Madison Avenue Madness
How to fight it
Ever read a book that made you mad? I was intrigued by the
title of Pamela N. Danziger's "Why People Buy Things They Don't
Need." But after browsing through pages 1-96, I found myself
grousing. Why? Because Danziger knows precisely what she's
talking about, and her job is to sell marketers the goods on you
If you don't like being manipulated any more than I do, you
might want to look at what Danziger says about Madison Avenue's
clever ploys. These people study your weaknesses, then use them
to raid your earnings.
Danziger spent the past twenty years researching why
Americans spend as we do. We purchase kitchen gadgets, home
textiles, computer software, candies and aromatherapy products,
gardening items, and a host of other discretionary items. In
fact, we fork out about 30 percent of our income for stuff we
Why this madness? According to Danziger, fourteen
"justifiers" underlie our motivation to spend money on
unnecessary items. "When marketers do the hard work of providing
the justifiers for their customers, it is amazing how this
bolsters product sales. Justifiers overcome objections and compel
the consumer to buy," she writes.
REASONS TO SPEND
How do we justify spending hard-earned cash on unneeded
purchases? On the basis of one or more of the following "resons."
Quality of life.
The product will improve our education/ knowledge, health,
spiritual life, emotional satisfaction/security, social success.
The experience of shopping in an exclusive place makes us feel
Beautify the home.
We get a feeling of identity and worth from our home's
The more education we have, the more material things we crave.
And then we apply education in researching our major purchases.
We buy or rent things to reduce boredom and generate excitement.
Or we seek an environment that helps us experience shopping as
We build anticipation for buying something unneeded by
researching and planning for the purchase.
We spend to seek emotional comfort, to experience the fun of
having the latest and greatest, or to express our identity.
Replacing an existing item.
Replacing a worn-out item often serves as a catalyst for an
extended spending spree on coordinated items.
We turn to relaxation products/equipment, nostalgia - and
tradition-themed items to deliver comfort.
We collect for the joy of ownership and the thrill of the hunt.
If one family member collects, usually others do also.
When buying gifts for others, we often buy a more expensive one
We gain a feeling of power and entitlement from making an impulse
While few of us admit it, we buy things that will be visible to
others in order to impress them.
Do any of these justifiers sound familiar? They should.
Advertisers spend billions each year to push these buttons in
your psyche. For the most part, these reasons to spend are simply
nonsense. Danziger states:
The justifiers give consumers the illusion they are acting
rationally in purchasing, but in reality, they remain driven
by personal desires and emotions.... When marketers realty
understand how their products play into the hearts and
emotions of their customers, the judicious use of justifiers
in marketing communications stacks the deck in the marketers
favor and gives consumers permission to buy (pp. 59-60).
In other words, they pull your emotional and psychological
strings, and a-spending you go.
Armed with these clues to how marketers snag you, how do you
declare war against Madison Avenue manipulation? A few
$ Whenevere you see an advertisement on TV, talk back to it or
mute the sound. Point out the commercial's hidden lie to your
children, spouse, or friends.
$ Do a word study on content and contentment in the Bible. You
might want to begin with 1 Timothy 6:6-8 and Philippians
$ If you're wired for impulse buying ("see it, like it, buy it"),
pray while you shop. And exercise the most noncommercial
spiritual fruit, self-conlrol.
$ Meditate on your motivation. What do you get out of shopping
and spending? Does it improve your mood, strengthen your
confidence, energize your emotions? Should it?
$ For long-lasting satisfaction, invest your extra money in
helping people and extending Christ's kingdom (see Luke 16:4).
You don't have to be a victim of your own indulgence or
Madison Avenue's manipulation. You were chosen for a better life.
So shop wisely, shop well, and shop only when necessary.
Diligently search for your satisfaction in God alone. There's
plenty there for the savvy shopper (Isaiah 55:1-3).
Bob Putman is editor of BGC World and writes from Schaumburg, IL.
Entered on this Website October 2006