As a kid, I used to spend quite a lot of time studying the amazing ads in the back of my comic books. The X-Ray Specs, in particular filled me with longing. I was a big fan of Superman back in the day and could think of nothing cooler than to have x-ray vision like him.
Somehow, I never noticed the “an hilarious optical illusion” part of the ad. It’s too bad I never had that dollar to send away for my own pair of X-Ray Specs because I would have learned a valuable lesson about advertising at a very young age.
Like my brother did when he sent away for this 7-foot Frankenstein monster.
My brother was beside himself with excitement awaiting the moment when he would be the proud owner of a monster of his very own that would give him power over all of us and be able to force us to do his bidding forever.
I have never seen a more devastated (albeit megalomaniacal) child than my brother the day his “monster” arrived and turned out to be nothing more than a sheet of plastic with a picture of a Frankenstein monster printed on it. He was livid. He was insane with fury. He was inconsolable. He destroyed that monster with his bare hands until there was nothing left but tiny bits of (no-doubt toxic) plastic all over his room. The rest of us kids laughed our asses off at him, of course, and had years and years of fun tormenting him about his monster. For us, that monster was certainly worth the dollar. My brother, on the other hand, went on to lead a bitter, cynical life because of that monster — but has been a more wary consumer ever since.
Maybe you can see where I’m going with this? As sort of a follow-up to my last post about Ronald McDonald and the power of advertising in general, I wanted to talk about how we’ve all been suckered in by advertising at some point. And not just by stupid kids’ stuff like this. From the comments yesterday, it’s apparent that we all think we’re much too smart to be taken in by clever marketing. However, I’m pretty sure, if we really think about it, that’s not entirely true.
Many of the decisions and choices we make every day are made because someone has convinced us, however subliminally, that these are the right decisions and choices to make. From politics to investing our money to vacationing to making purchases large and small. Sure, we may do our own research and because of how we’ve been raised and educated, we are pretty savvy about marketing and advertising and don’t get suckered in easily. But it still happens, doesn’t it?
A while back, XUP Jr. (who has never been allowed to drink pop and now has no desire to) came home with VitaminWater, telling me what a cool new drink it was because it was full of vitamins and contained “cane sugar” and not processed sugar and was made with fruit juice. And I looked at the label and this was certainly what the label suggested. And I thought, “cool”. And I had some myself over the next few weeks thinking how great it was that there was this handy, healthy drink I could grab if I was out and had forgotten to bring some water.
And then one day I decided to Google this stuff because it just seemed too good to be true. And of course it was too good to be true. And then Mindful Merchant did some more research and did a blog post about this stuff.
I was more than a little pissed that I’d allowed myself to get suckered in by none other than the Coca Cola Company.
See how easy it is? All of you who think people should be smart enough to not choose things that are not good for them? Do you actually believe that all the stuff you own – your electronics, your car, your toys, your appliances, your personal care products, your clothes – do you think you own all that stuff because somewhere in your mind you decided, all by yourself, without any sort of influence, that you needed all this stuff?
Did you wake up one morning and realize you would no longer be able to survive without a cell phone? Was it suddenly vitally important that your hair be flat-ironed every day? Was it you who thought you needed a device to heat up your food in seconds and went out and bugged science geeks until they invented a microwave oven for you?
Of course not. You were persuaded by sophisticated advertisers that you need this stuff. Just like advertisers persuade people they need to eat junk food or buy lottery tickets or drink Coke. Sure, some people are smart enough to resist the stuff that’s bad for them. But some people can’t or don’t think beyond the fact that they suddenly want this stuff– just like most of us can’t resist owning a cell phone though in a lot of ways (perhaps different ways) cell phones are bad for us, too.
And I’ll bet all of you have, at some point, been suckered in to buying something that was total crap – like the VitaminWater or the Frankenstein Monster?? Because that phrase in my title by PT Barnum is pretty much the credo of every advertising, marketing and PR person who ever lived. How have you been suckered?