The Art Of Not Falling For Sneaky Marketing (ER “Expert” Series)

Listen up. Here at Entry Revel we didn’t graduate from Ivy League Universities and we don’t claim to be the Winkelvoss twins (most of the time). One thing we do know how to do is ride the coattails of those more successful than us. So we found intelligent people to give you REAL advice. Meet the Entry Revel ExpERt series. (See what I did there?)

Our Personal Finance guru Richard Reis is probably more successful than you and definitely more handsome than you. Check out the rest of his content on Medium.

Hello Revelers,

If for any reason, you stared at the above image longer than normal, that’s ok. It’s what the marketers wanted.

Besides, add in their money and psychologists, your brain had no chance.

And that’s fine! Looking doesn’t hurt.

However, if you go from looking to pulling out your wallet, that’s when I slap your hand and blurt out “HEY! Don’t fall for it. Looking doesn’t hurt but if you go from that to having less money the next minute, you’ve been fooled!”.

And that’s where today’s letter will help you. So let’s get going.

A Brief History of Modern Marketing

Sneaky little buggers, how did they start?

I won’t go into depth because one of my favorite documentaries, “The Century of the Self” already has (and it took them 4 hours of amazing footage).

But all you need to know is this; After World War I, Edward Bernayschanged the world, forever. Who was he you ask? Just the nephew of a psychology titan known as Sigmund Freud.

How did he change the world? Well, it all started one day when he sent “uncle Freud” some Cuban cigars and in return, he received a copy of Freud’s book, “A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis”. Reading that book was the start to Bernays changing the world and, in the process, become one of the most powerful multimillionaires in America.

He understood that it’s possible to persuade people to behave irrationally if you link products to their desires and feelings.

Have you ever wondered why everyone used to think smoking was cool? Blame Bernays (if you want to know how he used the Women’s Liberation Movement to make smoking cool, read the Wikipedia “Torches of Freedom” article, it’s quite eerie).

I could go on with Bernay’s genius. He was the first who linked company’s products to movie stars by using product placement in movies, and dressed the stars in movie premieres with clothes and jewelry from other firms he represented (even the image I used above can be linked to his influence, more than 60 years later!).

Fascinating guy really.

But what does this have to do with you? Well, thanks to Bernays the corporations in America learned one important thing:

“We must shift America from the needs to a desires culture, people must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America, man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” — Paul Mazur (Lehman Brothers)

Oh, sh*t…

How To Win The War Against Marketing

Before I began writing this letter, I already knew it’s akin to fighting an uphill battle.

Thanks to Bernays, some of the biggest companies today are advertisers. For example, Google and Facebook (“search engine” and “social network”? Yeah right).

The biggest companies know people buy feelings, not things (Steve Jobs’ll tell ya).

Actually, my first “mistake” with this blog series is talking about saving money instead of spending. Take a look at the biggest blogs (and celebrities); they tell you how to spend (“Oprah’s Favorite Things” anyone?), not how to save.

My poor little blog can’t beat those giants and their gazillions of dollars.

But what it can do is help you right now. Yes you, while you’re reading these words.

In a moment, you’ll learn 5 principles that will give you a fighting chance.

Yes, you are a frail David going up against Goliaths. But thankfully, this letter is your powerful sling and its principles are your stones. So, it’s up to you to aim well.

Let’s begin your training. Here are your stones:

Principle #1: Remember There Are Good And Bad Ads

I’m not against all advertising. I buy 10 or so t-shirts every 1–2 years when American Giant advertises their “5 t-shirts for $89” on Black Friday Week.

When it’s something you were going to buy anyways, discount ads are good. An ad that helps you save money is your friend.

But if you buy something you weren’t planning on buying only because of a discount, you’ve been fooled. And since the average American Household debt is $5,700, a lot of people have been fooled.

All we have to do is look at how the average person’s garage, attic, or basement is running out of space. It’s full of times people have been fooled (they try to make up for it with “garage sales”, but by then it’s too late).

Don’t be fooled.

“If something cost $100, and it is on sale for $75, and then you decide to buy it, you did not save $25. You spent $75.” — Mark Cuban

Ads are particularly bad (and annoying) when companies like Comcast advertise their plan for $69.99/ month but have a small “*” next to the price (which means run). It’s only once you read the tiny letters that you realize the price will jump to $99.99 after 12 months. WHY?!

Nothing annoys me more than those conniving little $#@&%!

Ehem… Onward.

Principle #2: Forget Objects, Buy Happiness

In his fantastic book, “Stumbling on Happiness”, author Daniel Gilbert talks about how novelty quickly wears off.

“Among life’s cruelest truths is this one: Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.

[…] When we have an experience […] we quickly begin to adapt to it, and the experience yields less pleasure each time.

Psychologists call this habituation.” — Daniel Gilbert

There’s our enemy! Habituation! It can apply to many things. But I’ll just talk about buying objects.

Why objects? Because when you buy something new the same pattern happens. It’s exciting, for a bit. Soon, the excitement wears off (that’s habituation), garages get full, and you start looking for something else to buy (with silly excuses like “retail therapy”).

