How A 10,000 Year Old Habit Boosted Sales by 114% (Pay Attention To The ‘Sneaky Decoy’ Trick As Well)

by Michael Maven

Last updated on August 25th, 2017

We’ve only recently started experimenting with this tactic, but each time we use it, the results completely blow our minds.

We wrote about it briefly, and the next thing we knew was Neil Patel asked us if we would share here. Of course, we said, “We’d love to!”

So here’s something you can literally take and use in your business starting tonight. We’ll be as detailed as possible. This advanced tactic is called a decoy method. It’s used for influencing people and making them choose the option that you prefer them to pick.

So yes, it is extremely sneaky. It’s also a very useful tool in any influencer’s arsenal.

It was originally found and researched by the world famous psychologist, Dan Ariely, after he saw an old ad for The Economist. We simply took it and turned it into an applicable website split test.

To Make This More Digestible…

This article is split in two sections.

First I’ll explain an idea you need to understand as a base. Then I’ll build upon this idea.

You’ll see the exact details of how we used this specific experimental split test to increase a client’s sales by £83,580 (more than $130k at the time of writing).

We only used a single A/B split test.

Paleo Marketing

Firstly, you need to understand a concept we invented at Carter and Kingsley called ‘Paleo Marketing.’ The name comes from the behavior engrained in us during the Paleolithic period—around 10,000 years ago.

Paleo marketing is tied to the basis of why we do certain things today. And if you understand why we took these certain actions in the past, you can influence the outcome of future human behaviour.

Our Bodies Haven’t Changed Much in 10,000 Years

As an example, the way our bodies work today are pretty much how our bodies worked 10,000 years ago.

People think that eating fat makes us fat. It doesn’t. (Fat does clog our arteries, though). Eating sugar makes us fat. The reason this happens is because back when our ancestors were hunters, food was scarce.

Meat and vegetables were the staple diet. Sugar was hardly ever around. But on the odd occasion when we may have found a beehive, or a natural supply of sugary fruits, our bodies recognized that this was a rare moment. It then went on to store this sugar as fat because it was such a rare source of nourishment.

When we eat sugar, the body instantly produces a spike in insulin, which then instructs our cells to store this sugary energy as fat, for later use.

The funny thing is, our bodies still do this today. But now, sugar is freely available. But our bodies don’t know this, and haven’t evolved quickly enough to react to all the sugar available today. So today, sugar remains a primary cause of obesity, across the world.

Why Is This Important?

Well just like our bodies, the way our brain works today is very much like how our brain worked 10,000 years ago. For example, if you see a horror film, you may jump, even though you know you’re not in any real danger.

You can’t help but jump, because a long time ago, if there was a threat, you had to react fast to run away or else you may be killed by a big bear, etc. The ‘reptilian’ part of your brain is always on the lookout for danger, and if it sees a threat, it will react and get you moving—fast.

The point is that your brain still works in the same way today, as it did all those years ago.

How Do We Use This In Marketing?

It’s important to remember the ability to jump when we’re scared is not a learnt behaviour. It’s ingrained into our bodies. You can’t escape it. You were born with it.

This is an insight into every human brain on Earth.

Do you think that being able to see a tiny glimpse into every human mind is useful when you’re trying to sell to humans? Of course it is.

There are many other things that are simply engrained into our bodies and brains. If we can identify them, we can use them to market to people, and influence their decisions.

What Else Do Human Brains All Have In Common?

One of the things that our brains can’t do is understand and process a single item by itself.

If our ancestors were given a single stone, they wouldn’t really know if it was useful or not. If we gave them a single black pearl, they still wouldn’t really know whether to keep it or throw it away.

In order to make life easier, we adapted. How did we do that?

We learnt to compare.

So now our ancestors started looking around and comparing. When they compared one stone with a shiny black pearl, they would instantly be able to see which one they liked, and which one they didn’t. They learnt to find what was valuable and what wasn’t by comparing one item with a similar item.

Let’s show you a demonstration of this in action…

Comparing Demonstration

Take a look at the blue button below:


Is that button big? Or is it small? How do you know for sure? The truth is, if you’re looking at the blue button on it’s own, you don’t really know a true answer.

Now look at the next blue button:


Looking at the above blue button, you should agree it’s big. Why? Because it’s the biggest shape out of all the available shapes.

But what happens when you look at the picture below:


Now the blue button looks small. Because it’s now the smallest shape in the diagram. Ask a child these exact questions and you may be amused to hear them keep changing their answers around from “big” to “small.”

