Games Advertisers Play

My wife and I were jumping up and down in our one bedroom apartment. We had just won a new car!!! I was holding a flyer that I received in the mail and I had scratched off the game piece and it said winner!!! We pranced and froliced around the living room for about 5 minutes – it was actually kind of embarrassing now that I look back. It’s especially embarrassing as I look back and realize how duped I was.

See, I had read the fine print, but not very well. The gist of fine print was that the odds were 1 in 500,000 to win the car prize, and 499,000 in 500,000 to win the smaller prize of a $5.00 Wal*Mart gift card. My wife and I hung our heads and kind of chuckled when we realized what the hook was – would scratch a winner piece and win a measly prize. We still to this day laugh about this episode and the lesson that we learned: advertisers have an agenda, and it is always to improve their bottom line, not ours. The car company’s agenda was to give me a brief rush of excitement seeing draw me into the car lot with the promise of at least some gift, reel me into a conversation with a salesman, and sell me a car to raise their profits.

Every single commercial, piece of mail, e-mail offer, billboard, or signage has an agenda. I am not saying that a company is evil because it wants to make a profit (that’s what they do!). Nor am I saying that all businesses solely want to make money – I believe many do want to improve their customers’ lives. But what I’ve learned is that if a company wants to make money from transactions with me, and I want to save money, we are going to have some battles – many of which are subtle.

Here’s how my mindset has changed when I view advertisements:

  • When I pass a billboard on the highway, my mind has now started to play devil’s advocate. Here’s my logic: if they’re advertising it, it means they want me to buy it. If they want me to buy it, it must be a good deal for them. If it’s a good deal for them, it may not be a good deal for me.
  • At the store, companies want to make it seem like they are doing me a favor – really rooting for me to save money. They’ll say “suggested retail: $50. Our price: $42!” Oh, how nice of them. The executives must really feel a deep conviction to help me out. Wrong. They’re searching for the price point that will yield the most profit (and that’s ok!). They will use the fact that I’ll pat myself on the back if I’m saving $8.00 to coax me into a $42 purchase.
  • When I get fliers in the mail from local business (many of which include promotions), I automatically think about what their angle is. Most of the time it is to build customer loyalty, or make it seem like I visit there because the deal is so good and expires so soon. They must have research that says I’m likely to spend more money and thus increase their profits.
  • When I’m watching a television commercial, the question that I ask in the midst of the mind game is this: “Was I doing okay before the commercial?” If I was, then I probably don’t need to chase down this deal I’ve been offered, especially when it’s 9:30 at night and the tv is selling me an Arby’s milk shake.
  • When I treat advertisements like mini-mind games between me and the advertiser, the competitive side of me comes out and I don’t want to let the advertiser win! This mindset has helped me save money and minimize the effect advertisements have on me. I understand there are good deals out there to be had, but I also know that companies have a goal – to make money. When one of my goals is to save money, we may be at odds. The psychological battle has begun!

What about you? Do you have any advice when it comes to taking in so much advertising?

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2 comments

  1. Great ideas! I’m in marketing, so I’m often on the side that’s creating the annoying billboards. Unfortunately I think bad marketing is everywhere–spammy companies promoting shoddy products in the pursuit of money only. It’s always important to be an educated, critical consumer.

    I fell for something similar during the holidays. I was given a scratch-off card as a gift with the prize as $500 cash. I mistakenly thought I won the $500 and started freaking out–only to realize I’d ACTUALLY won $2. I still have the lotto ticket on my desk for a good laugh. :)

  2. I’m usually able to ignore billboards and other types of advertising. I believe in the ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ mantra :D

    I do enjoy seeing clever marketing though, but I see very few ‘smart ads’ and I usually adopt the “Was I doing okay before the commercial?” attitude. Which works, by the way.

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