Reality cracking lab
courtesy of fravia's ~ Mai 2001
The Conscious Consumer
A look into marketing propaganda
by Zev ^Baron^ Toledano

edited by fravia+
Well, ahem, note that [ultraedit] is actually really a good editor (I use it since the dawn of it for my html direct coding approach) and you should by all means try it by yourselves. Hope some of my readers will develop the ideas that Zev introduces here...


The Conscious Consumer
A look into marketing propaganda
By Zev ^Baron^ Toledano

25th April, 2001



This essay tries to dig into the psychological weaponry of marketing and how much it really is affecting you. The essay consists mostly of obvious points that will not make the perceptive reader feel that he learned something new, but instead, hopefully, will increase his awareness. And that, together with a thinking brain, are the most crucial tools of the Reality Cracker. Basically this essay should stimolate further digging in the same field.

"You're already dead"

But then again, where advertising and subliminal marketing are concerned, it is important to note that awareness of marketing ploys and 'looking behind the curtain' are not always enough to shake free of the 'enslavement' effect. Here are a couple of examples:

The Do-It-Yourself chain of stores start an aggressive campaign to advertise their 'elite' selection of gardening tools. You automatically block out the abundant billboards and advertisements as more boring or obtrusive hogwash. But DESPITE the 'hogwash' mental tag, the next time you need a special gardening shear, what store do you think will pop into your head first as the most likely place to find what you need?

Or how about some of the supermarket tricks mentioned in other reality cracking essays to get you to buy more items than you intended. You see the racks of batteries and chocolates next to you while you wait in line and you KNOW that it was placed there because people usually have nothing better to do and these are the items most likely to be found useful and tempting. But what if you suddenly feel peckish or remember that your TV remote is getting weak lately. Does this awareness stop you from grabbing these items?

At this point you may either be thinking 'no, it doesn't control me', or 'so what?'. The point here is quite subtle and important: Psychological manipulations and mental associations work despite full awareness of the effect, and knowledge of devious intentions of the source. What's needed is an awareness not only of the way your mind is being worked on, but to recognize that IT HAS WORKED ON YOU ALREADY! After you realise this, you need to devise some kind pro-active healing to negate the effects of these marketing weapons.

This point is exactly the reason why psychologists can still work on other psychologists and why a psychologist usually cannot work on himself. It is why hearing compliments from people still makes you feel better even though you knew already that what they said was (in your opinion) true.

Most people don't realise that the effect doesn't have to be at 100%, nor does it need your co-operation in order to work.

Us vs Them

So a company wants to convince you that their product is the best. Everyone realizes that the company is obviously biased and that their advertisements will always be positive regarding their own product, so how come they can hope to persuade you nevertheless?

They can promise features galore but this will only work on a naive or risk-taking comsumer. The only type of promise that can work on 'suspicious' customers is the one that can be verified together with the purchase. Examples: Cheap price, long-lasting guarantees (still not foolproof), try-before-you-buy, money back guarantee, etc.

Another common form of persuasion is to create a need where there is none, or to convince you that you are missing something in your life; something that can enhance your lifestyle or enjoyment. These techniques are mostly obvious, albeit effective, and make use of straightforward psychological manipulations.

But I want to talk about a more subtle forms of persuasion which almost always include the use of 'the other side', namely: the consumers. A few examples:

1. Reviews. Reviews by other consumers, reviews by objective magazines (less trustworthy), reviews by 'well known' companies and people ('Authorities').

Here they are letting other consumers do the work for them. Beware of carefully edited reviews ("this product is....everything I ever wanted"), non-objective parties and associates where their connection to the company is hidden from sight (you scratch my back I'll scratch yours), fake reviews written by the company puppetteers themself, masquerading as users. Take note of the frequently missing sources, and of selective reviews.

Despite all these dangers and your suspicions however, they know that these reviews will have an effect and help push you towards the sale, especially if they gather enough of them. The reason is that your suspicions here are 'uncertain unfonded suspicions' as opposed to your 'solid suspicions' of the company's objectivity... and eventually they may hit payload and get one review that will 'speak to you'. The psychological effect has room and marge in spades to play and enslave.

2. "Buy product #2 from Acme, makers of product #1!". Here they are using the most trustworthy consumer of them all: you. If you happen to know and 'trust' (read having been conditioned by) the well known product #1 and you do like / have liked it, they expect you to listen to 'your own' praise of the trusted company to persuade you to buy another product of theirs. The psychology here is extremely effective and exquisitely subtle... yet I don't think I need to expand any more.

