Jul 29, 2020

It must be good, otherwise they wouldn't be trying to sell it

The  struggle for novelty in a world where everything is  being sold and re-sold to us ad nauseam means that marketing has become tautological - we see something being advertised, and we can only assume it's good because otherwise, we wouldn't be seeing the ad. A new feature must be good, otherwise they wouldn't be pointing it out. The ingredient they mention on the front of the box must be particularly good, otherwise it wouldn't be on the front of the box. That's the assumption, explicit for the sellers and implicit for the buyers.

My favorite example of this is when a brand of root beer started advertising itself a few years ago as containing "aged vanilla". Is aging vanilla good? Does it make it taste better? Why have we never seen a reference to aging vanilla before? How long is it aged? Is it longer or shorter than vanilla in other products?

Of course, as everyone knows (and as was the subject of a recent class-action lawsuit), it doesn't contain vanilla at all. But that doesn't matter. Purchase decisions are based on quick, subconscious value judgements; by the time we register how absurd it is, we've already decided to buy it.

We don't think we bought it because of the aged vanilla, we simply think that we haven't had root beer in awhile, and it'd be a nice treat. At every conscious level, people understand that marketing is all lies, which is why people think they're immune to advertising (and propaganda.) But the goal of advertising is to create an emotional connection on a subconscious level. Other types of food and drink we associate with high quality (and signifier of luxury) are described as "aged" — wine, whisky, expensive cheese and vinegar. This subconscious emotional reaction tricks us into thinking we want something we don't. Nobody on the planet would say they decided to buy this root beer because it said it had aged vanilla in it (unless they're trying to get money in a class-action lawsuit), but I bet the company's sales numbers went up.

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