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October 10, 2006

Ran provided a fascinating link to an article about an advertising psychiatrist and his quite evil technique of pushing our buttons at a subconscious level and concluded by saying we’ve all got to figure out a way around this sort of thing.

I’m going to be presumptuous and claim that sometimes I am aware of when my sub-conscious brain is having it’s buttons pushed, but please let me emphasise the word ‘sometimes’

When I’m having my buttons pushed I feel like I’m being taken on a ride somewhere, it can feel good but at the same time it feels very uncomfortable to me because I’m no longer in control. The last time I noticed it was when I was in the clutches of a good car salesman. Even without him I was aware that a lot of my decision making about buying a car was being affected by the style of car I wanted. I found it quite hard to over-ride but I found the salesman easy to deal with because I really didn’t want to make the decision while I wasn’t in control.

Now that I’ve written that paragraph it’s obvious I’m in danger of confusing the salesman’s pitch with the far more subtle effects of advertising. The real clue as to my abilities to resist this stuff is in my admission that my judgement  was being affected by issues of style even when there was no salesman present.

I didn’t want to listen to my rational side which said just take the practical option, I rebelled against it and went for something a little bit cooler. I was in no danger of blowing the bank account but nonetheless it happened.

This brings up several questions, such as; How is cool defined? Who defines it? and who convinced me that that I should even care about it at all? And, even more scary; why am I still subject to these dictates even after I become aware of them?

The answer to the last question might have something to do with my lack of well defined identity but that’s a whole ‘nother confession.

The problem was that I didn’t want a car that looked basic and functional. This is really quite absurd. Considered from a practical point of view I shouldn’t have wasted more than half a second on this issue but in the end I handed over extra money for what was purely a human construct and I rebelled against my own judgement in doing so.

So, now that I’ve established my own ineptitude in dealing with the effects of advertising I’ll offer you some advice on how I think we might all escape it’s effects.

I’m was being honest with myself by admitting that issues of ‘coolness’ affected my purchase decision. This is an easy thing to do six months down the track. Clearly I wasn’t able to do it at the time but I figure it’s a skill that can be developed – and it’s a skill we should develop because being brutally honest with ourselves might be a way to beat these people. As the evil psychiatrist said, the rationalisations that people gave for liking a particular product really didn’t stand up to reasoned analysis.

We can apply some ‘reasoned analysis’ to ourselves anytime we like but it’s hard to do because being honest with ourselves tends to get in the way of the complex denial algorithms we’ve set up in our lives. Basically though I think  we need to grow as people (mentally, emotionally, spiritually) in order to counter this stuff.

I’m hoping it’s similar to the way our body starts to refuse bad food if we improve our diet. If we try to listen to our conscience it’s voice will become clearer and we’ll get better at admitting we have no sensible reason for buying that 2-foot high concrete ornament sitting by the front door.

And one last thing, if you’re going to seek help to do this sort of growth don’t go to a psychiatrist! Find someone with a lot of experience who has good recommendations but minimal professional training.

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Later on Ran mentioned  that ‘reptilian’ is a term that has been used to make the evil psychiatrist look smarter. It’s undoubtedly one of those ‘codes’ that the psychiatrist was talking about. No doubt the term ‘code’ is a code itself, ‘breaking the code’ being something the ingenious hero usually does at the last minute in countless movies we watched while growing up.

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 And don’t you think this quote from the pychiatrist really gives the game away:

“I’ve designed a session where we started with the cortex, because people want to show how intelligent they are, so [we] give them a chance. We call that a purge or washout session. We don’t care what they say; we don’t believe what they say. And usually they give us all the cliché. They tell us everything that we have told them already through advertising, communication, the media, the newspaper.”

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