Post No.: 0611
Advertising isn’t just about products and brands – adverts convey a whole host of other social and cultural information such as norms, stereotypes, values, gender roles, how to ‘supposedly’ live, what our houses ‘should’ look like, etc.. So you may be able to resist buying the products being advertised but you may still be influenced by their messages since adverts shape us and our societies and culture.
Marketing and labels really do sway and can narrow minds if slavishly trusted, like foods that are apparently only for ‘breakfast’, or assuming ‘hand cream’ can’t be used on legs. It’s a fallacy to follow something just because of the name given to it – it’d be like believing that if you were nicknamed ‘t-shirt Terry’ then you could only ever wear t-shirts(!) We may truly start to believe that women’s shampoo or soap won’t work on men, or vice-versa; but we will get clean, although we might not be used to the smell. A dangerous case is when people believe there are paracetamol medications just ‘for headaches’ or just ‘for joint pains’, which could lead to overdosing if someone takes ‘different’ paracetamol pills because they have both symptoms simultaneously.
A small house is labelled ‘bijou’ rather than ‘pokey’. A hand-built car is marketed as ‘one of a kind’ rather than ‘imprecisely made’. Brands routinely fabricate backstories designed to increase the perceived value in them and their products, with origin stories that are at least made to sound more coherent or amazing than they really were, such as a definite eureka moment, building a business from just $10 (not counting the car, house, computers, phones, education and everything else they already had), a recipe that’s been handed down for generations (it’s harder to slag off someone’s grandmother’s recipe), and claims about being the first to discover something. Many such claims aren’t true.
Image manipulation is also the norm rather than exception (e.g. that image of a plump roast chicken is probably in reality undercooked and painted with soy sauce to get the ideal colour). Vulnerable groups are often exploited (e.g. new parents and the marketing of baby formula milk and other baby products).
So, although lots of different adverts are all competing for our limited attentions nowadays – advertising does influence us. Many people unquestionably believe what’s claimed in commercial advertising, even over more independent and non-commercial sources. But customers typically think their purchasing decisions aren’t influenced by advertising even though experiments show they are – as well as show their obliviousness to the fact they are. Every image, sound, texture and weight will have been carefully considered to convey (the perception of) ‘quality’ and invoke certain emotions. ‘Scent marketing’, music, temperature and lighting are crafted or selected in stores to influence consumption behaviours without our conscious awareness.
According to interpretations of brain scans, our unconscious minds will have already made a decision several seconds before we’re consciously aware of making a decision! And about a third to half of a second before we consciously decide to move, our motor cortex has already unconsciously prepared us to move! So when you consciously think you’ve just made a random choice, for instance, your mind may have already been influenced subconsciously or unconsciously into a decision by cues that are working below or beyond your overt consciousness, such as associations or predictions and learning or memory effects. It appears that the unconscious makes a decision first then that decision is consciously rationalised to try to justify it. Therefore our decisions are often barely conscious, and therefore barely free or in our total control. Most people mostly purchase based on emotional rather than rational reasons unless a purchase is large.
‘Top-down attention’ is essentially what we intend to pay attention to, but ‘bottom-down attention’ is essentially what we subconsciously keep on drawing our attention to (e.g. bright lights, movement, high contrast or density areas, odd-one-outs, high-calorie foods if we’re hungry – hence marketers can grab our attention by exploiting these things). As the salience of something increases, the greater the chance people will choose it, particularly when cognitive load is high and the duration to choose is short (e.g. at the point of sale, or tills, when children are pestering their parents!) Taking more time and being under less cognitive stress generally leads to more reasoned decisions.
Advertising campaigns and branding are about controlling what a firm wants us to hear and believe, and about keeping quiet what they don’t want us to hear or know. It’s about a firm carefully controlling their image to their target market by hiding any unfavourable details and highlighting, exaggerating or even outright fabricating favourable attributes. The mere superficial association with successful celebs, when they’re employed in advertising campaigns, intends to play on the irrationalities of consumers – as if their perceived attributes somehow transfer onto the product or brand itself when they’re presented together. And when a product is itself successful, such as a championship-winning rally car, consumers think they can associate themselves with those positive attributes if they buy it (not that the consumer versions are always the same products).
But with some critical thinking – how do celebrities lend credibility to what they’re endorsing? It’s not about their expertise (e.g. when a comedian is used in a banking commercial). Only facts should lend furry credibility. We’re substituting the question ‘is this product good?’ with the question ‘who says this product is good?’ Yet when someone is being paid to say something – shouldn’t we expect them to be far from impartial?! We can be sure these stars will have been paid generously too, and since these businesses are for-profit – these marketing costs will necessarily be passed onto their customers. Cheers(!)