Meanwhile, the worst part is you have less money than before!

So, why are you buying things that bring a short duration of happiness instead of a looooooong duration??

Thankfully, Gilbert uses science to help us know what will make us happy for a long time. There are two ways to fight habituation: variety and time.

1. Variety: because doing the same thing over and over again gets tiring.This is why no one cares about the first pair of Yeezys anymore, Snapchat’s spectacles are rusting in apartments all around the country, and millions of dresses are forgotten and buried in closets. You can only use the same object a few times before getting tired of it (hence why fashion has to have “seasons”, and Apple keeps having meaningless upgrades — they try to bring the feeling of variety, even if it only makes you happy for a week or two… Until habituation brings you back to normal!).

It’s better to spend your money (if you’re going to spend it at all), on unique things.

For example, instead of buying Yeezy after Yeezy just to get rid of them later (same thing, shoes. Different looks), consider an unforgettable trip to your dream location, or taking someone you love to their favorite restaurant or concert. “Unique” is better than “common”.

2. Time: doing something very often will get tiring. If you were to drink champagne and kiss the person you love every night at midnight, soon you’d get over it. But do it once a year for New Year’s Eve and you have a special moment.

It may sound counterintuitive, but paying for activities you love every now and then is better than paying for them often.

Realize this, going to Disneyland once a year is tremendous fun, but do it every week and you’ll end up punching Mickey. Do not underestimate habituation, and don’t let it ruin something that is special to you. “Rarely” is better than “often”.

The final point is this: If you are going to spend money, buying the same stuff in different packages (e.g. shoes) will make you unhappy and poor. But on the other hand, buying unique experiences and making them rare will make you happy and rich.

Principle #3: Avoid Temptation Altogether

Ah, el pavo frio. An even better solution is going cold turkey.

  • Get rid of cable TV. Seriously. Pay the $9.99 on YouTube Red, Netflix or Hulu if you must watch videos every now and then. That’ll save you from all the burger ads every 15min.
  • Unsubscribe from useless e-mail lists. Use Those guys are saints.
  • Clean up your mailbox. Are you getting coupons and other magazines you don’t need sent to your mailbox every week? Use DMAchoice.
  • Save your browser. Use Adblock Plus. You’ll get to surf the web without all those annoying ads. (*One reader, JaxNika, pointed out how much of a slippery slope this statement is. A lot of amazing content providers are paid through ads. She’s right. But again, as most things in life, there’s no right or wrong solution. Here’s my response).

As you can see, there are many people out there building great tools to help you in this battle. You are not alone.

The most helpful thought is knowing you’ve done just fine without the gadgets for this long, so why buy them now? (Trust me, it doesn’t matter how cool QVC’s new way of peeling a potato is).

By the way, if you have another suggestion, feel free to drop it in the comments and I’ll add it to this letter. I can’t save the world alone.

Principle #4: Have a Clear Goal For Your Money

If you don’t know what to do with your money, the big corporations will gladly tell you (and you won’t even notice).

You cannot take an average salary and try to emulate the richest. So, next time you see your favorite celebrity wearing something you like, remember they didn’t pay for it.

The average A-list celebrity gets $100k worth of free stuff every year. And they get paid to use it. So, of course, they’ll use it!

However, if they don’t pay for those items, why would you? Especially when you don’t have as much money as they do.

Remember Principle #2, the happiness from those objects lasts a very short amount of time, but your money will be gone forever. I’m sure you can think of several occasions where this happened. You can’t you say? Look inside your closet.

Pay attention, a better option is to have a goal for your money.

That’s why one of my first letters was about increasing your net worth. That’s a goal.

It’s also why so many people found value in it. That letter turns making money into a game where the ultimate reward is freedom. Finally, there’s a clear, positive (and people said fun) goal for your money.

Principle #5: Make Hedonic Adaptation Your Ally

One of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, wrote about this.

He defined hedonic adaptation brilliantly, so I’ll just add his quote:

“In less fancy terms, what this term means is that ‘no matter what happens to you in your life, you’ll very quickly get used to it’. […]

A most striking example of this was a 1978 psychological study that evaluated the happiness levels of recent lottery winners, and recently injured paraplegics relative to the general population. As you’d expect, the lottery winners were pretty upbeat immediately after their win, and the paraplegics were pretty pissed off. But within just two months, both groups had returned back to the average level of happiness.” — Mr. Money Mustache

This is for people who think spending less will make them unhappy. There’s no such thing (if anything, I’d argue spending less makes you happier).

Notice, humans adapt to everything. That’s what makes our species so cool.

That’s why you went back to feeling normal after a harsh breakup, or getting fired, or losing someone you loved. It takes around 2 months. But it always happens.

So, if you worry that staying away from ads and spending less money won’t make you happy, you’re underestimating your amazing brain.

And that’s it for today!

Today, we learned how to win the marketing battles we face every day:

  1. Remember there are good and bad ads
  2. Forget objects, buy happiness
  3. Avoid temptation altogether
  4. Have a clear goal for your money
  5. Make Hedonic Adaptation your ally

See you next week, be well.