Thursday, 16 December 2010

Only £499.99!

A simple but very effect trick of the trade, used by the masters of the dark arts of advertising, is to prefix a price with an adjective such as ‘only, or ‘just.’ It’s one of the oldest tricks in the adman’s guidebook, yet oddly, one of the more effective. No matter what the sum of money an item is displayed for, as long as it is prefixed with either of these terms, the potential purchaser psychologically is made to think that she or he is purchasing a bargain.

The customer is distracted by the adjective; the prefix has done its business and has persuaded the potential purchaser that the item on offer is a bargain, not to be missed! And, whatever price appeared after the ‘just,’ or ‘only,’ would be, to a large extent irrelevant. The customer has been hooked and from here on in it is easier to real them in.

Of course all of this is deeply immoral. But that is the way the adverting industry works. Advertising agencies employ very creative people whose job it is to create a desire in people for said product. Their livelihoods depend on their ability to sell to the public any item they are commissioned by the producer to sell.

Monday, 13 December 2010

"You do not have enough for a minimum standard of living!"

I have always related to The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), they are a charity that funds a large, UK-wide research and development programme. They say that they seek to ‘understand the root causes of social problems, to identify ways of overcoming them, and to show how social needs can be met in practice.’ They also fund groups who work in economically deprived communities. They are a well respected charity and they have the ears of governments, social service departments and many other key agencies working in the social poverty area.

I’ve read a lot of media articles recently, based on reports funded by the JRF. These studies, written by academics, try to get into the mindset of those living on what is termed the lower end of the economic scale. All of the finished reports though, appear to be based around people’s desires rather then their real needs.

On the JRF site, you can fill in a 'poverty indicator,' if you want to find out your level of living is. 
It calculates information you key in, and tells you, based on the information, if they think you are living below the poverty threshold, and how much extra, they think you need to live on.

It’s conclusions left me bemused. I found it laughable to be honest. According to these calculations, we are living way below the poverty threshold!!

Here are what, (in their words), the indicator has calculated we ‘need’ for a proper standard of living:

“Here's what you need as a minimum now…

£21,807 per year, so that income after tax and benefits covers outgoings.

Here's your situation…

You do not have enough for a minimum standard of living.

Your outgoings exceed your income.

You need an extra: £153.01 per week.”

It informs us, amongst other things, that we ‘need’ £14.85 per week for alcohol and £64.83 per week for social/cultural activities! On my goodness, no wonder people think they are poor! Neither of us drink,apart from some elderberry home made wine at Christmas. As for social/cultural activities!! We walk in the countryside, garden, visit friends, or read books, all for free! We have a car, but in our isolated, rural location a car is a real necessity.

But we certainly don't feel poor! We eat wholesome food, have a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. What else is needed really?

There’s an old Buddhist saying worth taking note of: ‘we need warm clothes, a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, the rest is just desire!’ Unfortunately though, many are seduced into the whole consumerist merry go round, constantly drip-fed a media diet of desire. Whenever we turn on the TV or open a paper, we are beguiled and seduced by slick marketing, constantly trying to seduce us into buying products, we could quite easily live without.

But enough is enough; it’s time to reclaim the right to be poor and proud. To show that being poor doesn't have to mean a life spent in a constant struggle of ambition to ‘better oneself,’ where one may eventually clamber out of a well of despair and toil, up, into the a desirable land of wealth. Notice that wealth is nearly always equated with happiness and contentment!

True poverty is to be found in the slums of India or the Philippines. My understanding of the term implies a state of destitution, an inability to be able to afford even the basic necessities for a healthy life. A situation which would be very difficult to emulate in this country, where state benefits are a universal right for everyone unable to work, even under the forthcoming welfare cutbacks.

Poverty is a relative term! Yes, there is a basic level, where poverty means real, grinding hardship, where, due to whatever circumstance, a person found themselves in, it would be very difficult to escape from. And compassion must be extended to anyone who finds him or her self in such situations. A mark of any civilised society is surely when all of its members alike, receive an adequate income, to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families! Far too many people face a daily existence of misery, through sometimes, insurmountable, financial problems. I do not want to belittle anyone who lives in this sort of gruelling hardship. There are still far too many who find it almost impossible to lead any kind of normal life, due to the debt trap. Yet, even here, informed choices can be made, where some of the misery can be alleviated.

It is entirely possible, if one is careful and expedient, to live a life of contentment, and well being, whilst living below the so-called poverty level. If you are able to extricate yourself, from the trap of materialism.

We are fortunate I suppose, in that we cook our own wholesome foods, and we preserve much of the produce from our large garden, we forage for wild foods and neither of us smoke or drink alcohol. We have carpentry and basic home repair skills too. We even make all of our own soap, shampoos and cleaning agents.

I pointed all of the above out in a mail to the Centre for Research in Social Policy, at Loughborough University, who conducted a recent survey for The Joseph Rowntree Trust, on Rural Poverty. I received a courteous reply from one of the team, but it left me aware that many of the indicators they use to calculate poverty levels, are based on 'desires,' not on needs: I quote from her reply:

“In their deliberations, the groups think very carefully about the difference between unnecessary consumerism and normal participation - but at the end of the day people we talked to didn't agree that all that was needed was food, clothes and shelter. They felt that it was important to be able to interact with the society around them and not feel stigmatised and this translated into items that went beyond these basic necessities. One of the key components of the definition of what kind of living standard this is meant to be is that it should be such that people have opportunities and choices – not unlimited amounts of either – but enough to feel that they can choose how to live their lives rather than to be living at a level where their choices are limited to eating or heating, for example.”

