, a nation of just under 23 million people.
It’s so simple yet so effective because we pay more attention to things when we think they’re about us. So take the time to understand who your customers are. Use the data you have to personalize your marketing strategy. And with a few simple adjustments, you can achieve big results.
We like to define ourselves through things. Look at the bios of Medium writers, for example: coffee addict, loves to travel, mother of three, former lawyer…
It’s almost as if it gives more legitimacy to our self-definition when we express it through something we love or do. Similarly, horoscopes give people a medium to define themselves. Instead of saying “I’m an emotional person,” people like to say, “I’m such a Pisces.”
According to psychologist Susan Blackmore, women who follow their horoscopes closely start to conform significantly to their sign definition. Self-definition through star signs is so influential that some people even start to twist their personality to fit in with their sign.
The same goes for brands with strong brand images. When a brand associates itself with certain attributes, people with similar interests and traits tend to identify themselves through their love and loyalty for that brand.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”―Simon Sinek
For example, when you say you always buy your T-shirts from ‘X’ brand, it might not tell a lot about your personality and values. But when you change the ‘X’ brand with Patagonia, it says something about you.
This is why people are drawn to brands with personalities and activism. More than being drawn, people tend to be more loyal and forgiving. This is the reason behind the success of many big brands.
Take Apple, for example. Most Apple customers are so loyal to the brand that they won’t even consider changing their iPhone for an Android even though it might offer higher quality for a lower price.
The same reason goes for buying the latest iPhone model as soon as it comes out even though your current one might be working fine. People are not after a phone upgrade. Their action is the result of the strong bond they built with the brand. And this strong bond is built because Apple gives people a tool to identify themselves through — not just a phone.
No matter what your business is, you can create a meaningful brand that offers much more than a product or a service too. By analyzing your target customers and building a brand that will comply with their self-definition, you can benefit from the loyalty that comes with it.
A Reason to Talk
Humans are social beings. But it’s not always easy to start a conversation or keep it going. This is why we rely on simple things like the weather to break an awkward silence.
Similarly, horoscopes are great conversation openers. The other day one of my friends send me an article called “What Netflix Show Should You Be Watching According to Your Zodiac Sign?”As a person who doesn’t believe in horoscopes, I find this type of content meaningless. However, I still checked my sign, and this started a conversation between me and my friend. And I admit it, I enjoyed it.
People love sharing this type of content because it starts a conversation. In this way, horoscopes are becoming a no-cost advertising tool. Similarly, instead of relying on safe and traditional marketing, brands can benefit from being a conversation opener by creating interesting content too.
Guerrilla marketing is one of the greatest ways of doing this. For those who don’t know, guerrilla marketing is an advertisement strategy in which a company uses surprise and/or unconventional interactions in order to promote a product or service.
One of the recent examples that I love was by Burger King. I love it because it was so simple. The brand confused many when it started to like some people’s tweets from 2009 to 2010.
But why? Well, they cleared up the confusion by announcing that they are bringing back the Funnel Cake Fries, which were first introduced by the restaurant in 2009.
Imagine if they had spent big amounts of money on a traditional ad instead. It wouldn’t have gained close to the amount of attention this simple move did. I wouldn’t be writing about it in my article. You wouldn’t be reading about it.
So stop relying on the same old traditional marketing strategies. Do something so interesting that it will make people start a conversation.
No matter how simple and insignificant something might seem, if done right it can influence people. The concept of a horoscope is proof of this phenomenon.
Brands can achieve great success by taking advantage of this as well. All it takes is understanding the reason behind people’s behaviors and implementing that understanding in your marketing strategy.