I Make Fun of Marketing, But I’m Not Immune to Advertising

August 18, 2014


Over the past few years, I’ve become more and more conscious of the marketing tactics used by companies to sell products. For example, when people talk about juice or tea cleanses that cost $50+ and are packaged in beautiful boxes, I want to scream, “They’re just trying to sell you something! Eat healthy food and cut out caffeine/booze instead!”. When I hear girls talk about how much they spent on makeup, after someone told them X, Y and Z would happen if they used A, B or C, my heart sinks a little deeper into my chest. And when I hear someone say they want to do/try something because a celebrity talked about it on a show, or they read about it in a gossip magazine, I literally want to wave a white flag and give up.

To be clear, I wasn’t always like this. Before being maxed out, I blindly went into consumer debt so I could fill my home with brand new furniture, books and electronics. Even though I wasn’t interested in clothes, shoes or makeup, shopping was still a leisure activity I did with certain friends, and I owned much more than I ever needed (as proven in my recent purge). However, in placing myself on a tight budget for the two years it took me to get out of debt, I had no idea I would subsequently learn how little I needed in order to live a happy and fulfilled life; that’s when I started paying attention to how certain things were marketed to us.

As I said, I’ve learned how to identify and avoid buying the items in those beautiful packages (it’s easy, once you realize what the markup is on them). One look inside my makeup bag proves I only ever buy a few basics. And while it’s impossible to avoid celebrities entirely, I think I’m long past the stage of my life where I’d want something just because someone else had it. I know I don’t need “things” to make me happy, and I certainly don’t need anything to prove my status to the world. But, as I learned this past week, my standpoint on this subject doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m immune to advertising either…

For some backstory: I don’t have cable. I still stream TV shows and watch them on Netflix, etc., but I haven’t had cable since 2012 and I rarely miss it. Nowadays, we can stream the news and the Oscars, and anything else you might want to see live. Even though I watch TV shows, I’m grateful I don’t have cable because it means I’m not a slave to my TV, and the never-ending stream of new shows + old favourites.

With that being said, I have to admit that one of the things I enjoy about going home to Victoria (or to a hotel) is that I can sneak in a few episodes of something on cable. I won’t sit in front of the TV for long (mostly because I can’t stand the commercials), but a little Property Brothers or Super Soul Sunday never hurt anybody, right? This week, however, I noticed that after a few shows and all their commercials had ended, I had this intense urge to shop – and for some things I usually couldn’t care less about.

After Super Soul Sunday, for example, I wanted to buy a few books; there’s nothing unusual about that for me, especially since Oprah usually interviews authors and discusses their latest work. However, after some other shows, I also felt the need to buy: BB cream (I don’t even really know what this is), nail polish (which I don’t need) and new laundry detergent (which I’m allowed to buy but don’t need yet). I obviously didn’t rush to any stores right that minute, but it stuck around in my subconscious.

Later in the week, I had to go to Target to buy one thing in all women’s favourite aisle to shop in once/month. To get to that aisle, I had to walk past all four cosmetic aisles. The last one had CoverGirl on the end (I use their eyeliner and mascara) and, without thinking, I turned to walk down it. As soon as I started to look at the display, I realized not only that I wasn’t supposed to be there, per the shopping ban, but that the simple act of “shopping” in a cosmetic aisle was really foreign to me. When I shop for makeup, it’s just something I pick up and tick off my shopping list. What the heck was I doing down this aisle now!? Well, the bright white lights sucked me in, and I was now staring at that freaking BB cream I saw on TV.

I can’t pinpoint the specific commercials that made me want to shop, but I know from studying many others that these products were likely advertised to do one thing: fix a problem. I recently watched some great examples of this in BBC Two’s three-part series, The Men Who Made Us Spend. Since the 1950s, companies have been selling products by instilling a fear that something will go wrong if we don’t own this, that or the other – and in every colour under the sun. While I like to think I’m smart enough to know when something is a marketing tactic, I can’t deny that good ads can stir up a reaction which could ultimately lead us to buy a product; it may not happen instantly, but they can at least get us to think about a product… and buy it later.

Nevertheless, I still haven’t caved. I walked out of Target with just the one box of what I went in for, and have decided it’s probably best if I never know what BB cream is. However, I’m now conscious of the fact that I’m not as immune to advertisements as I once thought. Hopefully this shopping ban just brings extra clarity to the different types of marketing tactics I’ll face on a daily basis going forward.

