The Feeling You Get From A Coca-Cola Classic: How Advertising Tickles Your Wallet – And Five Ways To Fight It

Whenever I hear that phrase the feeling you get from a Coca-Cola Classic, my tongue tingles a bit and I can’t help but think, “Man, an ice cold Coke in a glass bottle sounds good right now.” That ad works like a charm on me and it likely encouraged me to buy far more Coke than I ever would have without it. Why? Effective – and very skilled – marketing.

Many of us like to believe that we’re wise to marketing, but it exists around every corner. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is a form of marketing – if you see something your neighbor has and you want it as well so you can “keep up,” marketing is at work. Name brands are a form of marketing.

I don’t begrudge a company their marketing department – there are many people in marketing that are very skilled at what they do and any company obviously wants to sell their product. I also don’t begrudge material that carries advertisements – if it’s material I want to see, I realize they’re going to have to be supported financially somehow.

What I do want is to reduce the influence that marketing has in my own life and on my family. I don’t want my children throwing temper tantrums over the latest toy because an advertisement or a clever display convinced them that it would be the greatest toy they’d ever own. I don’t want to feel a compulsion to fill my home with name brand items because ads make me feel temporarily good about them (that is, until I check my credit card balance).

Here are five steps I recommend for minimizing that influence.

Turn off the television. Fast forwarding through commercials isn’t enough – many programs are laden with product placements as well. Just turn it off and find something else to do – it’s not as hard as you might think. Why am I so hard on television? The combination of video and audio in the advertisements there make it possible to attract multiple senses – hearing and vision – and thus open you up to all sorts of clever marketing.

Think about how an ad works Quite often, spending a few seconds just thinking about how an ad places an idea in your head is enough to really refute it. The next time you see an ad that makes you think, “Hmm… I want that,” stop and ask yourself what part of the ad made you think this. That question alone will often quell the need.

When you see stuff your neighbors have that you want, imagine how much debt they’re in. Most blocks seem to have one family that has all kinds of neat stuff. I know we do – we live very close to a family that drives two Lexuses, for example. I look at the Lexus and think, “Wow… I’d love to drive that,” but then I imagine the debt load of having two sparkling new Lexuses and then it turns almost 180 degrees – I almost feel sorry for them. I’m much happier without $1,000 in car payments each month.

Give generics a try. When you go to make a name brand purchase at the store, give the generic version of the product a try and see whether you’re actually paying more for quality or just for the name brand. You’ll find that much of the time, you’re just paying for the name.

Read a book. Books have a unique advantage: the price you pay up front for the book means that there won’t be advertisements inside (most of the time). Instead, you get a big chunk of entertainment and/or thoughtful ideas that isn’t interlaced with marketing come-ons. Time spent reading a book is time spent minimizing the effect of marketing, especially if you try out fare like Fast Food Nation.

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  1. That Guy says:

    Trent, this was a good article. It seems the only ads i remember are the ones that are clever and or funny. Those turtles “The slowskis” makes me laugh pretty good sometimes. Then again, thats the premise, make them laugh and they might remember it long enough to purchase the item or service.

    Its almost like you said, ill think ” Wow i really want that” then ill think to myself” No you don’t have to be another lemming, don’t let them trick you into believe that you HAVE to have that!!

    Fast Food Nation is a great book, Ive read it and highly recommend it. I heard about it through the movie Supersize Me.

    On a side note, a great look at how advertisers think. Try checking out “The persuaders” on pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/view/

    Its about 10 down in the middle column. It was originally broadcast in 2004.

    This would be a great explanation of the topic on advertising.

  2. One of the best things folks can do is to do some reading on marketing techniques. There are many sales books out there that talk about how to make the sale and often commercials are just pre-recorded bits that use those very same techniques. If you want to be part of a crowd due to possessions or activities you better make sure you know what you’re really after.

  3. Dana says:

    Trent, do you have any comments for when the Jonses have all their toys but are not, actually, in debt? For example, my next-door neighbors received a very large inheritance two years ago and upscaled everything–home addition, new European cars, etc.

    I don’t feel particularly envious of those specific items, per se; but there are some situations in which you just can’t use “but they’re broke” to feel better.

  4. db says:

    @Dana:

    My two cents for your inheritance-enriched Jones is just be happy for them. It’s really not up to you to feel either righteous or envious of what others do or don’t have.

    How they got what they have is irrelevant to YOU. The only thing that is relevant to you is how you get what YOU have.

    They got their money and they are using it the way that pleases them. Would you and I make different choices in their place? Perhaps so.

    It doesn’t change the fact that they have their happiness and you have yours to manage. You’ll do a lot better at being happy with yourself if you really don’t worry about what others do or don’t have.

