16 Jan 2013
Once upon a time a bunch of business executives sat around a table and surmised ‘hey, how can we get people to spend even more money on products they don’t need?’
One aspect of this I noticed particularly around Christmas time was “Give and Get”. If you spend money on certain products you can earn rewards for yourself. So, buy a Subway gift card, and get a free sub. Spend $50 on our merchandise and receive a $10 gift card for yourself. I suppose this isn’t to different from credit cards that allow you to earn certain reward points, or air miles, (with which I have no problem) but the difference here is that it is aimed at people’s gift giving during the holidays, which seems a little out of line with the spirit of giving, wouldn’t you say? Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this concept, but what bothers me so much is the sneakiness factor. We all have this innate selfishness, but now big companies are capitalizing on it through our gift giving as well. Do we have to taint the simple pleasure of giving with the need to sneak something for ourselves in with it?
The ‘give and get’ marketing that we see during the holidays takes a different shape the rest of the year, but is basically the same thing; you deserve it. You work so hard, you take care of everyone else, you put in the hours, you do so much, or maybe you don’t do anything at all, but still you deserve it! You are such an amazing person, so you deserve to spend this money on yourself when you buy our product, and incidentally, we get rich! The problem with this type of thinking is that it leads one to believe that all rewards must be in the form of material goods. Sure, you can be an amazing person, and there is nothing wrong with treating yourself once in awhile, but don’t get caught up in this type of thinking that equates material goods with happiness. It will deplete the bank account and the soul.
Another tactic used in marketing is the appeal to our emotions. This is fine if it’s a commercial for Sick Kids Hospital or a reputable charity that relies on financial support to do good work—indeed we should be moved by emotion when we see things that seem wrong or unjust. But corporations also play on our emotions in a big way. We are flooded with images of people living the good life: people with perfect families and perfect friends and they are always happy and have astonishingly white teeth. I doubt they ever get stressed out or have to worry about finances, illness or family issues. They have perfect lives and it must be because of the products they own, right?
Insurance companies often use fear as a motivator to gain new clients—painting pictures of all the horrors that could befall you without insurance. Yes, it’s a good idea to have insurance, but be aware of the tactics that are used to gain your business. Open your eyes. There are great businesses out there, but not every company is as trustworthy as your favourite uncle.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for buying things or treating themselves, but I am saying that we need to be more aware of the way companies are targeting us and make informed decisions when we purchase things. As a society we are hoarders, maybe not in the TLC reality show kind of way—but we all have too much stuff. And as a society the acquisition of more stuff is often on the forefront of our thinking.
Some might say, ‘if you have such a problem with ads and marketing then just turn your TV off’. I understand that perspective, but I’m not ready to go to that extreme yet. I would rather be a smart consumer than shut myself off from the world. I believe it is possible to be a member of society that goes against the current. That is what I’d like to be, and I would love it if my kids could make it to adulthood without feeling they need a certain bag to be cool, or a certain yogurt brand to achieve a zen-like happy state. Marketing to children is a whole other topic for another day. As a parent, I always have to be cautious of the way brands are affecting the way my children think. I have to be aware that the world they are growing up in is already very different than the one in which I was raised.