Post No.: 0107
Most of us are generally unaware of what techniques and tricks are influencing us as consumers, leading to behaviours like buying frenzies during sales, cult-like followings towards certain brands, people purchasing things they don’t need, and being pressured into spending generously during certain highly consumer-ised days of the year, which are often the most expensive times of the year to buy certain things (e.g. Valentine’s Day and flowers, chocolates and the like. Now wouldn’t a person be more romantic being consistently romantic all-year-round rather than only mainly during a few highly-commercialised and commercially-pressured days per year?!) Even when certain days of the year have sales and genuine price reductions (they aren’t always the best ever prices so check), people often buy things they don’t need simply for the fear of missing out. At the extreme, this can lead many people into debt and therefore stress and unhappiness in the longer-term and bigger picture.
Most people are oblivious to how marketing tricks exploit us – precisely because they mainly work on our subconscious and unconscious instincts, such as intentionally concocting exclusivity or scarcity value, exaggerating fears and then selling the ‘supposed cures’ to those fears (well ongoing ‘treatments’ are better for repeat business – don’t sell ‘take once and you’re done’ products but ‘treatments that must be perpetually purchased to stave off the exaggerated fear’), promoting a culture of disposable goods and waste, the multitude of pricing tricks they use all the time (e.g. to show that a price has been apparently ‘discounted’ – if it weren’t for consumer protections trying to keep up with the tactics used, but public bodies are damned if they interfere with markets and damned if they don’t), and the sheer amount of advertising that’s increasingly invading every space and every moment of our lives.
Lies, or at least BS, are often utilised to create a result (e.g. lies about stocks being limited so ‘hurry up otherwise it’ll all be gone’, false reviews, lies about economy and emissions figures for vehicles, food fraud, BS about ‘exotic fruit drinks’ that only contain 2% of that exotic fruit, and all sorts of fantastical claims). Plain lies, twists, exaggerations, counterfeits and the use of irrelevant peripheral cues (e.g. attractive models or jaunty music to promote products – but what have they got to do with what actually goes into e.g. a yoghurt or a razor product?!) in public relations (PR) and marketing all exploit our ‘truth bias’ (the way we naturally default to trusting or believing people rather than applying scepticism) and other cognitive heuristics. We want to believe in those fantastical claims, the promises of those elixirs and answers to all our prayers, so this instinct is exploited.
Adverts are typically purposely designed to make people feel insecure, or at least prey on people’s existing insecurities, so that people are encouraged to buy the products advertised to ‘solve’ that insecurity. Thus effective adverts tend to target your fears, and then your hopes. (This is not exclusive to commercial advertisements though e.g. politically-motivated adverts on social media frequently prey on people’s insecurities (based on what personal data the social media apps know about their users) in order to try to persuade people to vote in a certain way.)
Some promotions can distort our ability to compare like-for-like easily (e.g. ‘sale’ items that aren’t actually less than the market price but were merely reduced from an over-inflated above-market previous price – many customers rely, zombie-like, on the heuristic that a ‘sales/discount sticker’ automatically means ‘better value’ and that a ‘high original price’ automatically means ‘better quality’). Retailers try to encourage irrational spending on things we didn’t and don’t truly need (or possibly care to want anymore come a week later) but we’re simply seduced or time/scarcity-pressured into buying at the point of sale and/or because of the sales techniques used by salespeople. Quicker methods for checkout and paying allow impulse purchases to be conducted more easily. Free gifts aren’t free if they manipulate reciprocation norms (firms acting as if they’re your furry friends or family when really they aren’t (especially large firms) because they’re ultimately driven by maximising their own profits and shareholder value, which is not what friends or family do to friends or family).
Due to modern technologies, companies can gather more and more data on us in order to better target and exploit our weaknesses e.g. to gain our loyalty – but, for not being our friends or family again, we shouldn’t be loyal to firms just because we’ve been with them for a long time, especially in competitive markets, for in the long run this will likely make us worse off i.e. notice that the best deals tend to go towards attracting new customers, leaving loyal (or lazy) customers with the worst deals. This is the opposite of getting special ‘mates’ rates’ for loyalty, because it’s precisely not a relationship of friendship (although ‘mates’ rates’ or non-arm’s-length deals are unethical in certain contexts). It’s not personal, it’s just business, despite what their adverts might try to convey.
These techniques are so devious and effective that most people aren’t even aware of them working on them and thus they cannot and do not question them – most people are so unaware of them working on them they don’t even realise how unaware they are! People are arguably literally being brainwashed by neuromarketing tricks. Companies have an ever-growing intentional influence on the subconscious and unconscious side of consumer ‘choice’ and they can and do surreptitiously exploit people’s abilities to become more-or-less consumer zombies. They’re purposely learning all the psychological techniques they can, and therefore so should all consumers to protect themselves. Woof!
