Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Raise Your Hand If You're Sure!

What is the number one feeling that ads sell?

I was walking with my wife the other day through one of those fake small-town Main-Street type shopping-center-malls. We looked at large posters of beautiful women smiling in the window of a cosmetic shop. Now my wife makes and sells her own jewelry designs, so she is tuned into what women will buy and why.

"What are they selling most of all?" I asked her. "Beauty," she said. "No," I replied, "not just that." "Glamor," she said. Again I said, "Yes, but in addition to that." "What then?" she asked.

"Confidence," was my reply.

When you look behind almost any advertisement, it is selling a kind of certainty, a security. When you buy this product you can feel good about yourself and know that you did the right thing and you can depend on it; you can have self-confidence. Or something like that.

It does not matter if it's cat food, or lipstick, or beer, or cell phones, or cars or insurance. When you buy our product, congratulations. You've made the right choice, you can relax since you've made this wise decision.

And this is why everyone is smiling in ads; it's because they feel confident, as I have pointed out in a previous blog, Why Is Everyone Smiling?

Now, what is the number one feeling that advertisements use to get us to buy?

Lack of confidence.

If you don't buy the right antiperspirant, will you be sure? If you buy the wrong makeup, the man in your life might not love you.

Just about every ad is designed to make us feel discontented, unsatisfied, and uncertain about who we are and what we are doing. The combined effect of all advertising is to make us feel inadequate. We should have more, be further along, be admired more, look different, be something else.

I have talked to women of quite different ages and they have universally volunteered on their own (that is without my prompting) that they feel tremendous pressure from the media to alter their looks. Just about every woman feels vulnerable. Her hair is too curly or too straight, her lips are too thin or too thick, her skin is too pale, her eyelashes are all wrong, her nose is too big, her ears standout, and on and on and on.

But if she buys the right lipstick, she can feel confident that she looks good, or the right hair color or the right bra or the right shoes...

Now I've written about this before and I will do it again. The very ads that make us uncertain about ourselves, sell us certainty. The ads that undermine our sense of ourselves sell us an identity. The advertisements that make us feel inadequate sell us confidence.

Is that really that way you want to live your life? Is it an agenda you want to follow? Isn't there something better than this?

Keep reading the Rebel Consumer.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Less Is More

You've heard all the slogans: Get Yours. Go For It. You Only Go Around Once. Live The Dream. You Can Have It All.

Together these convey one message: The more you have the better, the more fulfilled, the more admired you will be. Yet, in fact, owning less might make you much happier.

Lets apply cold logic. First: the more you have, the more you must store, keep track of, worry about, insure, pay taxes on, keep from getting stolen, buy accessories for and repair. So unless you really need something, just having more can be a royal pain. I knew a man who owned several boats. The first thing he did when he retired was to get rid of them. "Why?" I asked. "If I want one, I will rent one. I don't need all that worry anymore."

Studies have been done at all levels of income and just about everybody wants more money. Most believe that they will be happier when they reach the next level. It does not matter if they are making $20,000 or $500,000 a year. Samuel Brittan has written that there are numerous "opinion survey studies which suggest that increasing real income does not itself make people happier." In fact some studies have shown that marriages and families suffer when incomes go up because spouses are more likely to be unfaithful.

However, by less I am not talking about basic necessities. In the United States families need one or more cars, a home, health insurance, food, money for retirement and even cable TV. Yet you do not need a new car, for example, because late model used cars are actually a much better value (more about this in another blog article). And you do not need to pay for or worry about a huge house. Consider that the size of the average home in the USA has more than doubled in the last fifty years while the number of people living in these dwellings has gone down.

And when you have a lot of stuff you are often busy, busy, busy because there is so much to tend to.

Also the more you possess the more worry you have. In the movie The Comedians, a lowly paid official say something to the effect "The rich have a lot to worry about. They have a lot to lose."

And once you have acquired stuff it is almost impossible to go back. You get locked into a lifestyle. The best solution is to add possessions slowly as you really need them. This is because losing stuff you once owned is psychologically very difficult. Going down a notch feels humiliating and degrading, especially in a consumer society where we were all taught to climb the ladder of success and where we believe that we will be 'better off' as we get older.

And what do you gain by having less? You will have more time to begin with, time you could spend with your family, for example. Many reports state that Americans are over scheduled and over committed while their marriages and children suffer.

Or you could just go out on a clear afternoon and watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon and think of absolutely nothing. Now there's a novel idea!

For another article about this read Less can mean more at The New American Dream web site.

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