Of course, other persuasions such as consumer reviews for product #1 can work here as well, and there are other factors that will influence you with this kind of advertising, such as the 'confident tone' and your automatic pavlovian assumption that product #1 was -hence- a hit. But was it really?

3. Pictures of the average Joe and Jane on billboards smiling or praising their product. Most people know these aren't real consumers, but paid low-cast actors and yet this technique has anyways always a subtle effect.
Compare Bill Gates -on an advertisement for Microsoft Word- and some happy guy that looks just like you on another. For obvious reasons your defenses are less impervious to any attack by the latter.
Here, marketing is making a straightforward use of your subconscious 'trust' for other consumers despite the fact that they were hired and paid for the picture (the same applies for all kind of 'testimonials' on the evening news, btw).

Pictures of happy and 'perfect' people (or rather models) are less effective simply because it's harder for the average bozo's mind to associate himself with these people and therefore it is harder to trust them. The use of consumer trust is still there however, but in this case its effects are less powerful.

Again, this is all simple stuff and I'm sure you knew this already, but I wonder if you ever attempted to study your subconscious reaction to these things? It works with different people perhaps at varying degrees, but it works... whether they like it or not.

The only problem here is how to deal with the 'out of average' people. As with the reviews however, the more advertisements they make of this type, the more people they can reach.

A perfect example would be a recent cell-phone advertising campaign containing the slogan "express yourself!". The pictures under this slogan did however show quite different patterns: one depicting a wild yelling teenager, another showing a yuppie female, and another depicting a musclebound middle-aged man, all of them of course representing the 'most commonly found' personalities average.

4. "Tired of low quality products and bad service? Come to Acme!"...and similar slogans. Here the company actually tries to masquerade 'as a consumer' in order to gain your trust... positioning themselves in opposition to 'them'. Translation: "They are bad guys but we're with you. So trust us, we won't screw you as they did last time...".

Compare the following two slogans:
"Acme, where the customer is always right!"
"Had enough of bad service and rude clerks? Come to Acme!"

The first sounds very nice and may persuade some naive consumers but it still underlines the difference between 'us and them.' The second one packs a mightier psychological punch in bozo's gullibility, for the aforementioned reason.

(Actually, that slogan aboven is psychologically 'multi-faceted' and makes good use of other emotions as well... but I'm trying to remain on focus)

A variation: Instead of simply convincing you that you need a better product and that they can provide it, a more powerful marketing technique would be to 'pretend to be on your side'. Example: "We got tired of huge and slow web browsers and decided to create our light and fast Aria browser." Again, they switch sides and 'become' apparently consumers. Makes you feel like pitching your tent with them right? What if they only said "Aria, the light and fast web browser". This doesn't sound (and work) quite as well does it?

5. Full consumer masquerades. This one is the most devious of the lot and is the real main reason I started writing this essay.
Examples of this would be marketing people posting questions, information or reviews on forums, newsgroups, etc, all the while pretending to be a consumer. The subtlety of this can be anything from non-existant ("Ultraedit rules for text editing! I got it at" - this is so obvious that I would bet it could even have been a real user in many cases ;-) to subtle ("I tried many text editors out there and finally settled on Ultraedit. It's not perfect but it has many great features..."), to tricky ("I'm tired of wordpad... and was thinking to buy Ultraedit, cause I see it supports syntax highlighting and hex editing, does anyone recommend it?"), etc.

So how can you tell these fake posts? Well there are some giveaways but the most important thing is that you are aware of this possibility. Try looking at their names, addresses, ips, etc. for clues. Try noticing the context of the post - most marketing people don't wait for weeks for the right moment to post their 'advice'. Also, in a list of consumer reviews, they are sometimes the odd ones out, praising features when others aren't or vice versa. You will often 'feel' that they are out of synchrony with the thread.

More examples are 'fake consumers' at company booths to gain interest from the crowd (like the scoundrels that fake to play at the 'three cups upside down' games just in order to get you playing and losing it), fake reviews on a web site, fake interviews for voting intentions at polls (let the zombies believe that most zombies will choose candidate A and some of them will join the sheeps)...

The strength of these tricks should by now be obvious and I doubt that most marketing people would flinch at all when realizing the devious nature of these techniques.


So what are you thinking of now when I say 'good text editor'? ;-)

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