Marketing as War

Herd About It?

by Ana Grarian

Recently I was directed to a piece on the logic of Walmart pricing and how it takes advantage of the way our brain processes information. Apparently when we see a price like $3.72 we percieve it as significantly smaller than a rounded price like $3.75. Likewise we find it easier to percieve the difference between prices like $4.50 and $5.00 then say $4.27 and $4.72. And of course there is that whole phenomena of thinking of $3.99 as $3 rather than as $4. As well as being ripped off by that 9/10 of a cent at the gas pump which we apparently disregard.

An idea came to me that it is no surprise that we are so often at war when our whole socio-economic structure is based on taking more than our share from others. Think of marketing. The whole purpose is to separate us from our money by promising us what we need or want in such a way that we can’t get satisfaction when the promise doesn’t play out. Yes there are truth in advertising laws but they sure aren’t working.

There are whole fields of marketing which research how to price a product so that our perception is confused, or how to advertise it in a way that plays to our desires and fears, or to create a new desire or fear, or how to make a product react with our biology so that we crave it (salt, sugar and fat in food as well as fake flavorings and odors, nicotine in tobacco etc.)

I have worked in retail environments where we were instructed/trained/forced to pressure customers into upping their purchase or purchase level. I don’t object to this in small ways. For instance in a book store showing the customer that the hardcover is on sale so that the price is almost the same as the paper back, or in a shipping firm letting the customer know that their package could be at it’s destination faster using this service at this price. I do object to say pushing the kids meal to a harried Mom when her kid is with her. Believe me, Mom and the kid know you offer a “smiley box” with a crappy toy, and extra packaging for an inflated price, you don’t need to start the kid whining for one. I also object to the surreptitious decrease in package size so that your product appears to cost less money as was done with 1/2 gallon cartons of ice cream.

This one really gets to me. Have you noticed that in magazines – beyond the fact that they are simply vehicles to convey advertisements – that the ads are on the right hand page and the articles are on the left hand side or back of the page? The other thing that drives me crazy is that the article mentioned on the cover, is listed under a different name in the table of contents – if you can find the table of contents amongst all the ads. Similarly the article is “continued” in odd places through the magazine forcing you to peruse more pages and more ads looking for it. I once read a column by an editor who claimed the reader “owed” it to the magazine to read the ads as the “price” of getting the magazine. There was a time when the consumer was the customer. Now the advertiser is the customer and the consumer is the enemy.

I suppose employer/employee relations have always had a confrontational aspect to them but that seems to have escalated too. In a small company where everyone works together there needs to be somewhat more comraderie to help the flow of the work day, and the boss sees the problems and helps to surmount them. In a mega corp the people who make the rules are removed both from those that have to enforce the rules, and from those that have to abide by them. The distance between the two allows the board room to view the employees as slackers, and pits both the employees and the local management against the mythical “they”, as in “they said it has to be done this way” or “they set the production standards” there’s nothing I can do about it.

Likewise if we are trained to see the bottom line as the ultimate measure of success, and the consumers/employees as the evil beings trying to steal from us, how are we to learn to care about them? It has become our duty to the stockholder to force feed unhealthy foodlike substances grown and processed in ways that pollute the environment and place undue stress on employees in order to grow profits.

This is war! Us against Them! Money Rules! – the people drool