Selling Dreams

by Tiggered

Selling dreams is pretty much what today's marketing is all about. Does it work?

See this dress? It will turn you into a princess. And this shampoo? A sure way to transform your hair into liquid silk. What about the pot over there? Only $19.99 and you'll never burn a roast again. Gosh, now you can be sure your man will love you forever after. Unless he, too, needs some perfecting? Here's the car we happen to have on sale, let him drive it and he'll never lack in machismo again. Our tools will magically transform him into Leonardo da Vinci and an executive job is only a question of time once he starts wearing our suit. If social buzz is what you're after, gadget X will make you the coolest of them all and if it's healthy constitution, why don't you try remedy Y? All on sale, only in our store!

Can you recognise any of this? I bet you can. Are you comfortable with being subjected to such a treatment?

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Sellers of dreams - what they're after?

What a silly question! Your money, of course.

I know, I know, it's easy to forget. After all, they so rarely admit it... One could almost think they are ashamed. They keep on going about customer satisfaction and quality, about missions and working for your benefit and with all this, they somehow forget to mention the paycheck THEY are leaving with every month. Oops.

Well, that's how the free market works. Sellers are trying to get as many customers as possible - they want to eat, pay their bills, drive nice cars or, in extreme cases, present their doggies with diamond collars. Fair enough, barring the extremes we all pretty much share those needs. Let them keep their paycheck, but could they please refrain from distorting the reality in the process of earning it?

From the point of view of a customer, it is important to remember three things:

1. Your happiness is not a marketer's priority, no matter what he or she says

2. If something looks too good to be true, it is.

3. No one can sell you happiness. Sorry.

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Selling dreams, selling nightmares

There are two basic ways of influencing a customer's choice: you can either plug into the victim's dreams or nightmares.

We all share the same basic needs and fears. It's not some arcane knowledge so marketers know about it just as well as you do. The trick is to attach a product to a dream. If you're selling a lipstick, sell beautiful, sell sexy, sell modern, free, self-confident. If you're selling insurance, talk about disasters. Nobody really cares about your lipstick or policy, but everyone wants to be attractive and safe. If you evoke the dream vividly enough, you'll get yourself a sale.

From the marketer's point of view it works perfectly, merchandise is sold, money is made.

What about the customer?

Ah, the customer. Sometimes I think the customer gets exactly what he or she deserves. I mean, come on, did you really believe that a lipstick, ANY lipstick, can turn you into the girl from a poster, really? Even if you're thin enough, smooth enough, savvy enough to pick the right colour and know the right technique, you still won't be just as sparkling. No light technician will follow you around, life cannot be photoshopped.

Then compassion kicks in. The customer might be naive, but in the end, he or she is a victim of the liar. Which should we frown at - weakness or wickedness?

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Dreams vs reality

Advertisers promise a lot but somehow, they just fail to deliver. Yes, the pickle is there but it isn't as crunchy as it looked on the TV. You've bought the cleaning product, but your house still doesn't clean itself. You've paid for the language course, but after three months you still can't speak French.

One of the basic rules of advertising preaches as follows: sell benefits, not features. Oh yes, they actually do teach that at business schools.

Thus, you are not buying an insulated window, you are buying warmth on a winter evening, preferably with merry fireplace in the background and a hot toddy. You are buying an 'insulation experience' (how I hate this expression!). You are paying for the whole cozy picture, but unfortunately what you are getting is... an insulated window. Nothing more. If you are lucky, it will be a well manufactured window, one which really does keep the cold out. But if you want a cozy evening with toasted marshmallows, you have to organise it yourself.

Is it outrageous to suggest that a little disappointment is in order?

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Social acceptability of selling dreams

'All marketers are liars' - that's how Seth Godin titled one of his books. I haven't read the book so I have no idea what is he trying to say between the covers, but the title is priceless.

Marketers these days cannot lie, really lie, without risking a lawsuit. But hey, how about a little manipulation? How about indirect messages that no one can really pin you upon because well, you never actually SAID anything? How about a subtle suggestion - you're not good enough, cool enough, lovable enough, unless you buy our stuff? How about basing a campaign on abstracts, concepts one cannot really measure - beautiful, unique, cool, satisfying? It can be the last word in ugliness to 99.9% of humanity, but as long as there exists one John Smith who thinks it beautiful, you have every right to use the word, yes? How about using meaningless slogans and filling the emptiness with bright colours and nice pictures?