  5. Lori says:

    @Dana:

    You could use “but their grandma died” to feel better.

    I’m kind of glad no one in my family has any money. I’ll never have to worry about that creepy waiting-for-someone-to-die-so-I-can-have-a-new-car feeling.

  6. Oswegan says:

    “Burp”

    A stomach ache.

    I can’t handle high fructose corn syrup anymore. It’s almost as bad as those Nascar Pringles I had for lunch.

    ~Oswegan

  7. Johanna says:

    @Dana:

    I really like the explanation of “enough” given in Your Money Or Your Life. They say (as I interpret it) that once you’ve met your basic needs, having more stuff makes you feel less fulfilled, not more, because it just makes you want more and more stuff. I have no idea whether that’s true or not, but it’s a nice idea to hang onto when you find yourself among people with a lot more stuff than you.

  8. !wanda says:

    I’ve read “But think about their debt load!” at least twice in this blog when Trent addresses “the neighbor’s” possessions. Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that your neighbors are in debt for these items? I know several people who are millionaires, although you’d never guess it from their age (mid-20’s to early 30’s), demeanor, dress, or housing. They really can afford that room half full of videogame equipment or that talking Acura or whatever. It seems best to focus on your own financial situation instead of speculating about or judging anyone else’s.

  9. Mariette says:

    Dana’s initial point is great, just be happy for them and hope that they are happy. What does what other people possess have to do with your needs and how you spend your money?

    Advertising is a very powerful thing and what makes it so it that feeling of lack and dissatisfaction that many of us have in our lives (we all get it from time to time, the “if only I had ____, I’d feel better” feeling. Advertising tries to fill in that blank. You’re right Trent in that often being aware of how advertising works can get you over that initial moment of being drawn in, but even the most media savvy and anti-consumer amongst us can fall prey to this.

  10. justin says:

    I must say, Coke made with corn syrup tastes like crap compared to coke made with sugar. No comparison at all. And the sugar based coke tastes sooooo much better

  11. Trent, I just found this site through a link on MSN Money, and I’m totally adding you to my RSS reader.

    The first thing you mention about turning off the TV REALLY works. My husband and I turned ours off in early 2002 and never looked back. We go to a friend’s house to watch the Patriots play football, and if there’s a show we MUST see, we watch it online or on DVD–no commercials! We noticed a huge difference in our spending habits just from avoiding commercials. Even our friends with kids never turn on the TV. If their kids want to watch something, they get to see (again) DVDs…and the bonus is that the parents know exactly what their kids are taking in.

    Have you ever read Maxx Barry’s novel “Syrup”? The mention of Coke made me think of it. Talk about the power of advertising. :D

  12. Steve says:

    Justin, where do you get sugar-laden coke instead of HFCS-laden?

  13. Steve says:

    BTW, HFCS is really the secret to America’s obesity epidemic. Exercise and all that also, true, but highly concentrated fructose is the #1 cause.

  14. s says:

    Steve: Costco. Or select specialty candy stores and mexican restaurants. It’s “made in mexico” Coke and it comes in a glass bottle.

  15. s says:

    Steve (again): I have no data to prove or disprove your statement about HFCS. But it definitely is at least a large contributor. I hate it, and try to avoid it.

    The problem with your argument is that in many (probably a large majority) of cases, that HFSC would just be replaced with regular sugar. Which is arguably “better” but still has the same calorie content.

    The other side is that it is likely that with the higher cost of cane sugar people would consume less. If you want to start a debate — argue something relating to the corn subsidies leading to HFCS being cheap therefore making sweet snacks/sodas cheap. And how THAT leads to the obesity epidemic :).

  16. Steve says:

    Thanks for the coke pointers, s!

    Whenever I include anything with HFCS in my diet over a sustained period of time (3 days or so), I just notice myself feeling more lethargic, sleepy and just generally sluggish. My weight does go up too. Interestingly, not so with cane sugar. HFCS is truly evil – I avoid it like the plague. It’s really everywhere – bread, coke, ketchup, non-100% fruit juices, chocolate milk, just about everything. But I’ve discovered brands of each of these that are HFCS-free, they taste great and feel light. OroWheat whole wheat bread without HFCS – what a discovery that was :)!

  17. Steve says:

    Oh, and though I’ve just posted my own experience above, I have also read scientific material about the effects of high fructose corn syrup, books about corn subsidies and how some 90% or so of the American diet today is just corn-derived because of said subsidies. So it’s not just anecdotal for me.

  18. Rob in Madrid says:

    to those people who took the inheritance and up sized everything. I suspect it won’t be long before there back in debt, things breakdown and get old and they won’t have an inheritance to fall back on. Personally they would have been better off putting into investments which would replace the salary and allow to “chuck the job” a much more pleasant thought than a new Beamer.

