Updated on 11.27.09

Making Buyers

Trent Hamm

Yesterday, my four year old son was watching a television program at his grandparents’ home. At our own home, we don’t watch much non-PBS programming at all, so this was one of my son’s first real exposures to advertising.

I came into the room after he had been watching for about forty minutes and started to get his coat on and get him ready to go. He asked to finish watching the show he was watching, so I sat down with him for a few minutes.

At the end of the show, a commercial came on for some toy – I think it was some sort of mechanized hamster. A couple seemingly happy children were playing with them. After about ten seconds, Joe turns to me and says, “Dad, I want one of those” while pointing at the screen.

I turned off the television (since we needed to leave) and asked him why he wanted that toy. He said “Uhhh…” and looked at the screen for a while. Then he said, “I don’t know, daddy.”

A half an hour later, I asked him about it again, just to see what he’d say. He told me flat out that he didn’t want that thing any more. Of course, this was aided by the fact that we had arrived at our destination and were playing with a big box of building blocks.

Immediately after seeing the ad, my son badly wanted that toy. The urgency in his voice was quite impressive. Yet, even a half an hour later, his interest in the toy was nonexistent. (In fact, I just asked him about the toy and he seemed to have no idea what I was talking about.)

His interest in the item was spurred on by the situation of the moment, not by any attribute of the toy. The commercial triggered an emotional wave brought on by the children that were obviously having fun with the toy. Yet, when that emotional wave was gone, he didn’t really want the toy at all.

That’s really the point of marketing, isn’t it? It creates emotional waves. It makes you want something very strongly in the short term. Repeating those emotional waves over and over again can create long term desire out of thin air – the kind of thing that makes you wish you had a Escalade.

If you find yourself wanting something for no real reason – but you can’t shake that desire – do what my son did. Take yourself out of the situation. Turn off the television. Close the magazine. Shut the web browser. Do something that doesn’t have a lot of advertising involved in it. Get in touch with who you are.

You’ll find the desire melting away.

It works for me. It works for my son, too. I’m willing to bet it’ll work for you.

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  1. This just happened with my 3 yr old daughter a few minutes ago- it was a commercial for “aqua sand”! Advertisers definitely know who their market is, when it comes to commercials during kid’s shows.
    I agree with your thoughts- once the trigger or visual is removed, the desire quickly wanes. I notice this in my kids as well as myself.

  2. KC says:

    For us, adults, its the car ads – and they are very popular this time of year. They have such nice music and pictures of snow and a big red bow on the car. Then someone, inevitably a female, comes out and is so happy with her new gift. I’m particularly found of the BMW ad that has the car racing around in the snow as the bow eventually ravels and falls off the car. I’m not interested in owning a high-maintenance BMW, but for those 30 seconds I think about how cool it would be to own and drive one. And don’t get me started on the new Porsche Panamera ad that I’m seeing on CNBC! Again, they know their market and how to get after us.

  3. Jon says:

    I find myself reacting that way with restaurant advertisements for their food, even if I’ve just eaten. The worst is the DQ Blizzard.

  4. Courtney says:

    Our kids only watch a few shows (Spongebob being the perennial favorite) and we tivo them and fast-forward through the ads. That way, they miss out on all the cheesy toy commercials, as well as the oh-so-inappropriate-for-family-viewing erectile dysfunction ads. Wish those things would be outlawed.

  5. Holly says:

    An average American adult sees about 3000 advertisements every day (research estimates vary). When you recognize their power, that’s a sobering number.
    I have what I call “Shiny Object Syndrome” so I use Ad Block to turn off all internet ads, and if I watch commercial television I record it and start watching 16 minutes late (or a few days!) so I can FF through ads.

  6. alanna says:

    Love this post! So true.

  7. Bavaria says:

    Beautifully written article Trent! Thank you. Around our house we call advertising “seductive brain washing”.
    Happy, sane holidays to you and your family!

  8. That same advertising works the same way for adult impulse buying.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  9. Anne KD says:

    Flashy internet ads are irritating to my eyeballs, and as soon as we found out about Firefox and Adblock, we loaded them on the boxes. Since then my brain has been blissfully free from seeing the ads (sorry, Trent!). I watch very little tv, and we usually record shows that we want to watch. Our remote has a handy dandy button that lets us skip forward 30 seconds at a time. So, we’ll watch the Mac vs Windows ads for the chuckle factor- but everything else is missed.

