Something bothered me today while I sat behind a desk living the life of a retail sales associate. An older woman, probably in her 80’s, came in to return a facial product she’d bought that promised to diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles and improve her skin’s youthful appearance. She’d gone through the entire bottle and was disgruntled to discover no such miracles. Now you might be thinking, “well I would want a refund too!”… but she didn’t. What she demanded of us was that we sell her a second bottle of the same product at a discounted rate. If you’re confused, stay with me another minute.
This elderly women, with her kind eyes and deep-set laugh lines, was not just trying to play the system and get free stuff. Her reasoning behind the strange request was that she had seen an infomercial on TV for the product and whole-heartedly believed she just needed to keep trying. At first I thought it was funny that she would be so quick to believe what she had seen on TV. When I thought about it though, I’ve probably been in her shoes on more than one occasion..
Advertising is made to set an ideal, stage an experience, and even inspire people to action. Many would say that it is the consumers’ fault for buying into these ads. Yet, then you realize it’s not just a teenager with his or her first paycheck sprinting to the mall to invest in the latest advertised trend. Our culture is centered on goods, and we all consume advertising like we tune into the evening news. For example, how many of you had to think twice when you came across Google Nose BETA on Monday? Advertising isn’t always quite that outright with its tricks, but you get the point.
I think that the trickery sells. Whether an ad simply draws your attention or gets you fired up about something, we all want to think we’ve got a chance to take part in something “better.” A better experience, a better product, you name it, we want it. In his book Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism, James Twitchell attempts to debunk the idea that advertising is the culprit behind an elaborate deceptive scheme. He says, “What advertising does is add meaning to otherwise interchangeable and often unnecessary products by the dull hum of background noise.” In his book he explores why we blame advertisers, how advertisers are effective, and what about our consumer culture actually drives this success. It isn’t the products themselves but the meaning attached to them through what Twitchell calls the “rhetoric of salvation” that sends us to the checkout counters.
So you see, what this nice old woman made me realize today is that advertising is so much more than believing in a product. We’ve all learned not to judge a book by its cover, and not to believe everything we see on TV (oh, the clichés!), but next time you start to think that you’re above the allure of the ads ask yourself this. Is it what the ad is selling or what you’d be buying that’s pulling you in. As Twitchell says, “Ads are what we know about the world around us.” What will you buy today?
Great connection between an everyday example and some high level analysis by Twitchell. CMM talks about meanins as use. James Carey talks about how popular culture offers meanings for everyday life and even C.S. Lewis talks about literature as a poor source of “tools for living.” And yet, we yearn for meaning, don’t we? Carey notes that we find pleasure in making meaning. And ads often promise pleasure because they know that is one of our deepest drives. Thus ads are pleasurable even if our critical thinking has us evaluating claims.
I just read an article on FOM (fear of missing out), which I believe goes hand in hand with advertising. That is the point of an advertisement, to make you feel like you have to have this product because everyone else does and if you do not get it you will be left out. The poor woman who saw an add to make her wrinkles shrink is a clear sign of FOM. She did not only want to miss out on getting her moneys worth, but she wanted to look young like the women in the ad she saw. If she did not try this product again, she would have missed out on a opportunity to get smooth skin. It is very hard to stay away from the products you see on tv or in magazines all the time, but those are the ones we are most drawn to.
If more consumers still had faith in advertising like the elderly lady who came to your work, I wonder if consumer confidence would be higher, making for a stronger economy and products that actually work. That would be good for the polis as well. People would have more trust in corporations and their messages.
I think that one reason that people so easily believe advertisements is because advertisers know exactly what to do and say to make us want to buy their product. Advertisers do a lot of research so they know exactly what the costumers like and don’t like. They know exactly what we want and they know exactly how to advertise to us because we have told them through surveys and experiments. So it only makes sense that we believe in their product so much.
Often times when someone buys something it is because they have somesort of practical need for it, when discerning between products, well thats where advertisements come in. Since advertisers want the consumer to identify with their product they’ll go to great lengths to try and make you believe it will work. The old woman was sucked in thinking, ‘I wanna be like that!’. This brings me back to Seth’s blog about how more ‘easy going’ advertising, while it may not return immediatly, would help give consumers faith in a company and sustain more long-term buisness.
I too think people are crazy when they buy something and don’t get the results they want the first time, yet they keep buying it, but then I also think of myself. I’m guilty of this with a few different products. The advertising does such a great job telling us what we want to hear, that we just keep telling ourselves it’ll work after just one more bottle, and then another, and another. Advertising figures out what people really want, and they convince them that their product is the only way to accomplish whatever they are hoping to with a product. People get so caught up in believing the advertising, they start to question themselves, like “Maybe I’m not following directions right? I’ll just try it one more time. It’s gotta be something I’m doing wrong because the ad said….” Trickery sells, especially with diet and beauty products. You see the testimonials where they praise the product, but these people never reveal anything else they may have been doing to make the product look so good. Advertisers have found a way to trick people into hearing or seeing what they want to believe, and that’s what keeps customers coming back for more.