When was the last time you were almost sold on a product?

Flickr: mbshane

  • Rob August 18, 2014 at 5:24 am

    Hi Cait! Well those “oldies but goodies” rock and roll music tv promo shows on tv, where they show all the hit stars from yesteryear singing their popular tunes from the past, often seem tempting to me to follow up on in buying their “great offers”. I did that only once some years ago and yet I rarely listen to their tunes anymore, even though I have a collection of their songs.

    And speaking of Advertising and Marketing, one’s grocery store is choc full of that stuff – just by observing the product signage, product shelf placement, etc. The more expensive brand labels at eye level and at the end of store aisles, with the cheaper generic equivalent merchandise place in lower levels and out of the way locations. Yes, Marketing and Advertising truly is a science aimed at separating you from your money! :-)

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      You’re definitely right about grocery stores! Don’t forget about what’s placed near the till.

  • Strandedrocks August 18, 2014 at 5:41 am

    I don’t know if this would be the same thing but after I got a sample size bottle of mouthwash from the dentist I have started buying it. Rinsing with mouthwash had never been part of my dental hygiene routine but now I can’t see myself not doing it. I am very conscious that it is the goal of marketing to hook new customers but I just see the benefits to it. What I do in order to feel that I am not completely giving in is not using the recommended volume when rinsing therefore making the mouthwash last longer.

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Interestingly enough, I hadn’t thought about buying an electric toothbrush until my hygienist told me to! I wouldn’t have bought it from her, so I can’t decide if that was a marketing tactic or honest advice… but dentists definitely know how to instil fear in us, that’s for sure.

  • Kassandra @ More Than Just Money August 18, 2014 at 5:45 am

    Well done marketing/ads really do cause people to buy stuff that they really didn’t even think of purchasing! I don’t miss the earlier days of mindless shopping and it’s rare now that I’ll fall prey to marketing tactics but I can still be tempted to buy something just because it’s prettily packaged. Work in progress :)

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      That dang packaging…

  • Alicia August 18, 2014 at 5:56 am

    I haven’t had cable for about 2 years, and I’ve noticed the same thing as you. When I am at my parents place, my urge to consume goes up. Not being inundated with ads all the time has really made me aware of it when I am. That said, sometimes I still slip up. But it’s a work in progress.

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      As long as you’re aware of it. :)

  • Kate@GoodnightDebt August 18, 2014 at 5:59 am

    I had a ‘lip makeover’ at Sephora (outside the store) a few weeks ago. If I went to the store and purchased a lip product, I got a free gift bag. Apparently this was enough to suck me in. Even as I was buying and walking out the store, I kept thinking “UGH, they got me.” It was $18 I did’t need to spend.
    I’ve come to terms with my purchase because 1) I technically purchased a cheek stain and I was within a month of needing new blush; 2) I love what I bought and it should last a long, long time; 3) One of the samples is excellent.

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      The “free gift with purchase” is another tactic that drives me nuts. How can something be free, if you have to spend money to get it? I’m not judging your purchase – just pointing out how marketers try to twist our thoughts, so we justify our purchases. I fell for it so many times, usually with Clinique products (I use their 3-step system).

  • Daisy August 18, 2014 at 6:39 am

    I get sucked in more than I’d like to admit. Especially with makeup; it’s Buzzfeed, I think. I see all of those makeup hacks and it gives me the spendies. If I avoid blogs and commercials and focus on products, I am usually good to go.

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      Note to self: Block Buzzfeed from Daisy’s laptop.

  • Brandy@bustedbudget August 18, 2014 at 6:47 am

    This happens to me a lot and it’s usually (unfortunately) my mom trying to talk me into things. I kinda have to tune her out or I would end up buying a lot more than I need to!

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      Ahhh, it’s good to know she’s a trigger for you, though!

  • Nadia August 18, 2014 at 6:54 am

    I’m the one selling the products! LOL. For example the bakery I work at we have samples everyday and boy do they work at getting people to buy stuff. That’s the point of samples. That’s why Costco does them. They get people to buy stuff.

