Monday, March 24, 2014

No Soliciting

Many people post a “No Soliciting” sign near their front door to discourage unwanted salespeople.  They are trying to avoid an unwelcome interruption and the uncomfortable confrontation of politely sending away a persistent solicitor. 

It’s easy to keep the front door under control or to block pop-up ads on the Internet, another source of unwanted solicitation, but it’s more difficult to control all the other ads coming at us from every direction.  Social media and other free websites make their money through advertising, and they know all the tricks to get us interested.  No solid information exists on how often we are exposed to advertising messages.  Estimates vary between 250 and 3000 times a day with some reputable sources saying 5000 for city dwellers, who see more billboards and ads on every passing taxi or bus.  This probably does not even count the logos and symbols on almost every article of clothing.  No matter the number, we must be mentally ready to resist the bait, lest we end up buying a bunch of stuff we don’t need and, in retrospect, don’t even want.  (Note:  No advertising on this site.)

An important tool in this battle is knowing the difference between persuasion and conviction.  People are convinced by facts and logical arguments.  They are persuaded by appeals to their feelings.  Facts are boring; appeals can be exciting and enticing.  That’s why we more often buy cars based on color, appearance and image.  Packaging is so important, whether it’s for a product or a political candidate.  As one consulting group boasts on their website:  “A good campaign doesn’t just offer the right product to the right consumer. It gets them emotionally stimulated to buy or at least investigate the advertised product or service.”

Two quick examples involve sleeping pills and Barbie’s infiltration of the Girl Scouts.

This USA Today article discusses the increased use of sleeping pills in our increasingly rushed, stressful and sleep-deprived world.  They also acknowledge:  “One obvious reason for the increase: two decades of marketing for the latest generation of pills.”  Advertising, not logical arguments, leads to more sales.

In another case, the Girl Scouts are facing pressure to end their relationship with Mattel.  The company gives them financial support, but also offers and promotes “a Barbie-themed activity book, a website, and a Barbie participation patch.”  Putting aside the controversy about whether this Barbie association is healthy or not for young girls, we all know that Mattel (or any other corporate sponsor) does not do this out of the goodness of their heart.  They are relying on young girls to be easily persuaded that they must have a Barbie doll, along with the many accessories.  They are counting on parents not having taught their daughters about advertising tactics, and furthermore counting on parents to succumb to the constant nagging that will result from this clever persuasion. 

Knowing the difference between conviction and persuasion is similar to knowing the difference between wants and needs.  Not understanding this difference is how we end up with houses full of junk and no retirement savings.

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