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The Ubiquitous and Effective Use of the Persuasion Law of Contrast

The Persuasion Law of Contrast is one of the 12 laws described by acclaimed Author Kurt Mortensen in his book Maximum Influence. All 12 laws are both conscious and subconscious. They are neither good nor bad. They are automatic triggers. Whether people recognize it or not, they work!

According to Nancy Duarte, in her book Resonate, “People are naturally drawn to contrast because life is surrounded by it. Your job as a communicator is to create and resolve tension through contrast.” The difference between contrasting ideas generates interest like the opposite poles of a battery generate electricity.

The most familiar example of the Law of Contrast is taking one’s car to the mechanic. The mechanic examines the car and gives an estimate of $1100. The driver is concerned. The mechanic then takes a second examination and the problems add up to only $880. The driver gladly signs off on the work.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in reference to climate change would use this example:

There are two doors. Behind door number one is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind door number two is an identical, completely sealed room with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast.

I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.

I’m guessing you chose door number two with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice – who would ever want to breathe those fumes?


An amusing cartoon example is a little kid who wants their ears pierced but the parents are hesitant. So she exclaims that she really wants her nose pierced so suddenly the parents are more amenable.

Another cartoon example is a child who wants a dog but, again the parents are hesitant. Suddenly, the child becomes obsessed with having a pony.

In the Netflix show "Dead to Me," the son of the murdered dad is asked what he wants. He really wants the set of drums that the mother values the most. So he declares he wants his dad’s gun. Mother says "no way" and offers the drums. The son is happy with the drums.

Professional example:

A consultant trainer is asked by a corporation to deliver a training on communication. Based on research, the trainer believes that an initial two-day training would be excellent. So, the trainer presents three proposals: one-day, two-day, and three-day trainings. Fortunately, the corporation chooses the two-day training in contrast to the other choice. Choosing the middle is often most comfortable when confronted with a choice that is not that vital.

Decision-Making Models Use the Law of Contrast

Some folks, when they have a decision to make, use the PMI model:

Pluses, Minuses and Interesting aspects.

Example: A has lived in Washington, DC for the past 10 years. They are offered a teaching job in Birmingham, Alabama.

Pluses for DC; Pluses for Birmingham.

-Both cities are cities on the rise.

-DC has access to 3 international airports; Birmingham, one.

Minuses for DC

-Cost of living may be 30% higher.

-Not near Ohio family members.

Minuses for Birmingham.

-No good rail public transit.

-Not near Ohio family members.

-No friends or professional colleagues.

Interesting aspects:

Both cities have growing populations, noted by the influx of younger professionals.

Birmingham=209,000 in population; DC=720,000.

Birmingham’s Metro Statistical Area=1.2M; DC=6.2M


This model is similar to the above: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and so a SWOT Analysis is a technique for assessing these four aspects of your business. You can use SWOT Analysis to make the most of what you've got, to your organization's best advantage. And you can reduce the chances of failure, by understanding what you're lacking, and eliminating hazards that would otherwise catch you unawares. Better still, you can start to craft a strategy that distinguishes you from your competitors, and so compete successfully in your market.”

Businesses Use the Law of Contrast in Many Commercials Effectively

-Weight Loss Programs: Almost all weight loss programs features graphics and pictures of “before” and “after.”

-Single Care provides prescription help. Their commercials compare the cost without Single Care of $55 to the cost with Single Care of $8.70.

-No Stitch commercial compares the no stitch way to glues and needles and thread.

-Trelegy compares life with COPD without the drug, which is basically home confinement, to the freedom of taking Trelegy.

-Mustang Mach E: This commercial compares the “Wow” of Christmas lights to the Wow of the new Mustang Mach E. The Mustang wins!

-Body Sculpting Programs: Whether it be face lifts or tummy tucks, etc. almost all use "before"and "after" pictures.

-Take a look at any of the ads and commercials of the Endoscopic Wellness Centers of America. They display many before and after pictures of their work. Interestingly, these programs believe they are enhancing the contrast by facial expressions and by picture tone. So often in the “before” picture, the person is sad and rather grayish; the opposite, with the “after” picture. Regrettably, most viewers believe that this contrived contrast erodes the credibility of these pictures.

-Xfinity v Fios: This commercial is black and white with beautiful music. They ask a series of questions which demonstrate Xfinity’s superiority over Fios including microphones on the remotes.

