One of the ironies of modern (Western) life is that we have more options and choices than ever before, and yet somehow have less time available to avail of making the most of the opportunities and choices. With having too much choice it can always be a challenge to understand value, especially when considering purchases. It seems then that we need help in making choices when buying something. I have recently noticed a few ways in which the consumer process seems to be given a helping hand towards the ‘right’ decisions.
Example 1) Women recommend product X.
While listening to the radio in the car in the past few days, I noticed that one advertisement for a particular tablet finished the 30 second message by stating “Kobiety polecają Produkt X”. This made me wonder; how many women would feel comforted by such a message and thus would buy the product? If the advertisement were changed slightly to say “Men recommend Product X for women”, would this suddenly have the opposite effect, perhaps resulting in condemnation of the product due to sexism or so on. How much can a random voice actor be trusted to know what they recommend is worthwhile?
Example 2) The social media connector
Peer pressure is amazingly powerful, whether we want to admit to it or not. From early ages in kindergarten and school, where kids compete over lunchbox styles and beyond, we are always very strongly influenced by what those near to us do as a group. It may not be easy to admit, but we want to conform, belong and feel wanted as a result. Advertising tends to focus on these human needs, to say “Yes, you can be just like these happy people if you buy our product”. However, where social media connects here, is as the building block towards such advertising. It begins with the idea that you have no friends (similar to the excellent episode of South Park of a the same title). As you connect with those in common with you, the subtle notices for ads for shared preferences can be noticed.
Some social media programs such as Foursquare don’t even hide that they are promoting recommended locations with purchases in mind. Their site states “Keep up with friends, Discover what’s nearby, Save money and unlock rewards”. Thus many social media sites aim to play on people’s need for togetherness, but with the hook of dragging in more consumers behind it.
Example 3) Because the website’s review section says so
To circle back to one of the original points, we are at a stage where consumerist societies allow more choices than ever before, and not enough time to understand the pros and cons of all products and services offered to us. For me this was summed up by an advertisement on Irish television for the Financial Regulator, which showed about 15-20 people on a bus admitting their lack of knowledge of financial products. It became famously known as the “I don’t know what a tracker mortgage is” ad. This struggle to make sense of options and possibilities when purchasing has lead to a rise in review and aggregator sites, such as Buzzilions which aim to review and categorize products from consumer feedback. The challenge for anyone using such sites is of knowing how much to trust random reviews. I have heard stories of staff employed by companies simply to provide positive reviews of their products on sites such as Amazon.
Knowing this option for ‘bending the truth’ has lead to satirical spins on product websites, often uncovering hugely funny efforts at providing feedback on products for general purchase. Some of the famous ones from Amazon include the Mountain Man’s Three Wolf Moon t-shirt (“Bless the wolves and the spirit of the Moon. This t-shirt is wolf sent and fits so well I am now immune to all diseases. I have a list of people to apologize to – since buying and wearing this t-shirt I have made some waves in global society for which I am now well placed to take responsibility.“) and also the Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel (“I am suffering so that you don’t have to. Heed my lesson.“).
Some individuals have jumped on the anonymity of such reviews to apply black humour. However, behind every joke there can be some truth found, and these examples show how we might be trying to save time, but cannot put trust into what supposes to help us do so.
So, it feels like we need help more than ever in understanding what is good for us to purchase and meets our needs, but we are in a sort of Catch-22, where the recommendations of purchase are still dictated by those same companies who want us buying their products.