Wednesday, March 29, 2006

AMAZING SECRET MAGIC MIRACLE! Or: How To Unplug The Effects Of Advertising

If you are older than 21, you have seen over one million TV ads. If you are under fifty years old, you have been exposed to these since birth. You have become accustomed to advertising even before you could speak. In a word you have been programmed.

So to deprogram you, I will have to resort to extreme measures. And I apologize for this, but hypnosis may be the only way to unplug the effects of advertising.

Look into my eyes: You are getting very sleeping. Soon you will hear only the sound of my voice. Now this is my message: when you hear the words 'amazing', 'secret', 'magic' or 'miracle' in an advertisement you will not be swayed. These words will have no effect on your buying decision. Instead you will make a rational carefully considered purchase. When I count to three you will wake up. One, two, three. Now you have been deprogrammed.

Why did I pick on these particular words: amazing, secret, magic and miracle? For a variety of reasons.

First, they are used frequently in TV ads. For example, I heard them in an advertisement for a new hi-tech coffee maker. A bit later I saw a commercial for a new diet system with these same words sprinkled throughout.

Second, these words are emotional. They evoke a sense of wonder. They take us back to a childhood frame of mind where we are less critical and more trusting. They go below our rational radar and hit us in that part of the brain where childhood feelings still lurk. In addition these words relate to the actual practice of magic which most adults claim they do not believe. Yet as we know from ads for Disney World, the word 'magic' has a powerful appeal taking us back to a playful, happier and simpler time. I am talking about Disney slogans such as 'the magic kingdom' and 'Discover The Magic'.

Third, these words have no legal meaning. This is important because ads cannot misrepresent products and services. So vague emotive words are perfect for the art of persuasion.

Other ubiquitous words and phrases in advertising are: 'can help' and 'you'.

'Can help' is fabulous because it sounds really good but is worthless. Everyone likes to be helped and a product that assists evokes a sense of trust. For example, you might see ad copy that says, "This facial cosmetic can help a woman look younger and feel more confident."

Last is the word 'you'. If there is any word that is overworked it is this. Unfortunately in English, the word 'you' is the same in singular and plural and is used as an address to someone you know well and to someone you barely know. This is not true in other languages such as Spanish and French. So the word 'you' has become a bonanza for commercials in English.

For example, when you see an ad for that new miracle coffee maker, there will be a brief introduction explaining the product's features but then the pitch will quickly change to, "in the morning when you make your cup of coffee with your new amazing coffee maker..." By using the word 'you' over and over, the advertisement gives the impression that you already own this gadget or have made a decision to buy. This is because advertisers want you to identify with the product immediately and to think of it as part of your life and who you are.

"Buying this amazing secret magic miracle coffee maker will help you become happier, more confident and your neighbors will envy you." So why not? Call that toll free number right now, don't wait. It is a limited offer. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

But wait a minute! If you read this article from the beginning, advertisements such as this have stopped working. You have been deprogrammed and these ads can no long cast their magic spell.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Super Size And Save!

Overeating has resulted in a population that is overweight (surprise! surprise!). Obesity and related problems such as diabetes are fast becoming the number one public health issue in the United States today. Think that this is just a rant by a disgruntled blog writer? Think again. In March 2004 US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said, "Far too many Americans are literally eating themselves to death."

Yet not even I will blame advertising and marketing completely BUT it is a major part of the situation along with kids watching too much TV, sedentary lifestyles and workers who labor long hours so that they come home tired with little time for exercise.

Before we get started, we need to get a bit of perspective. Dr James Hill, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition, Denver, Colorado said, "It takes about 1 extra lifesaver a day to gain a pound of weight for a year." Another nutrition author, Roy Thomsitt said, "... the cause of that 2lb weight gain each year could be as little as an extra 100 calories a day regularly over the year." And 2 pounds a year for ten years is 20 pounds overweight. So the bottom line is this: a little bit of extra food can get you fat over time.

So how are marketing and advertising to blame?

Lets start with marketing. Food is sold everywhere: at convenience stores, at drug stores, at Wal-Mart, at Kmart, at dollar stores, at gas stations, at vending machines and as an impulse item in many unrelated businesses. So in a word food is widely available and therefore people are constantly tempted.

Next is portion size. Marketing and advertising are directly responsible for the growth in mega-portions. For example a standard soft drink is now 20 oz. when it used to be 12 oz. or 16 oz. just a few years ago. And the difference in size is 50 -100 calories.

But soft drinks are only one obvious example. Candy is bigger, muffins are bigger, huge cookies are sold at famous cookie stores. At the supermarket "Hungry Man" dinners and "Family Paks" offer a lot of food in convenient packages.

Next comes pricing. Once a customer is in a restaurant, the business can make a profit by selling a lot of extra food for just a little more money. So discount combos are offered at fast food restaurants along with the notorious super sizing where for just a few cents more the fries and the drink are 'upgraded'.

In addition because consumers have become so used to large portions due to the forces of marketing, many people have lost all sense of how much to eat.

But instead of thinking this writer is exaggerating, I am going to quote from the Obesity Society: "During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. Currently, more than 64% of US adults are either overweight or obese, according to results from the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This figure represents a 14% increase in the prevalence rate from NHANES III (1988-94) and a 36% increase from NHANES II (1976 -80). (Prevalence is the percentage of the population that falls into the designated category.)"