Now look at the next diagram:


Of course, both of the blue buttons are the same size. What happened is that the addition of the surrounding circles changed your perception of the button size.

Even now that I’ve told you what is happening, it’s still difficult to look at the blue buttons above and genuinely think anything apart from version 1 is a big blue button, and version 2 is a small blue button.

So now you know:

  • Why exactly you compare things
  • How your mind compares things
  • Exactly how important it is to compare things
  • How comparing works when you’re making choices

When Does Comparing Become Difficult?

Comparing the previous blue buttons was easy. We were only comparing circles with other circles. So the differences were very clear.

But there are times when it’s not so easy to compare one thing with another. For example, it’s not easy to compare a brown bear with a red car.

But like we saw previously with the blue button, comparing a brown bear with a black bear is simple.

The key thing to remember is that comparing two similar things is easy and comparing two very different items is much harder, as there is less to directly compare against.

Once you know this basic information, you can use it to influence people’s decisions.

So What’s The Sneaky Decoy Tactic & Does It Work?

Think back to the brown bear vs. red car example. Imagine that you have a similar difficult choice on your website.

We are trying to influence the decision that people make. We do this by introducing a decoy as a third ‘fictional’ choice.

This third ‘decoy’ choice is purposely made to be an obvious poorer version of one of the choices.

This makes it simple for you to compare the poor (and easily comparable) ‘decoy’ choice with one of the earlier options. The result is that you end up picking the more attractive choice as the most attractive of all three options.

What’s So Sneaky About That?

The sneaky part is that even though it’s offered as a choice, you never actually expect the decoy choice to be picked!

Here’s a visual demo:

fruitcompare2Image source

The introduction of a ‘lesser’ but easily comparable ‘decoy’ option makes the better of the easily comparable options much more attractive.

It’s infamously difficult to choose between apples and oranges. They just can’t be compared easily. But if you introduce a third ‘decoy’ option, something very interesting happens.

Let’s say we add in a rotten apple as a decoy. You can now easily compare the rotten apple with the good apple. This also makes the good apple seem better than the orange as well. So the good apple gets picked.

But if you had a good apple with a ‘decoy’ rotten orange and a good orange, then the oranges are now much more easily comparable. The good orange seems most attractive. The good orange also will seem more attractive than the apple. So this time, the introduction of a ‘decoy‘ rotten orange will make the good orange the most popular item!

What we are doing is influencing people’s choices by the addition of a sneaky decoy.

Here’s The ‘Sneaky Decoy’ Split Test Which Boosted Sales By 114%

There are specific times when you really need to split test. Below is a recreation of an A/B split test we ran for this client.

split-tests-subscriptionImage source

Decoy split test in practice: Sales of the £199 package were boosted by 114% with the addition of a decoy option.

As you can see, version 1 is what the payment area looked like before we helped. It had two choices. At this time, the Bronze package for £99 was chosen by 63% of all buyers.

How Did We Improve This?

We decided to add a third ‘sneaky decoy’ option to this list of two options. We did this by creating a new option which was a ‘lesser’ version—the Gold package for sale on it’s own.

But to make it easily comparable we had to add in the ‘sneaky part.’ We did this by offering the Gold package alone for the exact same price as the Bronze & Gold package. You can see this under version 2 (final) in the picture above.

So What Does This Do?

People now have two items they can compare to each other very easily—because we made them both the exact the same price! Of course, we didn’t expect anyone to buy the Gold package alone when you could buy the Bronze & Gold package for the exact same amount of money.

Did It Make a Difference?

So did it work? Did a larger percent of people now buy the higher priced and ‘better’ option because they could easily compare it and see it was the ‘best’ option? Yes, it did work and very well too.

Here Are the Results

Visitors could now easily compare the Gold package alone for £199 with the option of getting the Bronze AND Gold package for £199. This made the Bronze and Gold package look much better then the Gold package alone.

As if by magic, it also makes the Bronze and Gold package much more attractive then just the Bronze package alone for £99.

Sales of the Bronze and Gold package went from 37% to 79% of all buyers.

The proof that the sneaky decoy is influencing people is that no one actually bought it—just like when it wasn’t present at all. However, when it wasn’t present, the Bronze and Gold package only sold 39% of the time.

So sales of the Bronze and Gold package were actually boosted, by 114%.

Across 50k visitors (approx.), this boosted sales of the Bronze and Gold package from £73,630 to £157,210.