    I’m a sucker for nail polish. I don’t even need the advertising. The last one I bought was because I didn’t get it for my birthday. And it was from the Coca-Cola collection by OPI. I have a small collection of Coke products so I splurged with my spending money. On the plus side I didn’t get the whole collection which I would have done before. I only got the one I really wanted.

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:31 pm

      Oh yea, I remember those days at Starbucks. Samples samples samples, sales sales sales. It works, for sure!

    • Dayle August 19, 2014 at 7:17 am

      It works BIG TIME at Costco! I buy so many things I sample… then again, some of them are really good things, so I feel like it’s a win-win. I can try before I buy rather than spending $10-$15 for something I may not like.

  • Retired by 40 August 18, 2014 at 7:54 am

    I’ve always heard advertisements being compared to drugs – they make you want something so bad, and they get you hooked on consmerism. There are great thoughts, Cait!

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:32 pm

      That aligns with a lot of what I’ve been reading about lately. Thanks!

  • Peter Flanders August 18, 2014 at 7:56 am

    I’m OK Caitlin, I cant stand shopping. I am definitely not the hunter gatherer in our house. :) Cheers.

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 7:59 am

      Bahaha, nope, you are not! :P

  • Trista August 18, 2014 at 8:06 am

    I want to comment about the Property Brothers. Sometimes they make me want to spend on furnishings and decor but sometimes they really seem to talk me out of wanting a home at all. They help me realize that I’m not ready for the hassle of owning a house. I have no desire to complete home maintenance and renos.

    Luckily, I find it very easy to talk myself out of buying things for the house. I really should replace my TV (I’ve been talking about this for about 4 years) so I can hook Netflix up and get rid of the cable. But my TV still works so I can’t seem to justify it. There are a couple furniture pieces I need as well. I don’t own a dresser and my kitchen table is very old and is falling apart. The table and chairs are very wobbly and they would take time and money to stabilize them. It’s an ugly hand me down set anyway. But every time I consider buying a new set I talk myself out of it because it would probably get damaged the next time I move.

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      I agree re: the show. I love seeing that it’s possible to buy something old and make it look new, versus spend even more for something that’s actually new and will depreciate. But I also know that neither option is in my near future, haha.

  • Wendy August 18, 2014 at 8:58 am

    You don’t need BB cream in your life. It’s so overrated. And how did you walk out of Target with just the one item you needed? That’s like mission impossible for me and Target! :)

    • Jacquie August 18, 2014 at 9:21 am

      Correction: North American BB Creams are over-rated ;) The Korean ones are a whole different ball game!

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      I think I’ll do without both. ;)

      • Jacquie August 18, 2014 at 2:38 pm

        Good willpower, Cait :) I applaud you!!

    • Steve August 20, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      Not to hijack this thread on a tangent, but whoa! Wendy! You’re kinda still around! Cool!

  • Ashley August 18, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Hi there! I’m a fairly new follower of your blog. Every morning when I get the email of your most recent posting I end up cracking up because I agree with you wholeheartedly on almost everything. Reading your recent posts about simplifying your life and changing your views about needs and wants has been interesting because I feel like you are the Canadian version of myself. I’m extremely OCD clean organized and simple! If I don’t use or need it, I don’t want it. I am also going through the journey that you have already went through – paying off the student loans. I just wanted to shout out to you for the way you live and I appreciate that about you. :)
    Arizona, US

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      Hey Ashley! Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. It’s so cool to find out where readers are from – one of my best guy friends lives in Arizona! Anyway, good luck in your debt repayment journey. Hope to see more comments from you in the future. :)

  • Cari August 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Oh Cait, I too live without cable and used to shop for the same reasons. I stopped looking at many beauty blogs and fashion blogs because I no longer had the money or the time to do so and it’s now not something I’m very interested in.

    I was sucked into trying BB Cream (I hated it), buying iPhone upgrades left and right and purchasing every new novel, hardcover it seemed. I also HAD to have the latest and greatest hairstyle. It’s quite freeing not being a slave to all of that anymore. :)

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Thank you for telling me you hated BB cream! I needed to hear that. I don’t wear ANY foundation (just some powder), so I have no idea why I was even considering it… but months and months of seeing ads just finally worked, I guess.

  • Dawn August 18, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Its always the weight-loss products. I don’t ever buy them – but I always think, what if it works?? Lose 20 – 30 pounds by taking a pill!! I need that!! It should work!! Then my brain turns on again, and I remember that stuff NEVER works…..EVER!

