We all like to think we’re immune to it, but advertising and market research says we’re not.
In the Hidden Brain radio podcast, We’re More alike than Different, Thanks to Peer Pressure’s Relentless Influence, I was reminded of how clueless we are to our own susceptibilities.
We’re all familiar with famous athletes being paid to wear certain brands. The basketball player LeBron James made $54 million last year endorsing products such as Coca-Cola, Kia, McDonald’s, Samsung, and Nike. That’s over double his yearly salary as an athlete. He signed a lifetime deal last year with Nike, rumored to be worth over $1 billion, which would make him the world’s first billionaire athlete.
The golf pro, Tiger Woods, made $45 million last year endorsing Nike, Upper Deck (trading cards), Rolex, and Hero MotoCorp (motorcycles).
This peer pressure to buy, wear and own what famous people say they love must be quite strong, otherwise companies wouldn’t be paying all that money for endorsements. This is despite the fact that we know these celebrities are being paid to endorse the products. We’re in on the scam, but we don’t care!
But what really bowled me over was the idea of negative endorsements.
One of the stars of an MTV reality show, Jersey Shore, was paid by Abercrombie and Fitch to NOT wear their clothing. Another cast member of that show was sent a Gucci handbag, allegedly by one of that luxury brand’s competitors. (Pretty funny way to knock Gucci down a peg.)
We called it peer pressure when we were kids and we all like to think of ourselves as too smart to fall for it, now that we’re older and wiser. (ha)
I grew up in a family that was staunchly anti-name brand. My parents said advertising was a con game. They taught us to look for price and quality and ignore the names we were bombarded with on TV.
But my sisters and I still loved Heinz Ketchup, real Oreos, Tropicana orange juice, and Wise potato chips instead of those “fake” brands. Were they really better? Maybe. But persuasion, and the placebo effect, are quite, well, persuasive.
And we were kids.
I hated being just one of the crowd. When I went to university, I didn’t own a pair of jeans. I wore pretty shoes, stockings, and mini-skirts. I liked my look, and I liked that I was different. I didn’t care that everyone around me wore construction boots, loose flannel shirts, and ripped bell bottom jeans.
When I went home for winter break freshman year my mother nearly fainted. Her pretty oldest daughter (me) was wearing the standard college uniform and blending in perfectly with the construction workers on campus. I even stopped wearing makeup, which was appalling to my stylish mother.
The next semester I had a roommate, Cheryl, who always had a line of boys trailing behind her. The other girls made fun of her and called her the “cheerleader.” She even polished her nails. She wore hot pants (previously known as short shorts) and midriff-baring tops.
By summer break, I’d adopted Cheryl’s fashion sense.
Still, I liked being the odd duck. While everyone else was smoking pot, tripping on hallucinogens, and getting drunk, one boy referred to me disparagingly as the only straight girl in Stony Brook (my university.)
Non-conformity became a point of pride with me. Except for clothing.
But still, I never fell victim to the brand name scam. Some people might say I couldn’t afford it and it was a case of sour grapes. That’s oversimplifying. Even when I find a name brand on sale, I’m hesitant to buy it. My early training kicks in and I have to remind myself that a bargain is a bargain, no matter what it’s called.
True, some brands are of a higher quality, but since they’re all made in China now, it’s hard to tell.
There are all those studies of top wine experts who did blind taste tests and couldn’t tell the difference between premium and cheap brands.
There are those studies of master violinists who not only couldn’t tell the difference between a Stradivarius and a well-made modern violin, but they often preferred the cheaper, modern version.
So if you don’t want to feel like one of those suckers born every minute, as P.T. Barnum was alleged to have said (and probably didn’t), try separating the advertising con games from what is truly valuable to you. It’s not the name, that’s for sure.
And yeah, I know, even I’m not immune.