Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne shares the secrets of ancient marketing tactics that still work millennia later.

Waiting on a staff report from Gen Con.  From what I understand, members of GWAR popped up quite a bit around the convention and were trolling a lot of the attendees by asking basic questions about gaming, like what a character is and how do you level up.

So, while waiting for the report, I started reading up on one of my favorite topics, consumer behavior and how it can be influenced.  From a marketing and game store point-of-view, you can use these methods that date back centuries, and are based on the concept of reciprocity.  You can use these methods to influence your customers or conversely, recognize when they are being used on you.  Without further ado:

Ask and Because.  Just asking someone to do something for you can prove pretty powerful. It is rather amazing that people view you more favorably when you ask them to do something for you than when you offer to do something for them.  To make the "Ask" even more powerful, give them a reason why you want them to do something for you.  It doesn’t have to be a good reason really, just a reason.  “Because” appears a pretty powerful word.  In one hidden study, people standing in line at a copy machine were asked by the experimenter if they could go first. Most of the time, the experimenter was told “No.”  However, if the line cutter gave a reason such as “Could I go ahead of you because I need to get these done for my boss?,” over 70% of the time the response was "Okay."  In some cases, the line cutter even said “May I go ahead of you because I want to go ahead of you?”  Over half the time, the people in line would agree.

Foot-in-the-Door.  A small ask opens the door to a much larger one.  Fairly often, one of the banks I do business with will offer me a $1000 life insurance policy at no charge.  By accepting the offer, I'd give them the opportunity to come back later and pitch me a more expensive policy.  Wizards of the Coast's Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set is one of the best marketing tools any company in the Gaming Industry currently uses, and is a wonderful example of using this concept.  Get people to try out a low-cost version of the game, and then, when they find they like it, upgrade them to the more expensive version.

Give-a-Gift.  Giving a gift before making a big request enhances the likelihood that the person you give the gift is more likely to say "yes."  This is why so many charities send you small trinkets like calendars, note pads, and address labels with a letter asking for a donation.  The idea is, by giving you a small gift, you will be more responsive to the part of the letter asking for the donation.  Over the past year, I have even seen charities move one step beyond that and include small amounts of cash, a nickel, 50 cents, even a dollar or two with the plea that you send back the money to help them along with your donation.

All of these, as noted above, are based on the concept of reciprocity.  If someone does something nice for us, we are influenced to do something nice back.  If they do something harmful to us, we feel justified in doing something harmful back.  The concept has been codified back as far as Hammurabi's time, about 1754 BCE, and is still valid today.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of