    Since we started doing these things I don’t feel guilty about not buying certain brands of pasta sauce (I’ve always preferred making my own), new cars, etc. Just avoiding candy commercials is a big plus.

  10. Devon T. says:

    Yeah, I have that problem too. Especially when I’m broke and feel a need to buy something to feel better like starbucks. Although usually, if it’s over $5, I have made a promise to myself to sleep on it. If I still really want it in a couple days, then I budget for it. It’s been working really well.

  11. Amateur says:

    Trent, you forgot to mention not doing things like taking a walk to the shopping center or mall or any specific store if there is nothing pressing or necessary to buy. Some people like window shopping and wandering around, but looking at things and the sale prices, and demo bars to try out new gadgets will ultimately weaken some better judgment. I’m not a fan of window shopping because it just encourages purchases with thoughts that run through my head like, “You’re going to buy it in a few months anyway, and you’re here already, you may as well just get it now and get it over with.”

    The few months could sometimes turn into a year, especially for non-essential items, items that I would like to replace but I’m not in a rush to immediately replace. I’ll usually wait out the few months in hopes a good deal comes along and know that because I did not rush it, I actually got what I wanted at a reduced cost. This works for housewares, electronics, and clothing items. Window shopping plus a bit of advertising usually destroys that for me personally.

  12. Vicky says:

    Another reason I love the Netflix instant queue.

    No commercials :)

  13. Money Dieter says:

    That’s a great idea. I definitely want stuff by seeing things in magazines, televisions, etc.

  14. Very, very interesting. I’ve not even really been letting my little one watch PBS and this just reinforces why. I linked to this on my weekly roundup, post is under my name. Thanks!

  15. Jo says:

    I am able to tune out a lot of the commercials. Plus, I use that 2-3 minutes to get a task done prior to bedtime. Time well used….

    I do have cable, however, of which I do not feel one bit guilty about. You mention PBS – probably because of the limited ads – but I much prefer watching the Science Channel. Last week I learned about the very beginnings of earth’s birth, going back 4.567 BILLION years ago. Absolutely astounding! What I learned is truly mind-boggling.

    For me, it isn’t those worthless ads that stand out the most in my mind. It’s watching a show like that on the Science Channel that I keep revisiting over and over. I still am unable to wrap my head around this.

    I will never apologize for having cable. I totally avoid the shopping channels. Mindless blathering; the monotone voices do nothing but get on my nerves. As an adult, I have the freedom to choose what it is I want to watch, and am easily able to tune out ads. By doing this, I have learned so much, for which I have no regrets.

    But I clearly understand the point of your post, Trent. Thanks!

  16. Claudia says:

    When my husband and I were younger and very poor trying to raise our 3 children; I would want SO many things! But once our children were out of the house, we both had progressed in our jobs, had a paid off house and vehicles and no other debt, we could pretty much afford whatever. Just knowing I had the $300 to buy those cool boots if I wanted to, seemed to dim my enthusiasm. I could choose to buy them or not and they weren’t so appealing anymore. I suppose some of that is maturity in knowing that those boots won’t make me cool, just $300 poorer.

    Teaching children that isn’t easy though. I am trying with my grandchildren, but my daughter does not always cooperate and gives in to their cries. They will spend a few minutes playing with their new toys and then leave them to get lost and mixed up with all their other toys. However, they have blast at our house with the toys they have here. I’ve bought a lot of Polly Pockets at rummage sales and we still have our children’s lego sets. I think they have fun here because there are not boxes and boxes of toys scattered all over the house and they can actually find all the parts here (it helps, that I am very anal about finding lost parts!)

  17. Patty says:

    I like how a few people mentioned using tivo or netflix to ‘skip’ commercials. But a large part of advertising is included in the SHOW. Product placement for one and just different lifestyle viewing for another creating ‘That character has, I want’. Skipping the commercials is a start to reducing your ad intake but don’t discount the subliminal ads in movies and tv.

  18. Ryan K says:

    I just moved in with a new roommate recently. Even though he’s in his mid-twenties he still watches Saturday morning cartoons. Moving in with him was my first exposure to kids’ programming since I myself was a kid twenty years ago.

    I became indignant. It was the fact that these sly marketers are pressuring these children’s malleable minds.

    I think after years and years of growing up with that unmitigated we are in for some trouble. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s real trouble.

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