Last Call: Are you being manipulated?

Last Call
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marcfrey150Yes you are! The power of marketing is everywhere in our lives, influencing our way of thinking and even dictating the way we feel about things.

How else is it possible that the color pink is exclusively associated with girls; how is it possible that a simple folded pink ribbon symbolizes the fight against breast cancer without the need to put one single word next to it? Think about that for a moment…

I venture to say that it is not often that we reflect on the outside influences that infiltrate our brains. Unfortunately, there is no class in high school called “Independent thinking 101.” It seems that we simply accept that marketing is a natural part of our lives without giving much thought to how we are being manipulated into behavior patterns or believing things without fact-checking them.

Still skeptical? Here are a few everyday examples:

Good and safe quality tap water is prevalent throughout the USA and yet the beverage industry managed to make us believe that we should buy bottled water instead. and successfully competes against free tap water. How successful? 30,000,000,000 times over, yes that is 30 billion bottles of water a year.  And to make it more grotesque, most of it is simply filtered tap water that is being repackaged.

A high quality cup of coffee costs somewhere around a dollar, yet Starbucks successfully used marketing to make millions of people believe that walking around with a white paper cup adorned by a green mermaid is a status symbol worth paying four times as much.

Would you expect to pay less for a bottle of wine at Sam’s than at a regular grocery store or a wine boutique? I did, until I put my assumption to the test comparing prices in 10 retail outlets. Fifty percent of the time, the exact same bottle of wine bought at Sam’s was the same price. Twenty percent of the time it was higher, and thirty percent of the time it was lower. My conclusion is that some brands have imprinted enough of an image on our brains that we simply don’t question our assumptions any longer. I stopped buying at Sam’s and enjoy the service, smile and case discount only a local wine store can deliver.

Would you be shocked to learn that “5 hour energy” sells 9 million units a week?

I’m wondering where these“slouches” got their energy from, before somebody decided it would be a good idea to put some caffeine and Vitamin B in a small bottle? (If you are curious about its effectiveness take the time to read the Consumer Report double blind study).

Talking about doing Internet research, here is a good example of how we are being manipulated. The other day I was trying to verify a claim made by a medical company about the effectiveness of one of their products. I had to dig to page nine on the search results in order to find an independent voice. All the other previous entries were paid for PR releases!

Does the stock market historically do better under a Republican or a Democratic President?

If your answer was Republican, you are victim of the Republican marketing machine, touting that only the Republican Party is business friendly. (According to the Bloomberg Government Report, over the last five decades the stock market did better under a Democratic President. A New York Times report, doing the same analysis going back to 1923, reached the same conclusion).

The list could go on endlessly, and dissertations have, and will be continue to be, written about this subject.

Does that mean that I’m against marketing? Not at all. After all, without marketing you wouldn’t be reading this column. Marketing is a necessary tool in a capitalistic system. The question arises, however: Where does simple and honest promotion stop and deliberate manipulation start? That line is becoming increasingly blurry and more difficult to detect by unprepared consumers and voters. It is also a line that the most powerful institutions (think interest groups, large corporations, religious extremists, social media and search engine giants, industry alliances and, yes, even not-for-profit organizations and governments) are likely to cross. After all, they have the most to gain from doing it, they have the means to make it happen, and should they get caught doing something illegal, unethical or be fined for their actions, they have the ability to survive the consequences.

But don’t be manipulated into thinking that I’m right about this or anything else, think for yourself…

Please do send me your feedback if you agree or disagree, and especially if you can add something new and relevant to this or any other topic at mfrey@freymedia.com.