Have you ever bought something because it seemed just that good on television? It is hard to resist; almost like they know exactly what you are thinking at that exact moment in time. You want to be that guy sitting in the middle of a crowd of people with the fanciest watch, or that girl being hit on by the cute guy with the fancy watch, after she stuck a certain brand of mint in her mouth. Maybe you are just now craving a Krispy Kreme donut after watching one of their commercials.
Most people who work in advertising have an extensive knowledge of human psychology and know how to manipulate costumers into purchasing a product without questioning why. This is accomplished by appealing to a person’s subliminal and instinctual desires. For college students, problems arise since rarely does the income meet the cost of living. Without an understanding of how advertising manipulates, it is easy to fall for these schemes, wasting money and resources.
Advertisements that showcase sexual appeal and easy living, for example, are using people’s deep-rooted desire to achieve perfection. Buy this can of deodorant, and you can get women. Buy this book, and you can get rich.
One angle of the subliminal is that, subconsciously, people want to live the life they see on television. In the field, this is called referencing, where viewers imagine themselves living the good life, as television stars do, and try to fund those desires by buying products that embody the characters they see on television. However, this is not a reality television show. This is real life, with real financial issues and real consequences for living outside your financial class.
LifeHacker Editor Adam Dachis sees the television show “Friends” as an example of referencing. Rachel and Monica share a large and beautifully decorated apartment despite their low-income jobs. This is a frequent issue with the shows students watch — the lifestyles of your favorite characters usually do not represent the actual capabilities
of their lives.
When people watch these television shows, they want to be able to live in that big apartment or have the highest quality clothes at their current income. So advertisers sell the products the characters would have for a price they could not afford. That is how debt begins to pile up.
“It’s particularly hard to get rid of debt when the desire to spend doesn’t go away,” writes Dachis. “It’s always there because we are constantly receiving messages to want more and more things that we can’t afford.”
The other category of advertisements uses primitive, or instinctual, desires to convince people to buy products without thinking or doing any research. Emotion, nostalgia and even the basic urge to have more factors into how these advertisements work.
According to WebMD, the brain remembers emotional experiences. “[The brain] stores as much detail as possible about the emotion-filled event, wiring it for quick recall.” An example could be a commercial where a family sits together and watches a movie they ordered from Netflix. This can stimulate the brain to recall memories of the viewer also enjoying a flick, while making popcorn and sitting under a blanket with mom and dad.
According to a 1992 study by Barry Guinagh, 68.8 percent of college freshmen experience homesickness. Through the imagery of home and family, Netflix is offering more than just movies; it is offering an emotional trip home, an easier solution to cure homesickness.
Nostalgia is also a powerful tool used in advertising to take those regressed thoughts for granted. Like joy or sadness, nostalgia is an emotion. You feel it, and you remember it because it usually recalls something you did frequently. Food commercials that show an average morning before school or work often play with nostalgia. An advertisement of a child sitting in a fort of blankets also works the same way.
Of course there is a reason why advertising is so controlling. According to the Daily Galaxy blog, brain scans by Emory University researchers showed that it is our primal nature to want more stuff than other people. The brain releases a chemical called dopamine when we see something we actually think about buying, which creates a feeling of excitement and joy. The chemical is released only in anticipation, so once the product is ours, that ecstasy is gone. This is why people may feel indifference or “buyer’s remorse” immediately after a purchase.
Fighting the Trend
Pay attention to the emotions you feel when watching a commercial, looking at an advertisement on the side of your Facebook page or in a magazine. Ask yourself about these emotions: Is this something you need? What benefit will you receive from this?
“Be enough”, writes Rebecca Sato on Daily Galaxy. Stop worrying about whether you’re good enough, rich enough or strong enough. Just do what makes you happy without worrying about the judgment of others.
Do not be afraid to say no. The Washington Post states that while advertising can be poisonous, especially to the younger audiences, advertisers try to take advantage of the unwanted negativity that comes with saying no. Your friend might ask to borrow money for a beer, or shirt he really wants. Consider yourself a good Samaritan when declining to fulfill his desire for unneeded goods.
Watch for functionality. Take for example purchasing skinny jeans. Maybe they look pretty great on the models you see in advertisements, but they are probably about $60 to $70, and will tear a lot easier than that pair of jeans that fit perfectly from Target. What you buy should be based highly on what it can or will do for you, versus how
it might look.
These tips are only a few that can be applied to help prevent needless spending and keep your wallet thick. Regardless of the method of manipulation, at its core, the solution is almost always the same. Do your research. Think about it. One product does not need to change your life. It does not need to have flashing lights or fancy logos. It just needs to work.