This really is utter nonsense to be frank. People’s desires have to be separated from their real needs. If anything, what poor people ‘need,’ is to be better informed as to their real needs, and to switch off the incessant conditioning that is directed at them every time they turn on a TV or open a paper.

I really do also feel deep compassion for those who need to surround themselves with a continuous supply of possessions. Who accumulate wealth, and who imagine that wealth is desirable. It really isn’t wise for anyone to be covetous of such situations though, the accumulation of wealth and its associated bedfellows of power, desire and pride, are the surest ways to keep one trapped on a permanent round of sufferings and frustrations.

By surrounding themselves with riches, people perpetuate their sufferings of attachment, fear of loss, and need for constant security to guard their possessions.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hear the jingles and spend, spend, spend

Here's how shops get us to buy so much crap every chrtistmas!

From the Independent Newspaper

In the past week I have felt like a white lab rat in a capitalist experiment. I have panicked that bestselling Christmas items might sell out, despite the economic evidence to the contrary. I felt bad for not buying a Kindle, when Amazon has so charmingly demonstrated its interesting features every time I open my inbox. I paid extra in a clothes store to have an assistant gift-wrap my purchase, only to watch on as he screwed up said purchase into an unsightly ball of white tissue paper and stuffed it in a big, branded box that I know I'll chuck away. I have lingered in a deliberately well-heated branch of M&S as it snowed outside, allowing my eye to be caught by pretty boxes of nuts and fruit. In short, I've fallen for every trick high-street retailers have conspired to play.

But the tactic that really has me in a frenzy of breathless festive spending is the oldest in the book. Not discounts. Nor artful window displays. It is the sound of pounding, mulled wine hangovers, of doorstep-thick slices of pub-lunch turkey, of inadvisable snogs and four pounds of extra fat on the midriff. For some reason, though I loathe them in any other context, I can't resist the effects of Christmas music when I'm shopping. La-a-a-st Car-eest-maass, I gaaave you my heaaart ... At our local Tesco, this and other literally unforgettable festive pop is currently playing at rock-concert volume. But it really works. On Sunday, as I rounded the potato display, I saw a couple rub noses and mouth the lyrics as they loaded their basket with smoked salmon. More dancing ensued in the tea and coffee aisle. I wanted to sneer, I really did, but the strange result of the mass hypnosis that Tesco employed – for any retailers out there, I believe it was the standard Now That's What I Call Christmas CD – was a 50 per cent increase in my usual bill.
The connection between music and consumer spending has been scientifically documented, notably in several studies carried out in the 1980s (possibly not coincidentally, since that's the era of much of the Christmas music you'll hear). Slower, positively associated music is proven to make shoppers not only linger, but spend more. As the sound of Noddy Holder or Mariah Carey reverberates in our eardrums, we suddenly think we're having fun, engaging in a leisure activity, rather than performing an expensive, tiring chore. The same studies showed that volume has a converse effect on how long shoppers stay in a store; therefore loud, Christmassy music from yesteryear is designed to make us grin like loons, march around the shop loading up our trolleys in haste, before we can have second thoughts about that third packet of bite-sized stollen cakes.
The soundtrack to spending is of course something online stores can't control. I might be browsing Net A Porter listening to Joy Division, which would make me buy nothing, and sob into my keyboard. As it was yesterday. Etailers can dangle pages of discounted Bananagrams and Black Ops games and Kindles, but without Noddy or George warbling in the background, the spell is broken.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

How to persuade people they don’t have time to cook any more!

‘A kilo of corn costs around 15p, a kilo of Cornflakes, on the high street, costs us £3, that’s a 2000% cost difference.’

The BBC are at present screening a mini series of three documentaries, dealing with the way multi national food companies induce us all to buy their products, last week the focus was on the bottled water industry, this week was the turn of breakfast cereals and next week, yogurt will be in the spot light.

These three programmes are extraordinary in that they expose the cleaver marketing tricks multi national companies use to flog their useless products. The programmes are not being screened by some anti capitalist, revolutionary organisation, but are made, and screened by the BBC for goodness sake!

We thought we knew all about the dark ways employed by global capitalism to sell their products, but these three programme open up a completely new chapter. Here are the producers themselves telling us, in their own words just how they make their billions!

The latest programme dealt with the convenience breakfast cereal market and spoke to insiders from the big players in this highly lucrative market. As the founder and ex chairman of Weetabix said, without a trace of irony, “people buy our cereals because they thrust what you tell them”

This is the fast and easy way to make vast profits, by making so called ‘foods,’ they have no or little nutritional value and convincing customers through the power of marketing that they simply must buy the product.

As the food writer Michael Pollen commented in the programme, “the way you make money is to process food, add convenience, add packaging, add health claims, whatever you can do to complicate it, to get people to buy it.”

A famous and often quoted experiment was carried out in the 1970’s. Rats were fed a range of different cereals. The conclusion being that they would be better off eating the cardboard box then the contents inside.

The cereal companies have always used the trick of targeting children. This ploy ensures brand loyalty from an early age. So kids are blitzed with images of cuddly cartoon characters each one of which is associated with a particular cereal (remember Tony the Tiger)! The children’s cereal market alone is worth over six hundred million pounds.

But in 2006, legislation banned their adverts during children’s television programmes, because of the high sugar and salt contents of their products. The companies were forced to take out much of the sugar and salt.

The companies simply glossed over the fact that they had been forced to alter the contents of their cereals but, instead claimed they were simply giving the customers what they wanted, They’ve asked us to give them more choice, which we are happy to do” Says the head of Kellogg's, UK. We’ve done that, and we feel good about it.”

Breakfast cereals are the epitome of the global markets’ triumph of persuasion! They are the blank space for our aspirations and our neurosis and, in the process they made billions.