Selling to the Sleepy



Late-night infomercials and commercials often promote subjects like buying real-estate with no money down and other get-rich quick schemes. While these promotions are broadcast in the wee hours because air time is cheaper and more readily available, it turns out there’s solid science behind this timing. In a new study, Duke university researchers found significant differences in the way sleep-deprived subjects evaluated risk:

A single night of sleep deprivation (SD) evoked a strategy shift during risky decision making such that healthy human volunteers moved from defending against losses to seeking increased gains… These results suggest that a night of total sleep deprivation affects the neural mechanisms underlying economic preferences independent of its effects on vigilant attention. [From Journal of NeuroscienceSleep Deprivation Biases the Neural Mechanisms Underlying Economic Preferences by Vinod Venkatraman, Scott A. Huettel, Lisa Y. M. Chuah, John W. Payne, and Michael W. L. Chee.]

In essence, this change in emphasizing gains and minimizing risk was found to be different than fatigue-induced lack of attention.

Gamblers Beware

As usual, casinos are way ahead of academics when it comes to understanding human behavior. They have all kinds of strategies to keep gamblers playing into the night, including an absence of clocks, free drinks, late-night shows, and so on. Study co-author Scott Huettel notes that casinos also stimulate gamblers with flashing lights and sounds, while converting real money into abstractions like chips and credits.

Marketing Timing

Few marketers have the ability (or the desire) to keep a customer engaged to the point of sleep deprivation. But, perhaps we can all learn from casinos and get-rich-now infomercials. Here are a couple possible strategies:

  • Email drops. Selling a financial or self-improvement product? Try emailing customers very late at night. Most will see your email in the morning, but perhaps a few night-owls will respond to the offer immediately.
  • Website offers. Combining the time of day and geotargeting the visitor’s location might pinpoint a time of higher receptivity to a particular offer.
  • Late-night schmoozing. Wining and dining customers late into the evening has long been a sales tradition. While few salespeople would think it appropriate to try and close a deal at the end of such an outing, it seems possible that a client might warm to the concept as the evening progresses and be better prepared for a closing discussion the next day. (And we know schmoozing at any time is a good idea.)

Of course, it’s important to realize that just because a person is up at 4 AM local time doesn’t mean they are sleep-deprived. Perhaps they work non-standard hours, or they are simply functioning on a less common circadian rhythym. In addition, we can hardly recommend marketers trying to take advantage of customers who are truly sleep deprived. Still, the new research helps us understand why some long-time practices actually work.

  1. Jennifer says

    I’m an old-school insomniac (the only time I ever slept normally was when I was in Europe). I’m going to lock my credit cards up at night after reading this. 🙂

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I can buy stupid stuff at any time of day, Jennifer!


  2. Aberie Ikinko says

    The effect could also be due to consumers feeling they have an edge over everyone else who is asleep so they need to hurry and buy before others wake up. Infomercials are especially notorious for saying things like “be one of the first 10 callers or call in the next 3 hours and you get (whatever) for free!” In addition, if they can’t sleep, they are probably looking for something exciting to do and so might be more likely to take risks.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      That could be a motivation too, Aberie, although what the researchers observed was likely more of an unconscious change in attituded toward risk.


  3. Nefarious NapStealers says

    I think we’ve all had that groggy feeling at 3am when we know that we should be sleeping, but we’re doing something else. Definitely not the best time to be making financial decisions.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.