These days when I go shopping I stop for a moment and ask myself why am I getting this particular product. What is the driving force for me to buy this particular brand? I read the label and it says healthy, Non-GMO, reduced sugar. These words resonate with me because these are the things I am concerned about. So I pick up the package that is pretty and has all the right words. Then I turn to the less popular brand and I compare the ingredients-exact same (as my daughter would say). Typically the generic brands have the same composition of ingredients that the well marketed and established brand have and they are usually substantially cheaper. Unless you have done your research, there is no way of knowing whether the branded product has better quality ingredients than the generic brand. So which do I choose? It’s usually a tossup. There are days I will get the cheaper product and there are days I will go for the branded one.
I am sure most of you behave in a similar fashion. We consumers are multifaceted individuals. Our purchasing behavior is a function of a number of factors, mood, age, gender, cultural background, education levels, income levels and health status. These are the main ones. Our purchases are the physical manifestation of a very complex decision process that happens in a split second that we are not even conscious of. It is for this reason that I have started becoming more conscious when I shop. I want some of my control back.
Marketers spend a lot of money on research to come up with right words and colours for their brands. Words and colours are used to get an emotional reaction from us whether we are aware of it or not. In a previous post I referenced the book Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom, it’s a fascinating book that examines how companies brandwash adults and even more scary how they brandwash our kids.
Our children are being hooked very early on, prenatal is some cases. A good example of this is Kopiko, the Philippine candy brand. This company supplied candy to doctors to give to pregnant mothers. This candy was essentially coffee that tastes like candy. It was an amazing (albeit scary and ethically questionable) way to capture a market that wasn’t even in the world yet. Research has shown that whatever the mothers eats affects the physical transformation of the fetal brain and this affects what the baby will want to eat later on. Researchers who studied the success of Kopiko’s approach found that both parents and children associated a sense of “nostalgia and belonging” from these candies. It’s no surprise that Kopika is one of the largest coffee brands in the Philippines.
It seems that children don’t just learn the names and symbols of brands. They develop a lifelong preference for the particular product. There is evidence to support this claim in an article published in Pediatrics (August 2007). Children were given the same product wrapped in branded and generic wrapping. The kids all found that the products wrapped in the branded wrapping taste better. These kids already have a built in preference for a particular brand because they have made the association that it is better, when in reality there were no differences in the products.
So what does this all means? Well, the first thing is that you have to be aware of these tactics and do your best to ensure you and your child do not fall prey to them. The easiest way to do this is to be conscious of your purchasing decisions and start talking to your kids about the advertisements which are targeted to them. Children usually take the cue from the people around them, aka you, so when you start becoming more conscious of your choices, it spills over to them as well.
The second thing is that you have to recognize that your preferences today were most likely shaped by the marketers and companies in the years you were growing up. Think about it, when you see consume certain products don’t they just bring back memories of family and fun carefree days. Usually it’s a particular brand of cookies, cakes, drinks or pies. Any product that has an emotional association to some event or a particular time in your life will continue to be your default preference, unless you make the conscious effort to change it. If it turns out that it’s a good one, then great. However, if it is not, then you need to take action to correct it. It’s as simple as that. It may be simple, but it is not always easy. The challenge comes when we have to unlearn years of patterned behaviour.
There are two reasons why I would encourage you to make the effort to change brandwashed behaviours. They are:
- It forces you to stop operating on autopilot and be present and make conscious choices in your life. In the beginning, it might be a bit tedious, but it is worth doing. Some of the items we consume can easily be given up or substituted for something that is better for us. Too often we get comfortable with our choices and they become second nature that we don’t even think twice about them.
- It may end up saving you money, especially in the long run, when you realize that maybe you don’t need certain products after all. There is a significant cost savings to be had if we all become more mindful of what we are spending on. When it comes to food items there may also be an added health benefit because by really paying attention to what you are consuming you may discover healthier options and choices.
So you have more to gain by taking the time to pay attention to what it is you are buying and why. I believe that sometime in the future we will look back at this stage of our human development in awe and disbelief. We would look back and wonder how people could be so gullible, how could they fall for all those marketing tricks. How could companies be so ruthless and uncaring and knowingly sell products that cause harm to people. Products that make people addicted, cause havoc on their body and cause disease, all for the sole purpose of making money.
Once upon a time, many injustices in the world- slavery, suppression of women’s rights, and persecution for having a different faith- were considered a normal part of society. Today we are less tolerant and even though there are still pockets of injustice, it is no longer the norm. So too, I think it’s just a matter of time that society will look back and see this commercialization as a flagrant abuse of humanity, all for the sake of money and wonder how could people on either side have willingly participated in such a fiasco with such gusto.
Just remember brandwashing can only happen with your consent. The moment you get off autopilot and take control, marketing tactics will start to have less and less control over your buying decisions. You can slowly regain control by continuously striving to be a totally conscious consumer. I have taken up the challenge, I hope you do as well.