There’s a reason why corporations collectively spend billions of dollars on advertising every year. Despite most people saying it doesn’t work on them – marketing is big business precisely because it works very well on people! It works so well, especially on the vulnerable (e.g. children, their stressed-out parents, those with compulsive buying disorders, pathological gamblers, compulsive eaters, the insecure, desperate, suggestible, poorly educated, misinformed or under-informed (for which this latter group probably includes most people)), that people become like fuzzy zombies and don’t even realise it’s working on them. Again, you won’t consciously be aware that it’s working on you precisely because it’s mainly working on your subconscious and unconscious.
The desperate or insecure are most prone to suggestibility (e.g. those who are most insecure about their wrinkles are most prone to wanting to believe that a miracle cream will work to get rid of their wrinkles and are more willing to pay a lot of money for it too). Many people are very accepting of all these adverts invading every inch and moment of our lives now, thinking that they’re not being influenced by them, when research in the field of consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing techniques show how our brains are responding to adverts, packaging designs, brands and point of sale tricks on an unconscious level.
People don’t or can’t be unhappy and complain about what they don’t know is happening to them, but if they did know then they’d likely not be happy – the best and most effective manipulations occur when people are not aware of or don’t even believe that they’re being manipulated (e.g. people who don’t believe that the constant advertisements they see are influencing them at an unconscious level). The best cons (confidence tricks) are when the marks (targets) don’t know that they’re being conned at all and are even happy to go along with the con artists. They’ll keep their target focused on what (the target thinks) he/she is going to get and not on what the target will or could possibly be giving up in return (e.g. junk food retailers don’t want consumers to think about the calories and health risks but to concentrate on the immediate gratification and pleasure of consuming their products).
Customers need to know all of the favourable and unfavourable information about a product in order to make fully-informed rational choices, but the rational self-interests of a firm, in conflicting contrast, are to only present (and even exaggerate or fabricate e.g. brand or product heritage stories) the favourable information and hide (and even deny) the unfavourable information from their customers (e.g. highlighting that their product is high in certain vitamins, but muting the fact it’s very high in sugar or salt). It’s a game, and the buyer and seller are on different sides rather than on the same side, even though they want or need each other.
Most of our daily waking lives is actually governed by (effortless unconscious) autopilot rather than (effortful conscious) manual control. We don’t always realise what’s influencing us because it’s working on us on a subconscious or unconscious level. People often cannot truly consciously explain why they really choose what they choose – people mostly post hoc justify rationalisations because fMRI scans have shown that people’s unconscious minds have already made a decision often several seconds before their conscious minds are aware that a decision has even been made!
So the reasoning comes after the decision, not before it! The ‘conscious you’ doesn’t decide first then your unconscious whirs into action – your unconscious decided potentially many seconds ago and then your conscious accepts the given answer but claims to have made the decision just now. Your unconscious predominantly rules you yet you don’t have direct control of it and you’re unaware of how it works and what’s influencing it. The ‘conscious you’ is more a passenger than a driver of your thoughts, feelings, impressions, choices and judgements. So you could ‘decide with your dollar’ but you probably have no idea how and why you truly decided the things you happened to decide (e.g. we likely won’t say that we chose a certain value because we were anchored or primed by something in the environment).
It’s essentially being blind to being blind! Via greater research in the field of neuroscience, personal conscious responsibility still has a role to play in individual behaviours, but far less than believed before. (Note that, at least in some jurisdictions in the world, you can even legally and morally get away with murder if the ‘unconscious you’ committed it e.g. if you happened to kill someone whilst sleepwalking. That’s how much the general scientific consensus and law now accepts that we’re not in sufficient control of our unconscious selves.)
Commercial firms, politicians and people in general frequently use BS and bunkum because it simply works on enough people! Even if something is an outright lie – it gets planted, becomes salient and unconsciously sticks in the mind and therefore influences, in particular, those who are undecided about something. The tactics and effects of advertising and PR, propaganda and BS, don’t have to be blatant – they can be very surreptitious. Some people worry about government mind control tricks yet aren’t equally or more worried about corporate or commercial mind control tricks – but mind tricks work best when we’re not aware or cautious of them being mind tricks! They work best when we think they don’t exist, they’re no problem or we should allow them to be self-regulated. So worry less about who/what you are questioning and criticising but who/what you aren’t – for the latter probably have the greatest control of you.
Woof. Now I don’t want anyone to be paranoid – my point is for everyone to be aware that almost everything about the commercial world nowadays is designed rather than accidental, for the ultimate goal of attracting and extracting as much money as possible from customers; especially because the amount of personal data collected about everyone nowadays makes this easier for firms to do. This isn’t evil or wrong in itself but be alert as consumers at all times. I personally love ridiculing any BS and pointing out any specific tricks used and found in TV commercials – it’s just something I find myself doing!