Before the big iPhone unveiling today, if someone told you that they had real pictures of what the next generation of the iPhone looked like, and they just showed you some photos, totally devoid of context, would you believe them?

Of course not. The claim lacks all credibility.

You can’t possibly look at photos like that without wondering:

  • How could you possibly have gotten these, given how passionately Apple protects their upcoming projects?
  • Even if you DID get legitimate photos, why aren’t Apple’s lawyers sending you a cease and desist letter?
  • What evidence do I possibly have that these are real, and weren’t simply photoshopped?
  • And so on.

In short, the context is all wrong, so we just know the photos are fakes (or “artists renditions,” at best). But what about this video?

YouTube Preview Image

Somehow, this video fooled a lot of people and created quite a stir before it was proven to be faked. But why? Why is this video so convincing when the typical “leaked” photos aren’t?


The video provides a context which preemptively answers all of these credibility-killing questions and more.  According to the non-verbal storytelling in the video, the guy who made the video accidentally discovered an “unreleased” page to Apple’s German Website, and took a screen recording of it.  That’s how he got the photos, that’s why Apple can’t stop him, because they’re the ones who put the content on the Web, etc.

More importantly, the very style of the Web pages created by this hoaxster convinces us.  When we look at these “accidentally discovered” Web pages, they look so faithful to Apple’s own design aesthetic, and the pictures of the phone look so faithful to the rumors about the new iPhone (curved, metal back, larger screen, thinner, etc.) that we tend to believe that maybe the video is for real.

Making This Dynamic Work for You

The truth is that we ALL rely on context every day for almost every decision we make.  Manipulate context and you manipulate people’s perceptions and, ultimately, their decisions, too:

  • If you’re an ice cream parlor and you simply put canisters of sample spoons up on the counter, that context will cue people to ask for free tastes, without any other change required.
  • An HVAC guy who shows up in a corporate-branded truck and uniform will look like he’s from a big company, even if the company consists entirely of him, his cellphone, and that truck.
  • Tell me you have the best food in the city, and I’ll be a lot more likely to believe you if you serve that food on linen table cloths rather than plastic trays.

Good fiction writers know the importance of this instinctively, which is why they go to such lengths to establish the right pretext for their big moments — they “set you up” and then “pay it off” later. Though I am absolutely not advising anyone to hoax their customers or to adopt a conman’s mindset, I am asking you to think about the believability of the claims you make, and how the right context can create customer confidence that you might not create any other way.

So what context cues are you using now, and what cues should you be using going forward?


  1. Grimey on 10.05.2011

    Context is King!

  2. mrsmpho on 12.05.2011

    Nice Post, I agree context definitely affects the way we make our decisions, thus I need to practice it on my website to get more traffic and sales 😀