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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Psst, I've got what you need...

I had an epiphany this week, you know, one of those moments when a life truth becomes clear. It's as if someone turns on a light bulb in a dark room allows you to see everything clearly, without shadow. I think I was close to knowing the full impact of this truth but it really solidified for me while watching a commercial.

The nature of addiction, while in no small part a personality trait, is also being fed from Madison Avenue. I'm not talking about you being a crackhead...just bear with me. Before you call me crazy and ask the smiling young men in their crisp, white coats to come and escort me from the premises, take a look at this:

I stopped drinking several years ago, but before that decision Captain Morgan was at the top of my list. Let me tell you, if you like drinking rum and coke (Cuba Libre for the drinkeratti), that stuff tastes good. Alcohol that tastes good is a problem. Why? Because so many of us have addictive personalities...that's why. The makers of Captain Morgan rum KNOW it tastes good - so what do they advertise? The concept that you can be a free-wheeling, stylish, trend-setting privateer (okay, pirate), and party like a rock star...IF you drink Captain Morgan rum.

I'm not going to show all the videos that depend on the incredibly large blind spot that most men have: that little voice (mostly wrong) that whispers in your inner ear how female women of the opposite gender dig you; even if you look like Shrek. But no matter how much we learn to quiet our inner Depp, Hardee's, Victoria's Secret, Fiat, and on and on and on - so many companies you couldn't count them - want you to believe that if you buy their car, their food, their booze, their clothes, etc. that you can have a relationship of some sort with the dad-gum hawtest woman on the planet.

Doh! Yeah right, Homer. Can I get a bite of that Hardee's Jalapeno Burger?

This isn't a new concept: that advertising seeks to manipulate us into buy things we don't need. But it all revolves around the core products that most of us think we do need. I mean, we all need a car to get to work, we all want to go out and enjoy a meal, we all want to save money; and that last one is my pet peeve. It's like the 10 for $10 ploy at the grocery store. For goodness' sake people - if you only need one of something, and you can get them for a dollar apiece, where is the sense in buying ten of them at one time in order to not save money?

"But this price will never come around again."

[Insert mental image of me squinting, grinding my teeth and making an anguished, groaning sound]

Really? Do you believe that a discount on tomato paste will NEVER be that low, ever again?

If price is determined by the buyer's concept of value, then value is determined by the amount of need that can be created in a potential customer.

I guess you really need to go get you some Ragu spaghetti sauce right now.

I'll wait. I wouldn't want you to have to tie cooked pasta into your hair in order to get your wolf cubs to eat dinner.

I work in technology. I've lived through dialing up to those old bulletin board sites at 300 baud, loafed along the Information Superhighway at 45 Megabits per second, and everything in between. Naturally, I love to cruise at DS3 speed, but why? I'll tell you why, because instead of ASCII-based bulletin board sites, I'm now hitting web sites that I couldn't even view without decent download speeds. You're able to click on these YouTube videos and watch them just like they were playing on your television because you have high speed Internet service.

Back in 1999, we lived in Dubai, and had dial-up Internet access at home (work too, for that matter). We waited about two hours for the thirty second (0:30) trailer for Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace to download so I could introduce our children to that epic series.

Today? Click on the link above and you can watch the one minute and thirty second (1:30) trailer for the 3-D version. I did, and it streamed instantly, seamlessly, over my cable Internet connection. What a difference thirteen years makes.

But the point is, I believe the marketplace is driving our need for speed. In 1977 when the original Star Wars film was released, I couldn't even watch a trailer for the film unless I was in a theater watching some other film. Today, online trailers are almost a given as we decide what films we're going to blow $8-10 bucks apiece on.

It's a barrage of information. Why is that?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports these interesting statistics concerning the prevalence of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) among kids:
  • The percentage of children with a parent-reported ADHD diagnosis increased by 22% between 2003 and 2007
  • Rates of ADHD diagnosis increased an average of 3% per year from 1997 to 2006 and an average of 5.5% per year from 2003 to 2007
What does that have to do with anything?
Why do we believe multi-tasking is a good idea? Who told us that being able to have a bunch of stuff and do a bunch of things at one time is a good idea? I'll give you one guess...

NPR aired a segment this week that debunks the popular notion that multi-tasking is a desirable state of being to strive for. In their report it notes that the Roman sage Publilius Syrus wisely stated some 2,000 years ago that, "To do two things at once is to do neither."
And that brings me to my final point today:

Why do you know this man?

You know him because he's the face of a drug that advertises itself as a, ahem, performance enhancer.

Why do you need a performance enhancer? Because Madison Avenue says you do.

Back in the day, when men aged, things slowed down; aches and pains crept in; and we all pretty much accepted the situation as a part of life. 

But not any more.

Why? An ABC News report from 2005 (ancient history in statistical terms) noted that the herbal supplement market - of which these performance enhancers are a large part - amounted to more than $26 billion (yes, that's billion with a 'B') per year.

ABC highlighted a particular company that was spending $1 million per month advertising their products; products for which there was no scientific evidence for any benefit. Crazy, right? Except for the fact that this company had revenues of $75 million.
So you tell me. What do you need?


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