That’s a boost of £83,580 in sales of the Bronze & Gold package alone. And it was all done with one A/B split test.

We haven’t even taken the sales of the Bronze package into account yet (although we do know the final numbers).

Overall, we can tell you that this strategy puts you in a much stronger position against your competition when buying advertising and other ways to use your ad spend for lead generating etc.

£83k In Extra Sales – And It Cost Nothing

The total cost to get an extra £83k in sales was nothing. There was no extra advertising. No more phone calls were needed. We didn’t have to pound the pavement for a longer time or send a single extra smoke signal to the next village to find new customers. None of that.

All we did was a simple optimization of the existing business. And there are plenty more optimizations that can still be done.

Needless to say, this is why we love split testing. And that’s why you should love it too.

Was that insightful? Then see other Crazy Egg articles by Michael Maven.



Get updates on new articles, webinars and other opportunities:

Michael Maven

Featured in Forbes as well as being an Author, Speaker, Coach, & Business Growth Expert - that's Michael Maven. Is founder of the customer acquisition system.

Strategic partner of two businesses which grew from zero to the Inc 500 fastest growing companies list. Today, Carter and Kingsley use those exact profit growth strategies to grow sales for Amazon, IBM, eBay,, company founders and investor portfolios.

See detailed case studies at the Carter & Kingsley website or search 'Michael Maven' on Amazon.


Comment Policy

Please join the conversation! We like long and thoughtful communication.
Abrupt comments and gibberish will not be approved. Please, only use your real name, not your business name or keywords. We rarely allow links in your comment.
Finally, please use your favorite personal social media profile for the website field.


Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Sumit says:
    May 14, 2015 at 7:13 am

    Awesome article! Everything has been explained in a simple, eloquent and effective manner. It kept reading it till the end. Kudos!

  2. Michael Maven says:
    April 8, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    In a completely random twist of events, I have more information about the ‘comparision phenomenon’ I explained in the article above.

    I’ve follwed animal expert Chris Packham since I was introduced to him in the late 1980’s. Today I happened upon him explaining how during the mating season, fiddler crabs will chase away other crabs with claws bigger then their own. They also ‘gang up’ with other smaller clawed crabs to chase away the bigger clawed crabs.


    Well it seems they are extremely crafty, and understand that female crabs will mate with crabs with the biggest claws. So it benefits the fiddler crab to chase away other crabs with bigger claws. That way, when they are compared to other crabs around them by the female, they will be seen as the crab with the biggest claws (and herefore selected as the crab to mate with)!

    Then Chris went on to explain that this is known as the Ebbinghaus illusion. If you look at how this illusion is explained, you’ll see a diagram similar to my comparision images above.

    I also found out that the Delboeuf illusion builds upon the Ebbinghaus illusion too, if you’re

    So I just wanted to add that here. It’s also nice to have a handle on what I have been referring to as the ‘comparision phenomenon’ all this time!

  3. Michael Maven says:
    February 2, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Alex, glad to hear you’ve used this method yourself, with good results.

    Also, you’ve highlighted a very important point. This is not a magic potion, and will not always work on every visitor. It’s only implemented to influence a majority choice. But there will always be those who it has no effect on. It’s important to keep that in mind when running any split test.

    Thanks for your comment Alex!

  4. Alexander Stöhr says:
    February 2, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Michael,

    nice post – and yep, this actually works very well. I implemented these testings in a few SaaS companies.

    But when I saw the apple/orange example, I was more into the other fruits. If I see an rotten apple, another apple and an orange – I like the orange more. I just dont trust the apple 😉

    Best, alex

  5. Tian Tian says:
    January 29, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    Really sneaky, Michael. Love it! I will definitely try it out!

    • Michael Maven says:
      February 2, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      Thanks Tian, let us know how you get on 🙂

  6. Kevan Woodson says:
    January 27, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Very intriguing. I find many online sellers use a variation of this concept. They display a chart that shows the features of the bronze, silver and gold programs. Each successive program includes the previous levels attributes plus those exclusively added to the new, higher level. I believe this leads many to rationalize a choice in the middle. It would be an interesting split test to see which generates a higher rate of conversion: a table selection that shows all the attributes listed vs. separate categories of exclusive attributes not shared with the previous categories. Then in conclusion offer a bonus package that includes all levels at the same price as the gold level.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      January 27, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      Interesting thoughts, Kevan. I’d love to see the results of that test.

