Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Your Neighbors will be Astounded by...!

Like everyone in the US, we are bombarded by glossy catalogs for things we don't want. Every day brings two or three of them: clothes, household nick-nacks, guy stuff, garden stuff, just about any stuff you can think of.

These catalogs are in fact very sophisticated examples of applied psychology. For 99% of the things in them, you have lived your entire life without realising you need them, and you're unlikely to suddenly decide you need them all of a sudden now. So the motivation to purchase has to be something else. The most frequent appeal is to the common human desire to appear better - more sophisticated, stronger, more intelligent - than the next guy or gal. It's amazing how often the headline "Your Friends/Neighbors/Workmates will be Astounded by..." appears. "Your Neighbors will be astounded to see this giant, fully illuminated, solar powered inflatable Polar Bear". "Your Friends will be astounded by this 15-place table serving in genuine Orinocan Sustainable Mahogany". And so on.

Another frequent appeal is an application of "X does Y, so if you do Y too, you'll be X too". The crudest example of this is the scantily clad young ladies who adorn car adverts, and real cars at shows. The implication is of course that if you buy this car, suddenly your life will be filled with desirable nymphets. It's obvious to even the densest person that this can't possibly be so, that having a Geo Metro Sports Edition on your driveway is not really going to expand your life like this. Yet it works, or I suppose it must or people wouldn't still be doing it.

Last week's crop of catalogs produced an extension of this that I hadn't seen before, though, pushing the notion to new extremes. It includes a pen - a pretty expensive pen, at $70. And the headline says: "Straight from Italy, the Pen I Drove Around Ferrari's Fiorano Test Track at 185 mph!". (We can leave the question of why every word Begins With Capital Letters for Another Time).

So, let me get this straight. I should want this pen because someone had one just like it in their pocket while they were driving at 185 mph. The implication must be that if I have a pen like this, then I'll have as much fun as if I was driving at 185 mph. Can this appeal possibly really work? Are there people out there who say, gosh, I must have one of these because someone drove at 185 mph with one in their pocket? Or who buy them as gifts, telling the bemused recipient, "You'll love this pen, someone you've never heard of was driving at 185 mph with one in their pocket?"

Why stop at pens? Why not socks, or underwear, or denture retainer? "Straight from Malaysia, the Pack of Tissues I Flew in a Search-and-Rescue Helicopter!" (I think that's generally considered a fairly manly occupation).

Maybe I should just get used to human nature, and the clever ways of exploiting it for profit. But I just can't.

No comments: