If a person is suffering among the deep depths of addiction and they tell you they’re in control or they can stop anytime they want, you probably won’t believe them. In fact they might be so in denial they are the one most in need of help. If a person says they can’t be influenced by marketing, you should deploy the same reaction. To those who believe they can’t be influenced or are ‘un-corruptible’ you’re the ones most at risk and for the sake of your bank account and the planet please change your ways.
It doesn’t matter the age, gender etc., we are all at the mercy of marketing. Perhaps to different extents, not everyone is falling for the celeb endorsements, youtuber spiels or movie product placements. But can you hand on heart say you haven’t seen someone drinking a coke on TV and not thought about wanting that ice-cold drink in your hand, or during the tropes of the January blues not been tempted by some fun in the sun when a TV advert pops up or tasted a free supermarket sample and purchased on the spot. It happens, and sometimes it helped you make a decision and find a product that you now value. But the down side of marketing is it doesn’t care if you needed it or not, it couldn’t give a damn, marketing wants you to buy it even if you don’t need it. Since the global marketing industry is worth a staggering $1.7 trillion it won’t hesitate to deploy some dirty tactics to make you part with your money.
I won’t pretend that I am above the influence of seductive marketing or the hit of dopamine that we often encounter after a purchase. I have bought something while keeping in mind that it was seen on someone famous, and I have left a shop thinking that my new purchase will somehow dramatically change my life (it did not). Among others. Although I am not immune, I do believe that I do at least possess enough self-awareness to recognise when it’s happening. This probably pertains to my degree in marketing, my disgust of social media in general and stubbornness to never own the thing that’s currently ‘on trend’. However, that’s probably a characteristic I picked up via influence from outside persuasions. I feel like throwing my laptop when I see one of those ‘haul’ videos on YouTube and it makes me quite sad when parents feel the pressure to buy an expensive ‘it’ product because their child feels like they’re going to self-implode without it.
During a recent conversation with friends we got onto the subject of marketing and its nasty tricks. It was a conversation that first centred around a youtuber/social media influencer and ended with a heated debate about needs vs wants. The conclusion from the opposing ‘team’ was that if you didn’t buy anything you wanted and only what you needed then you wouldn’t enjoy life. It was quite a bold and literal statement. They made the example that if you enjoyed video gaming in your free time a video game would never be something you need, only a want but why should you refuse yourself that. True.
But marketing doesn’t want you to buy just one game or a few, ha, what would be the point. They don’t want you to buy a gaming console that lasts several years and runs well, or god forbid a second-hand one. No, a gaming company will bombard you with every video game release, there will be in-game purchases available, limited edition controllers and consoles to match the new game. The consoles won’t last as long as they should but if you do have a console that stands the test of time they will eventually start to release games that will no longer be compatible with it so you will have no option to buy a new one anyway.
A purchase can easily dance between both a want and need, yet if you get sucked in you can easily fall into a trap. Just like the video game analogy, many people will see a mobile phone as a need, what is not a need is the keeping-up with the Jones’s iPhone charade. We may all be familiar with the person who needs the newest iPhone who gets sucked into the clever Apple marketing, they will argue that life without wants would not be enjoyable. However, I see nothing enjoyable about the spiral of constantly needing the newest version of something and identifying my social standing in correlation with what phone I have.
There’s a reason why often the first point of call for a marketer isn’t a graphic design, but a psychologist. They want to see what happens in your brain when you read their new slogan, hear the new song for their advert or cast your eyes over the new packaging. It’s emotional, the value and practically of a product can in many instances come second to the way they would like you to feel. In all honestly they don’t really care what that emotion is, it just needs to be compelling enough for you to buy it. For example, take the evolution of marketing aimed at women, in this case a women’s razor. Several years ago the ‘be summer ready’ was the go-to and shame was the emotional response to being told your body just wasn’t up to scratch or embarrassment of being caught out. Now it’s body positivity and empowerment that will sell them the razor. The same people who told you to hide your legs if you had a stray hair are now the ones branding this as wellbeing. ‘Buy yourself into wellbeing and excellent mental health if you spend time shaving your legs’, this is just an example but is most definitely representative of the current rhetoric.
Perhaps an overall improvement, as the marketing industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to body insecurity. Yet please no one be fooled that they now care, they don’t. They need to evoke an emotion and a false need for their product.
However, the younger lot are possibly a bit more switched on to their techniques. Gen-z’s (a term coined by marketers, baby-boomers etc is not a government approved term as some may have thought but a way for markers to differentiate their target audiences) are posing a bit of a problem for marketers, they’re not easily pleased. Unfortunately an endorsement from a celeb who deep down you know wouldn’t use the product just wont work. This generation is all about partnerships and authenticity. Don’t laugh. Yes authenticity, I mean if a business was actually authentic they’d just say we want big fat profits, but perhaps that’s too cynical. Gen Z won’t be content with a product because it, functions well, it looks cool, or their favourite singer owns it. No, they need to ensure that that brand cares, it has meaningful partnerships, it’s empathetic and caring.
*Virtue signalling enters stage left*
Recently some brands have been forced by their customer base to improve practices to some extent, and this can only be seen as a positive. Increasingly customers are concerned about the carbon footprint of their favourite brands, how ethical their practices may be and if they share the same values as them (it seems Millennials never gave this a second thought).
This again is another emotion to buy into, another value to associate with. This isn’t unique just for Gen-zs, we’ve long known the phrase “sex sells”. Put a James Bond esq model in a car advert with an attractive female and your subconscious will believe that by attaining that car that’s the lifestyle you will lead. It’s the same thing really, just one perceives you to be a nicer person.
Although the newer generation may think they’re above marketing due to the fact they crave authenticity this is absolutely not the case. If you’ve only bought a product because it aligns itself with the Black Lives Matter campaign for example, then you’ve fallen for something just as hard as your millennial brothers and sisters. If you truly cared then you would stop buying what you don’t need, you would buy local, or second-hand.
You can’t buy your way into activism, just like you can’t buy your way into any other lifestyle.
It’s like a song you can’t get out of your head. Look inside your own home marketing is on your phone, TV, in magazines, on your food packaging, coming through your letterbox, the radio, podcasts, maybe even on your pen. It’s hard to get away from it, and eventually it will start to do a number on you. It can be so discreet you never saw it coming or it can be big and brash, either way its goal is to get you to buy things you don’t need. But there’s a price to pay. Buying what you don’t need accounts for 366,000 tonnes of clothes thrown away in the UK every year, 36,681 tonnes of household electronic waste per year. Childhood obesity has increased inline with the boom of marketing, yet children under six years old are unable to differentiate between a persuasive advertisement and programming when using a screen.
On the whole marketing relentlessness goes unchecked. Yes there is legislation on marketing to children, alcohol and disclosure of a paid advertisement, but there is nothing stopping the majority of their tactics, the overload of advertisements, and most importantly there is no education. Most people are susceptible because they don’t know what they’re up against or the overall effects this is having. So until we have some controls over this just remember, everyone can be influenced.