    • Michael Maven says:
      January 28, 2015 at 8:08 am

      Kevan, I remember reading a study which shows when three options are given to the buyer, they, more often then not, choose the middle priced offer (a tactic often empoyed by television salesmen, I believe).

      It’s interesting you mention the chart that compares the features of all available levels. I’ve seen split tests where the higher priced option is actually highlighted (say with a green background in the column for the sellers preferred option) in order to make it seem like the most attractive option.

      I haven’t tested it personally, but it sounds like it could produce a minor bump in conversions.

      Your described test would definitely produce some interesting results. I would also like to see the results of that test.

      Remember however, to test for each new site, new traffic source and for at least 3 business cycles. Sometimes you might get a bump on one site, but then a different site with a different audience/traffic source could produce completely different results then what you’ve experienced previously.

      Perhaps you can run the test then present it as a Crazyegg case study…!?!

      • Kathryn Aragon says:
        January 28, 2015 at 8:16 am

        Oooo! I’d love that!

  7. Cendrine Marrouat says:
    January 12, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Hello Michael,

    Brilliant article! The idea is simple and yet, I haven’t seen many brands think about it.

    I also love the way you explain everything. It’s so visual and easy to understand!

    Thank you!

    • Michael Maven says:
      January 26, 2015 at 5:42 pm

      Thank you Cendrine, I appreciate your kind words. I also couldn’t agree more – there are far too many companies who aren’t thinking about these strategies and they are leaving a lot of money on the table every day.

  8. Thomas Morgan says:
    January 6, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing!

    It made me wonder how many sales of the Bronze package were cannibalized. So I crunched some quick numbers and it seems combined revenue of both Bronze & Bronze+Gold jumped about 31%. Not quite 114%, but if correct, still quite remarkable and definitely worth doing. Can you confirm if that’s about right?

    Also, can you shed any light on how your conversion rate varies between the two tests?

    Thanks again.

    • Michael Maven says:
      January 6, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      Thomas, you’re definitely correct in that there is much more going on here than meets the eye.

      The 114% refers to the ‘Bronze and Gold’ package alone, but as it stands, the 31% figure you mentioned is correct – but only for front end sales (which is still nothing to be sneezed at considering we don’t take on clients doing less than £500k annually – the case study figures are not annual sales figures BTW).

      The full case study was complex and had to be broken down in order to help to make it more applicable for others.

      For example, we were actually focussed on specifically increasing sales of the higher priced ‘Bronze and Gold’ package, so based our presented case study around that. These buyers historically had a higher lifetime value due to the advanced sales funnel they were placed in after purchasing, which offered many more customised additional sales options at a later date, plus a related partner offer (which is not applicable to the ‘Bronze’ package buyers).

      This was a very sophisticated funnel already (which is rare), so we were really pressed to make this specific improvement for this client.

      Of course, these additional sales values weren’t included in the case study, but the client wanted more of this type of customer, and was very happy with the end result.

      As for the additional conversion figures, the client was, understandably, very specific about what we could and couldn’t share and so we’ve respectfully presented only what they were comfortable with.

      On a similar note, we always find it hard to meet clients who are willing to let us publish full numbers and/or company names, so if anyone wants to work with us and will allow us to share full details, we are even happy to negotiate on engagement fees. We want to publish more case studies 🙂

      Thanks for your question Thomas.

      • Thomas Morgan says:
        January 8, 2015 at 1:02 pm

        Michael, thanks for the reply and the additional thoughts!

  9. Neil Patel says:
    January 6, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Love the title… the first thing I did was look for the 10,000 year old idea…

    • Michael Maven says:
      January 6, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      Thanks Neil. I actually learnt that as a specific ‘mini hook within a title’ that grabs the reader and pulls them in – another sneaky method thrown in there. Oh and thanks for your kind words in your email too, glad you enjoyed the article.

  10. George Mathew says:
    January 5, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Hi Michael, absolutely loved reading this. Great examples and excellent story telling. Love to connect with you.

    • Michael Maven says:
      January 6, 2015 at 8:02 am

      Glad to hear you found it useful George. I’ve also read your material and particularly enjoyed the analysis of the the Ooyala GVI revealing videos of 6mins as a popular choice – very insightful. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve sent you an email for further info. Thanks George.

Show Me My Heatmap

@AndreaFine @CrazyEgg I love using it. That's when my clients really get it. More than any @Google analytics data.

Dagmar Gatell


What makes people leave your website?