Persuasion Through Altercasting

Altercasting, as a method of persuasion, caught my attention in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, quoting psychologists as saying “it’s widely used in the real world—by advertisers, fundraisers, parents, teachers, spouses, and therapists, among others.”

The premise of altercasting is that you to project the identity of a role you want another person to assume to encourage them to behave in a desired manner, targeting both the social role and ego of a person. 

So is this manipulation? And does it have a place in marketing?

I believe that any successful direct response copywriter will imagine and feel the persona of the prospective customer. It’s a sixth sense—where a writer takes on the mindset of the reader—and it’s a path to persuasive copy. 

 Some examples cited by the WSJ drive this point: Want your co-worker to stay late and proofread a report you wrote? Mention that she is a good writer and really knows the subject. Hope to talk your meat-and-potatoes friend into trying the new Vietnamese restaurant? Tell him you admire his adventurous spirit. Want your husband to clean the garage? Point out what a supportive husband he is and how you know he wants you to be happy.

Altercasting is also viewed in two ways: “Manded” and “Tact.”.

“Manded” altercasting is when you don’t change your behavior but openly state a role for the other person. In the WSJ article, their example was “Honey, you’re such a wonderful cook. Would you mind making dinner tonight?”

“Tact” altercasting is passive, where you don’t state anything explicitly but change your behavior to suggest a role for the other person. If you wanted your spouse to cook, you might fumble around in the kitchen, pretending you can’t find the right ingredients, until your spouse steps in.

By definition, altercasting feels manipulative. It can lead to a huge backfire if misused. But smartly adapting this approach for its persuasive ability may have a place in marketing and copywriting. Begin with your customer’s persona. Imagine what they feel, and when you write to that individual, encourage self-awareness so they engage, are persuaded, and give themselves permission to take action. 

Self-awareness examples would include:

•    In fundraising, a reminder to the reader—especially past donors—that they are generous individuals, and you hope they’ll be generous again.

•    For life insurance, suggest to the reader that they are likely concerned about their loved ones financial future, so you help them realize they should be financially responsible. 

•    For a health supplement, awaken the internal sixth sense that while the individual may be an active adult and look good on the outside, inside their body a completely different scenario could be unfolding. 

The key is to sense the persona of your prospective customer, place them in a mindset before getting into your message, then engage, build trust and persuade so they give themselves permission to take action. 


Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.