What do the following sentences have in common? “Mommy, I want Milka chocolate. Kids who eat it always look so happy…”, “Daddy, let´s go and eat in McDonalds. If have a toy from Happy Meal, other children will admire me.”, “Are you sure you want this computer? It´s not…you know, Apple.”, “How can you use other wash powder than Ariel? It was proven to be the best!”
Correct. They expose the way companies manipulate us to crave their products. As Martin Lindstrom in his Brandwashed shows, there are way more tricks to persuade us to buy stuff we don´t need than we dare to imagine. Let´s have a look at some of them.
1. The Ideal You. All companies love this strategy. If you buy their lipstick/cookies/perfume/add-a-product here, your lips will always have exactly the right shade of red, you will never be lonely again (because everybody wants to hang out with someone with the XY cookies) and always smell like a bunch of roses with a drop of morning dew. Who wouldn´t like that? The trouble is that such an “ideal you” will never exist, because no matter how much fancy stuff you buy, there will always be something you “cannot exist without”, as they would put it.
2. Fear, fear and … fear. If you don´t use this soap, you will catch a terrible disease. If you don´t read this book, the society will disapprove of you. If you… Wait a minute. Most of the threats we hear about in adverts are things we never knew before they existed! We would probably not be much afraid of indigestion, but when we hear how dangerous it potentially may be, we go and gorge ourselves on those super-healthy yogurts. Not-so-fun fact: In Japan, mothers who were “conditioned” by TV advertising to be afraid of germs and hence disinfected every single thing in the household actually made lives of their kids worse, as those could not adapt to a “normal” dirty world, because their immunity was not trained to deal with bacteria and what have you.
3. Sex. Sure, sex sells. Half-naked women have become a norm when it comes to advertising cars, “hidden” references to sex are practically everywhere, including anti-smoking campaigns – and don´t get me started on the whole Photoshop craze (see a nice response to super-thin models here). It may be a great tool to lure customers into buying something, but becomes rather horrifying when you realise that kids as young as 10 (or younger) are exposed to this as well. Not-fun fact: According to Mr. Lindstrom, the average age of children who see a porn site for the first time in their life is 11 years of age.
So here we go. Are you appalled? Surprised? Disgusted? Indifferent? You may be thinking “Well, then just don´t buy branded things!” But unfortunately (?) – this is not an option in the 21st century (try it yourself – for a month, I dare you!): No mobile phone, no games, no branded clothes, no branded food (including your favourite cereals, jam, pasta, juice, beer and pizza), no music (right, not even Lady Gaga), no books or newspapers… The list can go on.
So if “not buying” is not the solution, what is? Well, to me it is mere knowing a) that we are being manipulated and tricked, b) how we are manipulated (our hopes and fears are being exploited) and c) that not everything said on TV is true. The solution is to become a customer who is aware of the hype created around some products and who is able to put a shiny package aside and judge based on the content of the box, rather than just its colour and the face of Justin Bieber on it.