Do I blame marketing? Absolutely. Buying an extra half-price pizza, because it looks like a good deal, is not good for your waistline. Drinking a 12 oz. soda everyday instead of a 20 oz. soda would make a big difference. Being less tempted at check out counters by rows of candy would help.

In our advertising and marketing friendly society, we must resist food being pushed on us everyday at every turn. This is not healthy and something is terribly wrong.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dress To Impress!

I keep thinking about the Rebel Sell article by Dr. Joseph Heath that I have written about twice now in this blog.
Does Your Identity Come From Advertising?
My Identity Does Not Come From Advertising

To remind you he wrote the following:
"What we need to see is that consumption is not about conformity, it’s about distinction. People consume in order to set themselves apart from others. To show that they are cooler (Nike shoes), better connected (the latest nightclub), better informed (single-malt Scotch), morally superior (Guatemalan handcrafts), or just plain richer (bmw)."

I would suggest that in addition to people attempting to buy their distinctive identity from advertising, these consumers also believe they can impress others with their purchases. Why buy an expensive car if people don't care?

One of the specific goals of all advertising is to make us self-conscious and a bit afraid of how others might view us. Advertisers know that people are terrified of being embarrassed, for example. Fear of embarrassment is ranked above the fear of death in some studies! However, as usual, the advertisers offer a solution. Just buy their products and you can be confident and secure and you won't need to worry any more.

Amazing when you think about it. The advertisers have worked at making us insecure and then offer a solution to that insecurity. How convenient.

But they have sold us a phony bill of goods as usual. The assumption is that people will notice if you are not wearing the latest and the greatest, that others will know what brands you wear and that people will think less of you if you do not own top products.

I suspect that few people could tell you what brand of clothing others wear unless the label is on the outside. And that is, of course, why manufacturers started putting the label where the public could see it.

And how many people could tell you what year a car was made if given a parking lot full of autos made at different times? I doubt if many would get a passing grade.

My point is this: Advertisers have sold us another fiction. The fiction is that people will take note, will judge you or will care about the specific products you own. However, advertisers have succeeded only in scaring buyers into believing this because the public really doesn't know or care.

After writing most of this blog article, I remembered an odd incident when I was in high school. In the 1950s pupils were required to wear coats and ties. One of the students was obsessed with the idea of high class brand-name clothing. He would come up to a classmate and quickly open his coat so that he could read the label below the inside pocket. We all thought he was very odd, sort of a brand name nerd. But in any case it was clear that he could not tell the quality or brand of our jackets just by looking. And by doing this he revealed the secret that advertisers don't want you to know. Most people cannot tell even if they are brand-name self-conscious.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

SEX SELLS

In a recent Tyra Banks Show, parents were shocked at the sexual activity of their teenage children. These kids were going to 'flyer parties', for example. These were parties whose locations were printed on flyers passed out at malls. At one event there were rows of mattresses where party goers engaged publicly and openly in a variety of sexual activities with other young people they had just met. But the bad news did not end there. A number of these teens had experienced oral sex, many before the age of 16. Off stage at the Tyra Banks Show, mothers listened to their sons and daughters reveal what they were doing. The mothers were aghast.

To her credit, Tyra Banks pointed out that the media was sending powerful messages to these young people.

Advertisers and marketers have always used sex to sell their products. And they will do it as explicitly as the current morals will allow. While it might be okay to market this way to adults, to approach children in this manner is inexcusable.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not a prude. Yet most adults will agree that young teenagers are not ready to handle the emotions of sex or the possible consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. Further I believe many of these kids will be severely damaged by becoming involved in sex too early in their lives.

Young people have a strong sexual drive which is normal and healthy. However, they look to parents, the media and each other for guidance. While most parents want to put on the brakes, the media has essentially given young people permission to be sexually active and promiscuous. In our advertising friendly society we have allowed marketers to come between us and our children in this important matter.

For example, I believe the same parents on the Tyra Banks Show would be shocked to open a magazine aimed at teenagers, if the parents understood the true meaning of some of the ads.

In the September 2005 edition of a mainstream magazine aimed at young teenage girls, I found the following ad: A clothing advertisement showed two happy excited guys and one provocative girl leaning against an expensive car. The caption of the ad asked "Are you a player?" Now that sounds innocent enough, except that being a player in street language means having lots of sexual partners. According to the Urban Dictionary 'player' means, "A male who is skilled at manipulating ("playing") others, and especially at seducing women by pretending to care about them, when in reality they are only interested in sex." Another definition of 'player' from Wikipedia is, "Someone who cheats on his girlfriend or wife (or if a woman: boyfriend, husband)."

Another ad in the same issue showed a girl in a very short skirt on the lap of a boy whose hands were on her buttocks and her naked thigh. And a two page spread showed an enticing woman lying on her back in her jeans on a shag rug with her legs spread wide. The women in all these ads sent a message that they were sexually available -- ready, willing and able. And generally the models were older than the target audience of the magazine. This gave the impression to the young readers that they should grow up and be sophisticated like these advertising models.

So these are the kinds of messages young teens are seeing. Advertisers know that most adults won't interfere because they don't look at magazines or tv shows or movies or music targeted to the young. And even if they did, most adults would miss the messages which are carefully crafted so that younger people will understand the hidden ideas but older people won't.

Young people are trusting, open and vulnerable. If the society does not object, these ads will form a significant part of their value system.

We live in an advertising friendly culture where just about anything goes. Are we going to allow the forces of advertising to continue in this manner? Or are we going to set limits?

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