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How to Sell Using "Hope"

by Debbie MacInnis  |  
February 7, 2001

The email said "Business Secrets Revealed!" The magazine said "Lose 10lbs in 10 days!" The package claimed that the skin care product could reduce 7 signs of aging!

What do these and dozens of other similar activities have in common? They are creating "hope."

Every day, millions of people respond to these types of statements by investing in the stock market, buying lottery tickets, purchasing cosmetics, buying self-help books, visiting therapists, and cheering sports teams. Hope is so widespread we even use it on product names. A recent search on and revealed 4,936 books, 202 CDs, and 229 songs with hope in the title.

Hope is pervasive in marketing, so let's think about what it is, how to generate it, and its consequences.


Hope is quite simply the desire for a positive yet uncertain future outcome. Take note that a positive outcome here means not just having something good happen (e.g., winning the lottery) but avoiding having something bad happen (e.g., becoming older). Why are things uncertain? Because people don't completely expect that the outcome will happen-either because they lack the confidence that it will happen or the ability to control it to make it happen.


Let's not mince words here. A lot of what people hope for is really just plain hype. For example, think about the statement you often see on magazine covers: "5 New Secrets to Losing Weight." Do you really think there are new ways to lose weight beyond the basic ideas of eating right, exercise, etc? Probably not, but people read this stuff hoping to find something new.

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Debbie MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration and a professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. She is co-author of a recent book on brand admiration, which blends years of best-practice thinking from academia with the real-world practice of marketing.

LinkedIn: Debbie MacInnis


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