-BMW Certified contrasts their cars representing their reputation versus merely a stamp of approval. “Inspected & Reconditioned to Give You the Ultimate Driving Machine® Experience You Demand. Search Current Vehicle Inventory of BMW Certified Cars at Your Local Dealer Today.“

-Listerine in contrast to tooth brushing: “Get A Healthier Smile & Discover The Right LISTERINE® Mouthwash For Your Oral Care Needs. Clean Virtually 100% Of Your Mouth. Kill Germs That Cause Bad Breath, Plaque & Gingivitis. Freshens Breath. Kill Bad Breath Germs. Cleans The Whole Mouth.” Listerine commercial: The contrast of Listerine at 100% to brushing at 25%.

-Downy Defy Damage is beads packaged in a tub with a scoop to allow you to dose to the size of your load. Downy Defy Damage Protection Beads go directly into the drum of your washing machine before adding clothes. This commercial shows damaged sweaters and other clothes without using Downy Defy.

-Sling v. Cable: In a recent 2020 ad, they purportedly asked animals such as a dog, turtle, and bird to choose between these two contrasting deliveries. There was no result because they are animals. The ad goes on to say to listeners, "You are not an animal and can choose to save." Founded in 2015, Sling TV is an American streaming television service operated by Sling TV LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dish Network, headquartered in Meridian, Colorado.

-Rubbermaid has a commercial where they contrast a stack of interlocking Rubbermaid containers versus scores of unattached containers falling out of a cupboard knocking the person down.

-Ideal Agent contrasts selling a home using their service and saving thousands of dollars versus “the usual way.” They tout their commissions hovering around 2%.

-Vroom commercial: Selling your car on your own might seem like a nightmare, so they picture scary clowns and a clatter of people shouting and screaming. In contrast, if one chooses Vroom, it is organized, peaceful, and calm. They picture a person having a pedicure.

-Humana: This commercial features two older ladies who receive a do-it-yourself kit. They note that health insurance companies send text or email reminders. In contrast, Humana actually sends the kit.

-Snowdogg Plows is a small, family-run business. They only sell Stainless steel plows for less than the others sell their standard plows. In their ads they contrast theirs with Fisher, Boss, and Western.

-Uber Eats, in their 2020 commercials, use the law of contrast differently. One features Gold Medalist Simone Biles and Amateur Jonathan Van Mess and yet they receive the same excellent service. The other one features Patrick Stewart and 69 year-old Mark Hamill from Star Wars, contrasting actors and yet receiving the same good service.

-Colonial Penn Ad: Less than the cost of a daily newspaper. 35 cents a day. Cannot be turned down. No medical or health exams.

-Geico: Taste two drinks. One bad and one, good=Geico.

-Cozzy Coffee was charging $2.15 for iced coffee. First, I asked how they got this price. They charged first for the coffee and extra for the ice. I then gathered iced coffee receipts from similar coffee shops: Tynan’s, Le Coup and 11th St Coffee, not Dunkin Donuts or 7-11. Cozzy was persuaded to refigure their prices.

-Clear Choice advertises dental implants showing one face and smile (shadowy face-unshaven) before and after.

Perceptual contrast

“If we see two things in sequence that are different from one another, we will tend to see the second one as more different from the first than it actually is. This is called perceptual contrast.

Cialdini presents a number of examples to demonstrate perceptual contrast in action. For example, if you lift two objects – a heavy one first and then a light one – you will probably estimate the weight of the second one as lighter than if you had just lifted it by itself.

A realtor or car salesman might show us a unit that is overpriced and in poor condition before showing us the one they really want us to buy. By contrast, the second one looks like a great deal and we want it more.

Another example that is frequently used is 3 buckets of water: Hot, Tepid, Cold. Dip a foot in the Hot and the Tepid feels cold. Dip a foot in the Cold and the Tepid feels Hot.

The Law of Contrast is Related to Perceptions/Perspectives

At the root of the Law of Contrast is perceptions. “Perception is not Reality.”

Although perception is not reality, nonetheless people can see contrasting examples and perceive the situation differently even though the facts are exactly the same.

Look again at the “bucket example” above. The middle one would measure 90°F: about the temperature of bath water. The so-called hot one might measure 110°F: a really cleansing shower. The so-called cool one might measure 75°F: the temperature of ocean water in Miami in December. So, regardless of how it feels, the measured temperature is the same. That is, these are facts.

