Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse: You’re being sold

I know. When you use drugs you think you’re a bohemian, wildly independent, marching to a different drummer, rejecting the herd mentality, experimenting with alternate consciousness. Well, take it from an aging hippie; before you turn on, tune in, and drop out in that particular way, think for yourself and question authority. Yes, question authority and subvert the dominant paradigm that wants to sell you stuff you don’t need.

If you don’t think you’re respond to advertising, then the advertisers have got you where they want you. Even if you scoff at the more obvious appeals, turn away from the beer commercials with scantily clad women, see right through the cigarette ads, flip past the coupons to the mall, you are still subject to advertising. You’re still being manipulated by people who are counting on your addiction.

You know those trucks that roll by with something printed on them: Budweiser. That’s not a very effective ad, is it? It doesn’t persuade you of anything. It doesn’t compare Budweiser to anything. There’s no phone number to call, address to go to, or .com to surf. You might not even know what Budweiser is. How can a single word get you drinking?

Oh, but they can. You think those business executives at the giant Belgian-Brazilian corporation, InBev, would go through all that trouble and pay so much money to put that word on trucks if it didn’t result in sales? These are the people who would lay off their grandmother at Christmas time, or destroy whole communities when they shut down plants, if they thought it would save them a few bucks.

You knew about those trucks when I mentioned them, didn’t you?
What those business executives are trying to do is put thoughts in your head. Thoughts so small and unobtrusive that you think they’re your own thoughts. Thoughts that sneak right by the part of your brain that’s rational and creep into the hidden regions controlling emotion and thirst.

Advertising, like poetry or any good writing, works by what it doesn’t say as much as by what it does. Omissions and ambiguity invite the reader to participate. For instance, the title of this piece is, You’re Being Sold. The title, by it’s omissions, is intentionally ambiguous. You can’t tell whether I mean someone is selling something to you or you are being sold into slavery. I actually mean both. By not saying both, the title creates a discordant tension that you feel you must complete. In this case, the title draws you in to read the article.

In the case of Budweiser, the brevity leaves room for you to conjure up a host of images that you feel you must resolve. Get involved in completing the picture that the advertising begins to describe and you think that it’s you who is saying Budweiser. If you think you say it, you are far more likely to buy it than when you think they say it.

It’s not just advertising that manipulates you, though. Go to a restaurant that serves alcohol and you will probably find that you walk through the bar to get to your seat. They do that for a reason. They want to get you drinking, that’s how they make their biggest profits. The bar has the smells that you associate with drinking. They display their bottles beautifully, all shimmering with mirrors and lights. Liquid poured and glasses clinked is a pleasant sound. Attractive people sitting on stools, rather than in chairs behind tables, are more easily admired, and, look, they’re drinking. Just walking through the bar is an advertisement to drink.

Then, when you sit down, the first thing they do is hand you a drink menu. Most of the time they leave it on the table so you can be thinking right away about drinking something. The cocktail waitress is the first at your table, the most attentive. She’s often the best looking, with the shortest skirt in the establishment. She’ll be sure to return if you order something, and come back again to ask if you need more.

The drinks themselves carry with them carefully cultivated images and meaning. Wine conveys sophistication; beer, camaraderie; vodka, vigor; and rum, pirates, and such. You aren’t ordering just a liquid, you’re told you’re becoming someone you want to be.

The drinks don’t just come, they’re presented, like a piece of art, in beautiful colors and shapely glasses, garnished with glistening fruit or vibrant umbrellas. Then, once the restaurant sees that you have the high margin items on the menu, then you order your food.

You still don’t think you are being manipulated?

I’m sure I don’t need to get into how you are influenced to consume pornography, to gamble, and go shopping for things you don’t need? Have you never met Joe Camel? Advertisers in the United States spend about twelve billion dollars a year just learning how to get you hooked. That’s just the money spent on market research. They spend many times that much on the ads themselves. They know what they’re doing.Your addiction is a marketer’s wet dream.

So, turn on, tune in, and drop out. Be aware of how you are being sold.