I recently read World War Z. (I think it’s safe to say I’m more or less cured.) In one passage, a character is remembering his old professor’s attitude:
“‘Fear,’ he used to say, ‘fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe… ‘Turn on the TV,’ he’d say. ‘What are you seeing? People selling their products? No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.’ … Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells.”
The thought itself is pretty scary. But is it true? For society in general, I think so.
We’re not just sold on the nice attributes of a new product, but also on the idea that everyone else will have one. Who wants to be the odd man out? Who wants to do without something that will, apparently, make our lives so much better?
And so people buy.
They buy beauty products to look young and vibrant, so that they’re not cast out as old or otherwise undesirable.
They buy nice furniture and high-end fixtures to make their house nice. If their houses aren’t nice, people will judge, and perhaps snub, them.
They buy clothes and jewelry, decorating themselves just as they do their houses. All to produce envy and attraction, which keeps them included.
They buy technology so that they impress everyone. Because being envied is the only time most people want to stand out.
But that’s general society. I think that more financially aware people are better able to resist that kind of marketing ploy. They’re conscientious with their money. They examine a potential purpose from a lot of angles. From at least one of those angles, they should be able to spot the manipulation.
Of course, we all fall prey to it sometimes. I’ve started buying anti-wrinkle cream and dying my hair. And I would love to get nicer decorations and fixtures for our house. Now, I like to think those are based on a personal aesthetic. But rationally, some of it has to be rooted in the desire for social acceptance.
Still, I like to think that there are plenty of times when people don’t buy from fear. And I think it’s more common for those who are financially aware. When you don’t buy much spontaneously, when you examine a purchase from all angles, you’ve got to see the underlying manipulation.
And so people buy from practicality: buying only what they need, what they’re told they need. Or they save up for the top-of-the-line items, which I think is a way of buying from hope. And other times you buy something (after much consideration) that makes you life easier. That’s buying from sense of self-worth and nurturing — or, at the very least, practicality again because if not doing X frees you up to do Y.
I need to believe that there are a lot of ways we don’t buy out of fear. Or a knee-jerk reaction to some ad-exec’s fear-based scheming. (Unless it’s Don Draper. He’s hot enough I’ll overlook it.)
Do you ever find yourself buying from fear-based advertising? What emotions do you buy from?