    • Cait Flanders August 18, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Never, ever! Eating less junk and exercising more is the only way. :)

  • debt debs August 18, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Hey Cait – our cable was cut last week and I don’t even miss Property Brothers yet!

    I wonder if there’s subliminal messages in that advertising? Good for you for staying on course. I’ll be interested to know when you eventually lose the urge completely (if at all). Then I will feel safe to go back into a store. j/k

    • Cait Flanders August 20, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      Haha. Yea, I’ll be curious to see if/when that ever happens… but I’d be surprised if it did. Guess we’ll see, as time goes on!

  • Miss Millennial August 18, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    I make my living in marketing… (Luckily, I happen to sell a product that people actually NEED when they need it…) but seriously the tactics would and should shock you. I read about them all the time and it’s not just the stuff you realize (free gifts, commercials, etc) – it’s the product placement, the PR, the color of the “buy” button, the smell of the store, the placement, etc. Good for you for recognizing it!

    • Cait Flanders August 20, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      Oh, I know it! My mom and I just commented this morning on how every single Shoppers Drug Mart (a drugstore in Canada) smells exactly the same. It’s scary!

  • Cinthia August 19, 2014 at 2:37 am

    Hi, Cait!
    I also don’t have cable and don’t miss it at all. I get my “Property Brothers” and “House Hunters” fix at the gym (Planet Fitness, $9.99 a month). But the commercials can be scary. They can easily cause you to doubt yourself, especially if you’re in a vulnerable mood.
    I don’t like shopping (except for running gear, and that’s another story) but I recently shopped for a dress for a friend’s wedding and realized, after trying on about 10 styles, that I wasn’t looking for a dress, I was looking for a fantasy, a dress that would transform me into the person I wanted to be: Younger, more confident, more conventional, etc. That stopped me cold and yet I still ended up buying three dresses, all of which I later returned. It still nags me that I was so easily swayed by the trappings of the store and the lights and music and all of those promises that if we only buy this, we will become that. I wonder if it’s ever truly possible to free oneself from such a mindset.
    Anyway, great post. Made me think, and I so love to ponder.

    • Cait Flanders August 21, 2014 at 7:31 am

      I think I realized that BB cream finally caught my attention because I’ve seen ads for it for what… a year or two now!? So maybe the first commercial didn’t sink in, but the 100th finally did. Anyway, good to be aware of it, like you said!

  • Dayle August 19, 2014 at 7:15 am


    1. Those new Lays chips in the 4 random flavours where you vote for your fave… yesterday in Walmart, with both of us having our hands full, and about 3 bags of chips already at home, accumulated from various camping trips, I almost bought them. It was the HUGE display in the middle of the aisle (and truth be told, I may still try them at a later date… Bacon Poutine chips?!)

    2. Last week, Roots had a one-day sale, 41% off all sweats (41st anniversary I guess)… I had almost bought a new pair for full price months ago, so this one called my name. I first learned about it on Twitter, then conveniently walked by on my way to the gym… Anyway, bought two pairs, one pants, one capris, going to make a deal with myself and keep the capris which were half the price, and return the pants which were still nearly $50 on sale! Buyer’s remorse! ….and I am supposed to be trying to save extra money!

    3. I get almost sold on many things whenever I go into Lululemon… no advertising, it almost sells itself to me! lol

    4. And when I cancelled my satellite, I was almost sold on keeping it at a reduced price, but nope, I stood my ground!

    • Leigh August 19, 2014 at 8:03 am

      Lululemon is the worst! I hate the scarcity model. There was a time I was buying at least twice a week, once during upload, and a second time on the mark-downs. I’m proud to say that the last six months I’ve made three purchases (2 bras and a shirt). It’s been so hard!!
      I’ve been having to talk myself out of buying cosmetics lately. I keep trying the “sleep on it overnight” and it seems to be helping the money stay on my account. I still think about it, but not buying is a win :)

      • Dayle August 19, 2014 at 10:16 am

        I went thru a time like that as well.

        I even had my unemployed boyfriend at the time sitting at home waiting for the cheer gear to be uploaded during the 2010 olympics and then purchasing over $500 worth on my credit card… duh!!!