It's not that those tricks are some sort of outrageous exception, this is what marketing is BASED UPON. Still, there's no shame attached to the label 'marketer'.

Think about it. Your mum and dad have surely taught you that it is wrong to tell lies, right? And here we have an occupation whose sole purpose is to distort the reality, to trick people into spending money, yet no one questions its social acceptability. As long as it brings the buck in - and oh yes, marketing pays very well - it is desirable as a career choice and respected.

Can you see what's wrong with this picture?

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How can you fight dream sellers if you are a customer?

This is really, really easy once you realise the basic fact:


It is yours, customer's, money that pays for all the marketing. If you come across manipulative advertising, simply don't buy. Once enough people refuse to deal with companies who use ugly marketing tricks, money supply will dwindle. The liars will face a choice - change the way you behave or go out of business. As simple as that.

I cannot tell you what to do, but I can share some of my own anti-marketing habits (in hope that some of you will choose to follow the suit). Thus -

- I avoid big brands. If they can afford to hire all those celebrities, they surely don't need my money

- I read my junk mail very carefully. It is important to know who NOT to buy from

- I buy directly from producers, whenever possible

- If I come across a particularly nasty piece of manipulative marketing, I never buy their product. Then I add insult to injury and tell all my friends about them

- I buy raw and make my own - snacks, dinners, but also clothes, wine, bread and whatever takes my fancy

- I buy only what is absolutely necessary. I enjoy clutter-free life.

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How to fight dream sellers if you are a producer?

If you are a diehard marketer and your purpose in life is to persuade other people to buy stuff... well, there might be no hope for you. What you're doing reading this article anyway?

If you make and/or sell stuff but aren't happy about manipulative marketing - DARE TO BE DIFFERENT.

Never lie.

Don't exaggerate.

Don't sell benefits, inform about features.

Improve your product, not your marketing technique.

Avoid abstracts.

Don't feed off someone else's fears.

Make people laugh, don't make them feel inferior.

Just... don't b$%#s$%t people, ok?

You'll feel better. They'll be grateful.

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Updated: 08/31/2014, Tiggered
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Tiggered on 03/25/2013

Thank you :)

Pinkchic18 on 03/25/2013

Wise Wizz here. Lots of interesting stuff!

Tiggered on 12/23/2012

I'm with you here - trying really hard to believe in karma. Thanks for the kind words

frugalrvers on 12/20/2012

Great article! It is eerie to think we live in a time where so many find no challenge living without a conscience. We're all going to take our last breath someday, and I truly believe we will be thinking about the good (or lack thereof) we did with our time here. Not speaking in a spiritual sense, but I think your conscience does catch up with you, even at the bitter end.

lavero on 09/11/2012

It's nice to read about somebody advocating a "simple" life. Being conscious is key to avoiding lame marketing lies. Thanks for sharing your insights!

dustytoes on 09/02/2012

What a fun read! And great info for just about everyone..!

Mira on 08/29/2012

I liked this article, and especially enjoyed the great list at the end :-)

katiem2 on 08/29/2012

Brilliant and oh so true something our youth is very much impressed by. Good food for thought. Thanks :)K

humagaia on 08/29/2012

In my former career in computer software design the salesmen always wanted to take me on sales pitches to explain technicalities. I know marketing is not exactly the same as sales and I have training in neither. At first, the salesmen were horrified when I answered a question like 'Does the software do this?' with a candid 'No'. Then they realized, when I got to the end of a presentation or Q&A, that I would go back and address all the "No's" with a general 'but if you tell me exactly what you want I can get it bespoked'. And also told the prospective customer exactly how it could be done, and any additional things that could be added, or the way it could be used.
Boy did that go down a storm, both with the customer, and with the salesman when they realised that the £1m sale they were aiming at became a £2m sale when all the bespoke enhancements were added in.
Some salesmen subsequently employed truth and reality sales techniques.
The things that really get my goat are the manipulations of meaning such as the sales where the discount is 'up to' (usually written 'upto' - whatever the meaning of that word) x% off - come on guys, don't even think about trying to sell me something that at the maximum may have x% off, when, in fact, the actual discount is y% (significantly lower than x% every time).
My personal view - these tactics should be outlawed.

JoHarrington on 08/28/2012

Priceless! Great article! When I was writing your introduction, I couldn't help thinking of Billy Bragg's song, 'The Busy Girl Buys Beauty'.

Hurrah! It's on YouTube: The uploader has added the lyrics underneath. Old classic and still true decades later.

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