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?