Monday, February 22, 2010

Develop an Advertising Allergy

Is it possible to develop an allergic reaction to advertising and marketing? Whenever I see something heavily promoted, I think:

1. Maybe it is not that effective or necessary--otherwise it would do a better job of "selling itself".
2. For certain, even if the product is effective--that brand must be over-priced because of all the advertising. So, note to self--look for a generic version of the same product. Avoid advertised brand at all costs, because ipso facto is must be over-priced.

In general I always like to think about how businesses are making their profit, and do everything reasonable I can to make sure I am a minimally profitable customer. Buy on sale, of course. Never order alcohol in restaurants. Avoid buying products which require expensive consumables.


  1. Although it's in your rights as a consumer to use whatever criteria you'd like when spending your own money, I think most consumers can't bother (or care) to minimize their profitability for the companies with which they do business--it takes way too much time. On the other hand, it's within each company's right to not sell to customers from which they cannot make a fair profit (e.g., cell phone companies, credit card companies, etc.)

    The key question that many consumers ask: Does this product or service provide provide enough (or even more) value for the price that's being asked? If that's the case, then it's a fair bargain to that consumer. Likewise, companies analyze their potential markets and seek to maximize their present (and, sometimes, future) margins (profits).

    It is no more moral for a consumer to not buy a product than it is immoral for a company to not provide their product or service to a consumer. [1]

    It's a non sequitur to say that because a product is heavily promoted, it must either be non-effective or overpriced. There is so much noise and external stimuli for people in the world, sometimes such promotion is necessary to make people pay attention and become knowledgeable about the existence of and features/capabilities of the product.

    I suspect, in some ways, what you really don't like is the constant marketing din. I have a simple answer: ignore it. Of course, the irony is that the more consumers (like us) ignore the din, the more noise that companies have to make to get noticed.

    Of course, the other thing you don't like is spending money on something that's not important or doesn't provide enough value to you. That's within your rights, and I support you one hundred percent. However, everyone has a different sense of what "value" means to them via a complex system of psychological micro-decisions, environmental factors, and a person's belief system. Be careful about not jumping to conclusions about why someone else's concept of value is different than yours. [2]


    [1] There are social contracts (i.e., government regulations) that are made with certain companies (in exchange for monopoly/oligopoly rights) because such companies provide essential services to the public--utility (electric, gas, landline telephone) and health-related (insurance and hospital) companies, for example. A key challenge for society is to balance these regulations against the market distortions that these regulations introduce--when the price and value become out of whack compared to other similar unregulated products or services. (Certainly, this is another hot-button topic of yours. My answer is simple: more market and less regulation. You seem to be tending the other direction.)

    [2] Of course, there is a stereotype that other people (it's always others, right?) are always caught up in the status quo and too lazy to rationally analyze facts and make a change. It's up to you and I to educate and enlighten these people to see the world in another way. ;-) Keep up the thoughtful blogging, Erik!

  2. Dagnabbit, I apologize for the (very common in Minnesota) hypercorrection! Change "you and I" to "you and me" in my second footnote. I do know proper grammar. ;-) Thanks! (3:33 AM without an editor is a dangerous thing...)

  3. It was a really good response. I agree with almost all of it in theory. The thing I'm not sure about is if the spirit of my post came calls here for regulation, more a call (on individuals) for voluntary self-innoculation.

    I do disagree about the non-sequitur part. In theory, yes, all that matters if the price-benefit proposition. But as you observe, there is so much noise and stimuli and so little time and mental energy, people look for short-cuts. Paying attention to advertising is one such short-cut. I'm suggesting that a counter-balancing shortcut would be developing this mental spent on advertising surely adds cost. Thus, the product being heavily promoted is very likely to cost more. So, even if the promotion gets your attention, consider the fact that a more generic substitute is likely available for lower cost. [1]

    As to the "not effective", that is a brash assertion, made partly out of annoyance at the din, but it has more than a little truth in it. There have been lots of studies about the more a food product claims nutritional benefits, the less nutritional it is. Then there are cold remedies. Or premium gasolines...

    So I guess my hope for the nation is that we can become better-informed consumers.
    [1] I am pretty aggressive about seeking brand alternatives myself. One really clear example is Mighty Putty. Heavily promoted, my father sent me some, and it was very useful for some repairs. However, knowing that in chemistry as in computer science, there is rarely anything truly new under the sun, I figured it was probably available as a generic product at hardware stores. So now I just buy Plumber's Eposy, for about 1/4 the cost.

    Fundamentally, I wish for people to be better, more-informed, more thoughtful consumers. Am I defining those terms subjectively--definitely! Which is why for 99% of cases, I would refrain from advocating regulation.

  4. "There have been lots of studies about the more a food product claims nutritional benefits, the less nutritional it is. Then there are cold remedies. Or premium gasolines..."

    I've personally found that one marketing technique is definitely taking your product's weaknesses and trying to sell them as strengths. One place, unfortunately, you see this all too often is in political campaigns.