Letting Go of the Lure of Bottled Water and Other Marketing Tricks

CB061652My day job is in marketing, and so I know how much money goes into making you think you need something without which you lived fine previously.   In our still-recent boom times, you could tell people had money to spare because we’ve been spending it on stuff like branded expensive coffee and, of all things, water.    

I knew I had fallen over the edge, after years of resisting buying bottled water, when I got off of a long plane ride, got right into a cab and went straight to my hotel.  The first thing I did was to look for the ridiculously expensive bottle of water that usually greets you when you walk in the door of your room.    I was really dehydrated from the trip, and I searched frantically for the liter bottle that I was so used to seeing, and which I usually ignored.  

But it wasn’t there!  I was so disappointed and frustrated and thought to myself, as I went to the bathroom to wash my face–I can’t believe they don’t have water in this hotel room!  Meanwhile, some similar stuff was pouring over my hands out of the taps in the bathroom.  As this substance that seemed strangely like water hit my face and I licked my lips, I startled myself crying out–“Wait a minute!  I think this IS water!”  

I wasn’t in Mexico City–I was in some American city that I’m sure had a water filtration system that could pretty much guarantee I would get home without Montezuma’s Revenge, but somehow tap water had become so second-class that I didn’t even consider it to be fit for drinking, even as my parched lips were craving anything potable.

I am usually on my guard with my antennae up high to trap all those subconscious cues that tell us we have to have something, especially because I am in the industry.  And I know that we’re all up against a pretty powerful enemy.  Think of the money, the talented Wharton graduates, the ambition of people whose goal in their worklife is to get you to buy their employer’s product.  I recall a time when I was in the back room of a focus group and the moderator asked the respondent how they felt about not having the particular thing that my client was trying to sell.  The respondent said, “I’m fine [not having it].”  The brand manager in the back room said, “You won’t be when we get done with you!”  

How do you fight that?  How do you let go of all those niggling little wants that are nothing more than manufactured and predictable responses to well-crafted stimuli by profiteering corporations?   

Here’s a few ideas:

1)  Watch less TV:  In 2007, television advertising revenue was $46.5 billion dollars according to the Television Bureau of Advertising.  You don’t think corporations aren’t getting something in return?

2)  Realize you ARE being manipulated.  Up until the 50s, advertising messages were product feature/attribute focused.  Then, psychologists got involved and advertisers started appealing to the motivations behind the purchasing decisions of potential customers.  Now the customers themselves are segmented and profiled and marketed to individually.  Read the classic The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard to understand how advertising might be hitting your buttons in ways that you’re not even aware of.  

3)  Realize that for everything that you can buy, there could be a product that’s cheaper or even free.    Here’s a sampling of substitutions that are healthier for you–either physically, or economically, or environmentally, or all three.  

  • Water with lemon instead of soda
  • Green cleaning materials like distilled vinegar or borax instead of Mr. Clean or PineSol
  • Baking soda instead of toothpaste
  • Brewed coffee at home instead of that addictive S***bucks stuff
  • One nice piece of organic dark chocolate for a treat instead of a Hostess cupcake

4)  Unplug.   Participate in Buy Nothing Day, or Mental Detox Week.  

5)  Get involved with organizations like Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood which has information that is truly scary about the hold that advertisers have on our children.

5)  Question your motives.  

6)  Know that by not succumbing to the lure of beauty, success, the perfect life–side shows created by people with one agenda–to sell their stuff–you are simplifying your life and letting contentment flow like a river.