    Back in Canada for two weeks this summer I was stunned at how many commercials there were. I watched 15 mins of a NASCAR rebroadcast and had to turn it off, literally a commercial every two mins, same with Dr Phil. Europe (expect UK) tends to run half the numbers of commercials and when they do they tend to run in blocks (I’ve seen up to 15 mins at a time) so some channels you get the commercials only at the beginning or the end.

    An interesting if slightly boring and somewhat dated at times book worth reading is the Overspent American it really opens your eyes to how much were pushed to spend. Really helped us in getting out of the spending mentality (to a degree anyways :) )

  19. Michiko says:

    I’ll be the first to admit what the effect of tv has on me. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I have gone to the store in search of something that I’ve seen on tv.

  20. Chris says:

    Books seem to be the last ad-free entertainment, but don’t be surprised when they decide to start putting print ads throughout books! I wouldn’t put it past them.

  21. My son has fallen victim to advertising, even though we do not watch to much TV. It comes from his friends at school. I think that he feels that I am a harsh parent at times, since I do not buy sodas, some type of boxed lunch, or the latest fad item, but for the most part he is alright with it.I have on occasion given into obtaining whatever it is to find that he hates it. I try to remind him about this fact when the next must have item comes up, and we have discussed commercials, and that has worked (kids are smarter than we think at times).
    Someone mentioned Costco above. I love Costco, but you still have to compare prices; they are not always the best.

  22. Johanna says:

    @Michiko:

    I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Advertising can be a good way to learn about what products are available, and if you see an ad for something that meets a need (or a want) that you already know you have, there’s no harm in that.

  23. Brendan says:

    If you want a really interesting read on the power of consumer marketing of food products – check out this article. I was amazed that even people who had the “marketing trick” explained to them before the experiment still measurably ate more per person than those who were using the non-trick food presentation.

    http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2007/sepoct/features/wansink.html

    I loved the example that even experienced bartenders will pour more into a short, wide glass than a tall skinny glass!

    Advertising that manipulates us using our natural psychological tendencies will “con” us even when we think we know better…

  24. ruthie says:

    The book “Mindless Eating” (www.mindlesseating.com) is all about food industry advertising – it is a quick read, pretty funny too.

    Ruthie

  25. Michelle says:

    I work in advertising at an agency and it wasnt until I was surrounded by it everyday that I realized how every commercial and ad I see is a long long process of tweaks and copy to give you the exact feeling they want you to have. Everything is so planned and forced it kind of makes me sick sometimes to think of it. Being on the other side has really helped me to refute ads I see because I know how much manipulation goes into them. Before that, I was pretty bad with it. Man, those milk commercials (especially the one with the guy in the hospital bandages) always made me want milk all the time.

  26. Marcy says:

    It seems like there’s no way to totally get away from advertisements, but turning off the TV is one of the best ways. It’s sad to think that very young children are now watching TV. They even have these ‘baby’ videos (a $1 billion industry). It’s disturbing to say the least. There’s growing evidence that kids under 3 who watch TV are more prone to developing ADHD and learning dissabilities. In fact, the “experts” recomend no TV, including movies and videos, at all for any child under 3 because of this. But too many parents rely on the TV baby sitter. TV also takes a lot of energy and you save on this utility by turning the darn thing off (and maybe even throwing it out!).

    Regarding the HFCS debate, there is much debate overe this additive. But it has been shown to cause obesity. They are also linking it to the rise in Diabetes. Children are developing type 2/adult diabetes. The molecular structure is different and the body processes it differently. It’s cheap to use. They put more HFCS in these products than we can taste. After it hits a certain concentration, adding any more is useless. But the brain knows. The brain loves this sugarry substance, it’s like a drug, working on our pleasure centers. You ever look at an ingredient list? Cereal is one product that has an unbeliveable amount of sugars. They trick naieve consumers by listing sugar, HFCS, CS, CS sollids, fructose, etc. This is the best marketing gimmic of all. You don’t even realize it. You eat a food, and your brain say’s “mmm. This is good. I’ll have to keep eating this”.

  27. justin says:

    Steve. I usually only find the sugar-coke overseas. I always hear the tales if it in Kosher coke around some Jewish holidays, but that seems to be regional.

  28. Steve says:

    I was in Australia a few months ago, and you absolutely would not believe how different the food there tasted. HFCS is absent there – farming and subsidies being different. The animals (cows) aren’t fed corn but natural grass which they love, so the meat tasted fantastic. We’ve lost what makes food taste so great in the rush to industrialize it and maximize profits.

  29. Johnny H says:

    How about Ad-block add-on for Firefox?! I see about 3 ads a month. And if it’s a site I frequent, I only see them once ;)

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