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NeuroTactic Overview

Sunk Cost Bias

We discount the value of investments already made in favor of making those investments pay off


Even in the cutthroat world of finance, it is difficult to resist our temptation to hold on to bad investments, even when it is in our interest to sell. Stock traders and stockyard workers all have this experience, which is known as Sunk Cost Bias. We have a tendency to keep track of the investments we’ve made into certain products and projects, and when the time comes to admit defeat, we tend to keep moving forward in order to see that investment bear fruit—even if there’s a decreasing chance of that happening.

Sunk cost bias applies to both money and time. The lawyer resists giving up on a big case because she remembers all the sleepless nights, while the entrepreneur resist giving up on a new marketing campaign because she remembers the thousands of dollars she invested.

Your prospects and customers have invested time and money into achieving a certain result. They will have a higher willingness to continue investing to achieve that result than switching to a new alternative prospect, but they must be reminded of the investment (or “sunk cost”) along the way in order to realize how far they have come. 

Be careful with the ethics surrounding this NeuroTactic; although it is powerful, it should not be used to keep customers on a “hamster wheel” by convincing them to continue pursuing a goal that you know is unlikely to be achieved.

Primary Source:

Arkes, H.R. & Blumer, C. (1985). The psychology of sunk cost. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 35(1), 124-140

Dream Category:


The DREAM framework, created by Vivid Labs, represents a research-backed framework for effective marketing messages. It stands for Desire, Routing, Emotion, Attention, and Memorability.

AIDA Category:

AIDA is a well-known framework for assembling a marketing message. It stands for the four steps of human decision-making: Attention, Interest, Decision, and Action.

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