Product placements in movies, TV series, music videos, etc. can work because if people like the visual media a product is placed in then they might associate that like with the product too. (The music chosen under a sync license can also become associated with a TV series, advert, videogame, etc. and make people want to check out that music if they like the creation it was in.) However, brands that are pushed too overtly can really bump us out of the immersion of a story – we start to think ‘I guess this film is sponsored by x’ rather than ‘what’s that guy saying on the phone?’
Hype can enable consumers to pre-plan their expenditure thus help them to start saving for this future purchase. It can also signal to potentially new competitors that the market space is already sewn up (albeit the risk is forewarning serious competitors of the product’s development). It can put consumers off adopting a competitor’s product. Constant buzz about updates way ahead of time, and about complementary products, can also announce that a new technology is here for the long haul and that the core product is extensively supported. It can raise expectations and anticipation. However, if new releases are delayed for too long, it can damage brand reputation and create a consumer backlash. And the eventual products might never be able to match the hype either (like Smell-O-Vision!)
The (controversial) Gartner ‘hype cycle’ purports to show how new technologies are often over-hyped and then people get disillusioned about their promises to solve all our problems; but then they settle down to their appropriate level of hype (e.g. non-fungible tokens perhaps?) Without knowledge, we’re at the mercy of marketing hype, said Fluffystealthkitten in Post No.: 0036.
When someone desires and owns a wristwatch that went to the Moon (well not one that actually accumulated any Moon dust but the same model – but even if it did), it’s just a psychological thing. In a practical and physical sense, it just tells the time like any other watch. Other wristwatches would’ve likely worked fine on the Moon too – not that these consumers are going to the Moon any day soon, or ever(!) The make and model is associated with a positive psychological feeling – but psychological feelings don’t need to cost anything because they’re just in the mind. Yet strangely, the more something costs, the generally greater the psychological effect on a consumer, and businesses can and do exploit this feature of irrational minds. Cheap pencils work fine and were used in space, and caused no problems despite some low risks. The story about how NASA spent millions in public money developing the Fisher Space Pen is a good example of an origin story myth that has persisted though.
Some products become status symbols, just like ‘penis extensions’ or ‘breast enlargements’, because people are led by the advertising to think ‘if I own this then I could be like that attractive or respected person too’. Or even ‘if I own this then I could walk on air too’ in the case of basketball shoes, when it’s really the player who makes him/herself truly great (bad shoes can hamper performance but great shoes won’t make you fly – well not with current legally-permitted basketball equipment anyway!)
As a business controls the supply and keeps limited editions scarce, it keeps the prices high and the poor as poor when these expensive products are coveted by the poor who see owning them as instant boosts to their status in a society where they’re otherwise not receiving any respect. (There have even been cases of teenagers killing each other just to steal their Nike Air Jordan trainers.) Desirable things can become expensive due to their high demand and low supply, which a manufacturer can deliberately control; and scarce or restricted things can become desirable just because they’re rare or banned.
Subliminal advertising can apparently work, but only lasts for a fleeting duration at best. They can swing our preferences if we’re already motivated to pursue a goal (e.g. if we’re already thirsty, it might lead us to make a beverage choice that’s against our normal preference). They might also be more effective at eliciting negative than positive emotions.
Emotions affect decision-making processes greatly. We frequently respond better to emotions than cold, hard, plainly-stated data – hence why modern advertising is mainly about tapping into the emotional side. Positive emotions can pull us towards something, and negative ones can push us away. Negative emotions should however be used with care – warning labels on cigarette packets with harsh images or stern phrases are often thought to lead smokers to think and act differently, but in reality, users are motivated (especially if addicted) and are able to avoid looking at the packets in the first place, hence exposure to the discouraging design is reduced, thus limiting its efficacy.
Many of us will never stop assuming that ‘all you need to do is tell everyone the facts and we’ll make the rational choice for ourselves’. But psychologists know that facts are seldom sufficient. PR and advertising campaigns exploit the fact that facts aren’t enough – they know to appeal to people’s emotions rather than their intellects. There are countless examples surrounding us every day of how men and women, young and old, have bought so many things based on desire rather than need (resulting in costs like personal debts for some, and certainly wider costs to global environmental resources – it helps the economy but perhaps we need better ways to measure a country’s success).
Marketing and PR departments/firms simply wouldn’t continue using the psychological techniques they use if we weren’t generally so easily led. So we could argue that they should stop manipulating us – but they could argue that we shouldn’t be so easily manipulated! And this concerns our democratic voting as well as capitalist consumption.
Democracy is supposed to be about freedom, but capitalism involves manipulating minds. But whenever democratic governments and corporations manipulate the population into believing certain things or consuming what they don’t need, they say it’s not the same as how totalitarian states get their populations to wilfully obey the system – their spin is to say it’s about ‘the engineering of consent’(!)