Fish Story

POSTED ON Sep 25, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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How many different ways are there to sell something?

You can talk about how great the product is, its earth-shattering innovations, how many things it will do better than the last version, all the awards it has won.

You can compare the product to other choices in the market and show how it’s superior, the best choice. Or you can brag about how you have the best price and service in your business.

Or you can attempt to manipulate people. This is most easily done through emotional triggers, and this is why our advertising looks the way it does.

For a generation or two now we’ve become used to having every emotional event in our lives associated with products, buying opportunities, and comparison shopping.

Every human emotion can be monetized, to use the words of the internet marketers. You evoke the emotion through associations, using emotional triggers, then merge your product or service into the message. Supposedly the good feelings evoked by this maneuver carry over to good feelings about your products.

So if your memories of Thanksgiving are of the joy of being with family crowded around card tables set up in the living room, and the deep and elemental connection to family is strong in that memory, maybe that can be connected to a brand of cranberries. Or maybe a style of gravy or a certain kind of turkey.

But what kind of effect does that have if year after year, day after day, thousands of commercial messages are attempting to evoke or suggest our feelings of warmth for family, or our aspiration to succeed, or our fear of being made a fool, and tying them to brands and their messages?

I don’t know, do you think it might lead to some cynicism? A feeling that even long-anticipated events are an anti-climax, just a bump on the road of boredom?

How about when you’re sick, or you’re up late because you can’t sleep. You start watching TV and discover all the ads are for somebody else, somebody who’s usually watching at this hour, but not for you. You are an interloper, you’re in a strange land.

Who are these people? They need denture cream, they want insurance to cover their funeral costs, they need drugs for osteoporosis, and they’re afraid of falling down and not being able to get up.

But what the ads really tell us is that we too are part of a specific and targetable demographic group. We just don’t notice it because it’s what we’re used to. Maybe we’re in the “Millenials,” or the “Gen Y-ers,” or the “trailing boomers” or whatever they are calling them this year. But do we ever notice? Consider the old mystic story:

A sage was passing by a lake and stopped to look in. He saw a large and glorious fish, all red and white with flashes of gold, a truly magnificent fish. He was the largest fish the sage had seen. He stopped and engaged the fish in conversation to learn what he could from this regal creature. And the fish, as it turned out, was wise in the ways of the lake. He knew the creatures of the lake and their behavior. The fish possessed a wisdom befitting his age. Finally the sage asked the fish how he was affected by spending his entire life in the water. The fish paused a moment, then looked at the sage standing above him, and said, “What water?”

We are not like the fish, though, are we? We can stick our heads out of the water, look around. We can see when we’re being manipulated, when the water we’re swimming in is toxic to our health. That’s the beauty of it. We get to decide what kind of environment we’ll spend our time in.

And all we have to do is remember that we’re under water.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by igb,

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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