The Law of Contrast is Related to Persuasion by Comparison

“Metaphors, similes and analogies are the persuasive writer’s best friends. When you can relate your scenario to something that the reader already accepts as true, you’re well on your way to convincing someone to see things your way.

But comparisons work in other ways too. Sometimes you can be more persuasive by comparing apples to oranges (to use a tired, but effective metaphor). Don’t compare the price of your home study course to the price of a similar course—compare it to the price of a live seminar or your hourly consulting rate.”

A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to mean another and makes a comparison between the two.

Example: He’s become a shell of a man.

A simile compares two different things in order to create a new meaning.

Example: He is like the shell of a man.

An analogy is comparable to metaphor and simile in that it shows how two different things are similar, but it’s a bit more complex.

Rather than a figure of speech, an analogy is more of a logical argument.

"The presenter of an analogy will often demonstrate how two things are alike by pointing out shared characteristics, with the goal of showing that if two things are similar in some ways, they are similar in other ways as well.”

Analogies and Health Ailments:

Analogizing Diseases to Humans:

During the past ten years or so, politicians, media, and doctors have been anthropomorphizing (attribute human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object) diseases; that is, making them almost human.

-“COVID is colorblind.”

- “COVID does not distinguish between poor and rich."

- "COVID does not recognize political boundaries.”

Analogizing Health Issues to War:

CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations Dr Richard Hatchett

Many members of our field are frustrated that the public does not see addiction as a legitimate medical disorder which should be compassionately addressed as a health problem rather than a criminal justice problem. Although some attribute the disconnect to the public’s lack of scientific knowledge or attachment to outdated moral views regarding substance use, this commentary suggests that the problem may well be our own messaging. We would be more persuasive if we acknowledged that addiction is different from most medical disorders because of its high negative externalities, and that this understandably makes the public more scared of, and angry about, addiction than they are about conditions like asthma, type II diabetes, and hypertension.

Overall: Persuasion is about understanding. Analogies describe how two items share characteristics and if they do, they could share other characteristics. Persuasion involves people coming to their own understanding.

Examples of analogies may include:

-This mediation is like stained glass.

-This negotiation is like a machine….

-In Matthew McConaughey’s book, Greenlights, he compares life to be a series of “green lights.” So, when one encounters a yellow or red light, wait long enough and the light will turn green.

In The Law of Contrast, It Is All Relative

Example: A 72 year old Matriarch dies and in her Last Will and Testament, she leaves $600,000 to her 55 year-old fiancé.

-If the fiancé is in the lower economic class, this could be a windfall.

-If, in the middle economic class, a game changer. Possibly the student debt and home mortgage can be paid off.

-If, in the upper economic class, the fiancé may be highly disappointed based on his lifestyle and also how much money is being given to the children. Maybe he quit his career to be with her during her late years?

Example: Jose is about to graduate from law school. He complains bitterly about how he has to work from the bottom up in contrast to his colleagues. This complaining surprises many of his friends and family since his parents paid for both his college and law school education plus a down payment on his home and car. But in his mind he is comparing himself to his colleagues who had all of their educational expenses paid as well, but they usually have a family member, usually a father, who is an attorney. So when they graduate, they simply join the father’s law firm.

Lesson: So, the lesson for the negotiator is before making a comparison or a contrast, put one’s self in the shoes of the person to be persuaded. Know where they are. What contrast? What comparison would impress them?


So, the Law of Contrast is ubiquitously used successfully. If framed wisely, it can call on all of our senses. Strategic timing is so important. Most of the contrast examples need to be presented in a quick time frame or an example will have become a memory. If a “poor” proposal has been presented and one immediately presents “an acceptable” proposal, it may be viewed as brilliant.

The comparisons must relate to the receiver’s experiences and knowledge. Using the law of contrast presenting two online teaching formats may take more time to a teacher who may not be familiar with either. Maybe these online formats can be compared to teaching tools such as the blackboard or paper charts that professors already use.

Research seems to show that people are more affected by negative aspects of an example more than the positive ones. So, when presenting the contrasting example that one does not favor, one may want to focus on several negatives.

Adding value often augments the contrast. Think of the commercials about a product which may initially seem to be a bit high priced but then they add free shipping or offer “double.”

Example: A handyperson needed to buy kitchen cabinets for his friend’s home. The store had a sale. If one buys more than $2,000 in kitchen cabinets, they will cut the price in half. So, they bought double the cabinets and used the extra money to remodel their kitchen that did not need remodeling.

As with the other laws, the Law of Contrast is automatic and effective.


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