The Boiling Frog

Wesley Chang
Dec 15, 2015 · 3 min read
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The Boiling Frog is a “slippery slope” metaphor similar to Camel’s Nose.

In the late nineteenth century, a series of experiments were performed on frogs to determine the sensitivity of their nervous systems — temperature being one of them. One such experiment found that a frog was boiled alive without moving because the temperature of the water inside the pot was increased by such small incremental degrees, the frog never noticed.

The conclusion being that if you put a frog immediately into boiling water, it will naturally jump free. By putting a frog into cool water, and gradually turning up the heat, the frog will never realize that he is being slowly boiled alive.

The legitimacy of this scientific claim on boiling frogs is under serious doubt, but the concept when applied to the human psyche remains striking.

The main difference between Boiling Frog and Camel’s Nose is that a Boiling Frog is allowing something to happen slowly enough so that the impact isn’t noticed at all. Moreover, a Boiling Frog can result in negative or positive outcomes (although more often associated with negative), whereas Camel’s Nose will always results in a gradual worsening situation, and usually includes a sudden realisation that the resulting situation is totally unacceptable.

You will sometimes come across situations that could be described as both a Camel’s Nose and a Boiling Frog.

Here are some examples of Boiling Frog:

A person in an unhealthy or abusive relationship may allow minor unacceptable behaviors or controlling demands by their partner to pass during the early days of the relationship, without realizing that their entire liberty and self-esteem is being eroded by the destructive partner.

The inaction over climate change is said to be caused by the fact that the affects of climate change upon the world occurs so gradually, most people fail to recognize what is happening.

A CEO slowly prepares an employee for taking over the business by putting more and more responsibility on him over time, so that by the time the employee takes over the business, he is fully prepared.

If an athlete went out and ran a marathon without performing any kind of training first, it would have catastrophic effect on his/her body. To avoid this, an athletic trains over time to build up muscle and stamina according to what his/her body can comfortably tolerate at that time. Gradually he/she increases the training as the body strengthens. By the time he/she run the marathon, his/her body is able to cope with the intense physical stress it is put under.

Use in Marketing:

This concept can be applied in marketing in the form of “Funneling”.

You bring someone to your site by offering a free bonus. Then you present them with a small offering, and then upsell them on another slightly larger offer after that. So that bit by bit, the you are able to squeeze more sales out of the visitor.

This may not necessarily happen over a period of 30 minutes or through one salesletter, but can happen over months or even years. By having a person on your newsletter, you can sell to them again and again on other products, specials deals over time.

It’s important to remember that this kind of “slow boil ” is not necessarily a negative situation for the customer. Funneling, especially over the long term, will only work if the marketer is providing products that are of good quality and genuinely useful to the buyer. For the customer, while the ultimate expenditure over time may have been more than they were initially prepared to spend if they had thought about it in advance, it ends up being money well-spent, and results in a good relationship between the customer and company.


An Excellent Summary of the Concept:

Psychology Secrets for Marketing

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