        On the other hand, I do still have many of the items I purchased years ago, and I find for the most part their stuff is excellent quality. I’ve been wearing a lot of the same tights and pants for 4 years. And when I tire of items and don’t wear them much anymore, I’m able to sell them for 30-60% of the original price on kijiji.

        And I agree with you on the scarvcity model, but since I rarely go in there now, it doesn’t bother me anymore because I don’t know what I’m missing.

    • Cait Flanders August 21, 2014 at 7:33 am

      Lulu almost always gets me too… but I actually only own 2 things from there: a sports bra and a headband. Their crazy prices always steer me away!

  • Jen August 19, 2014 at 8:01 am

    The funny thing is that I actually own a marketing firm so I understand very well how marketing, advertising and promotion works. Even though I’m the one helping companies market their products and services, I’m often telling my kids about how to pay attention to the value they’re getting at the store. And I personally hate clutter, so I don’t buy anything I really don’t need. The need to have a clutter-free home usually outweighs the need to buy something pretty.

    • Cait Flanders August 21, 2014 at 7:34 am

      “The need to have a clutter-free home usually outweighs the need to buy something pretty.” I agree, but I wish I’d always thought this way. :)

  • Even Steven August 19, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Gum is usually what gets me, the stuff closer to the register for a reason I suppose. I’m usually good with passing it up, my significant other and chocolate somehow always end up in the cart.

    • Cait Flanders August 21, 2014 at 7:35 am

      Interesting! At least those items (gum and chocolate) are cheap. ;)

  • Amelia August 19, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Great post. Just wanted to comment on the BB cream. It’s worth it if you use a moisturize and foundation. What used to cost me about $20 to $30 each has now been reduced to one product which I can get at Target for under $15 … Sometimes $11 if it’s on sale. I like it for reducing the number of products I use. There are more expensive BB creams on the market, but the cheaper ones work fine.

    • Cait Flanders August 21, 2014 at 7:35 am

      Ahhh, ok thanks! I don’t use foundation – just powder, sometimes – so it’s probably ok if I never touch the stuff. :)

  • Steve August 19, 2014 at 10:31 am

    By being an intelligent and enlightened consumer, and training oneself on increasing the space between stimulus and reaction, one can combat modern day consumerism more consciously. It’ll always be a grind to combat impulses and emotions, but it is doable by being actively conscious everyday. I guess eventually it becomes a part of you and gets easier. Kind of like exercising: once you do it enough, you learn to enjoy the pain!

    • Cait Flanders August 21, 2014 at 7:36 am

      That’s a good point. Thanks, Steve!

  • Money Pincher August 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    I don’t remember the last time I almost got sold on a product, but I remember the last time I actually got sold on a product. It is the Clinique Even Better Skin Tone corrector.

    I have freckles that I wanted to get rid of. Watching the commercial on TV seeing how the freckled egg become a non-freckled egg totally sold me on the product. I went out and BOUGHT a 50 ml bottle of it and tried it on myself – I thought I was going crazy when the images of the advertisment flash into my head as I imagined the cream penetrated through my skin to get to even out my pigmented skin.

    I gotta admit, it did work to clear up some of my skin tone, but would I buy it again? Probably not…. especially not at $79.99 a bottle. I bought it because I got a $150 gift card to the Bay and it was gift time at Clinque.

    • Cait Flanders August 21, 2014 at 7:40 am

      Oh, I remember those commercials! I can see how they’d work, if you wanted to get rid of your freckles. I don’t want to say it’s “good” when anyone buys a product that ends up not working out, but I do think it’s good if we can try to take a lesson away from that experience.

  • Gia T. August 19, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Haha, I used to work in marketing, and it was fun thinking of new ways to sell people stuff. ;) *braces for rotten tomatoes*

    But seriously, I know and can name all the selling tactics, but STILL fall for some ads anyway, so it’s really all about self control. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it (or at least make sure you do your research and don’t bankrupt yourself to buy it).

    • Cait Flanders August 21, 2014 at 7:41 am

      No rotten tomatoes coming from me! I totally get it. It’s interesting, though, that you still fall for some of the tactics. But you’re right: if you don’t NEED it, don’t buy it!

  • Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore August 27, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Great post Cait! I try to avoid ads as much as possible now that I’m on a strict budget, plus I just don’t need any more “stuff”, but no one is immune to all forms of advertising.