Cheaponomics and the battle for your mind

Marketers have become experts in making monkeys out of us

In today’s consumer world, marketers who sell survive. So they have evolved into specialists at mind games. They subtly change the perspective to make people see things that don’t exist, and buy products they don’t need.

But it doesn’t stop there. When we buy their logic and products, we become strong supporters of these brands. Worse, we ridicule all who question us. Because it implies we have been unwise, and been taken for a ride.

My everlasting razor

I found about this the hard way with my first razor. It was one of those disposable plastic orange ones with a metal twin blade. That first shave was a joyous rediscovery of the simple pleasure of having a smooth skin. Though for some reason, my friends kept talking about freshly plucked chickens.

Anyway, after a week of daily use, the razor required a couple more runs before all the stubble was vanquished. However the blades retained a minimum sharpness, and the shave was passable for all purposes. Besides, not being razor sharp meant less nicks while shaving. All in all, the result was acceptable to me as I was, like most students, perennially broke.

A year later, I was still using that same razor.

The Cheapskate

Initially, I was all excited at my discovery, and tried to spread the news. Sadly, it backfired. “Get a new razor, you cheapskate” was the universal cry.

I withdrew to lick my wounds. Sure, I’m always looking to get more bang for my buck. But my problem with the razor ran a lot deeper than just money.

No one had ever mentioned that I was poorly shaven. Maybe it wasn’t as close a shave as a new blade. But the difference was in fractions of a millimetre, and barely noticeable. And if it was, the assumption would be that I had shaved earlier in the day, or I had fast growing hair. In short, it’s all a matter of perspective.

But the fact is most of us believe a dull blade gives an unacceptable shave, and it simply must be changed after a couple of shaves.

Mind games

So who put that idea in our heads? Obviously, the blade makers who want to sell more blades. They pour millions into ads that pop out from TVs, the internet, newspapers, and hoardings to drill the thought into our heads.

And that’s what rubs me the wrong way. I don’t like being manipulated into doing what I don’t want to do.

In an ideal world, I would be given the facts and allowed to decide for myself. But that’s not going to happen. So I will have to sort out the facts from fiction.

It all revolves around three things. What they say I want. What I really want. And knowing the difference.

So it’s now become a cat and mouse game with a manufacturer claiming I need something, while I try to figure what the catch is.

Below are a few more of the con jobs I spotted.

A pea sized bit of truth

Ever notice how ads always show toothpaste squeezed out to run all across the top of the toothbrush? However I’ve noticed a line in the fine print on many a toothpaste, which generally goes something like, ‘Children aged 6 years or below should only use a pea sized amount.’

Aha! Under pressure of a child falling ill and the attending bad publicity, they quietly let slip the truth. That pea size amount of toothpaste is all anyone actually needs to do a good job of brushing your teeth.

What toothpaste-makers want is for me to buy more tubes of toothpaste. For which I need to use more toothpaste every time I brush my teeth.

What I want is clean teeth, not mouthfuls of foaming chemicals. So these days, I go with a pea sized blob of toothpaste. My 150g tube easily lasts a year, and my dentist just commented that my teeth are well maintained.

In an aside, I read that some time back toothpaste makers multiplied their sales by simply widening the mouth of the toothpaste tube so more toothpaste is forced out in each squeeze.

These guys are no ordinary conmen. They are consters!

Fashionably comfortable

None of us want to wear clothes that are not in fashion. But that leaves us at the mercy of the fashion trends which change arbitrarily.

My favorite jeans was a stretch pair that let me sit anyway I liked without squeezing off my blood supply. I wore that jeans for ten years till it began to tear. And then wore it some more as torn jeans had become fashionable.

In short, what the clothes makers want are for me to buy new clothes to replace my perfectly fine clothes that have gone ‘out of fashion.’

What I need are comfy clothes that rarely go out of fashion. Hmpf!

No side effects

The over-the-counter drug Panadol (Paracetamol) used to be heavily advertised on Indian National TV as a safe cure for headaches and fevers as it claimed to have no side effects. I was one of the millions who believed them, and started using it 2–3 times a week for a chronic sinus headache.

Turns out they were joking.

‘Daily paracetamol could raise the risk of heart attacks, stroke and early death’ says a recent study done in UK. I don’t understand how the drug makers got away without their pants being sued off them.

Anyway, they want to sell their drug, while all I want is a cure for the headache. A simple yoga therapy helped me get the headaches under control and I have been drug-free for over three years now.

Small wonder

Car makers want me to buy fast, expensive models. You can now spot BMWs and Mercs on Indian roads. But city roads here are full of potholes, lanes are narrow, parking is scarce, and traffic so lawless that it’s impossible to avoid minor bumps and dents, or go faster than 20–40 km/hr.

Not much point in getting a car that goes ten times as fast. Besides replacing things like a broken headlamp on a high end car can cost a fortune.

What I need is a compact, low maintenance car that gets me from point A to point B with the least expense. It also has to be easy to manoeuvre through city traffic, be able to park in the tight spaces, and have readily available spares that don’t cost the earth.

So I got myself India’s people’s car. The top end model cost Rs 250,000 ($3725) and came with AC, automatic windows, and a 3 year free service plan. This included extras like remote locking, a music system and bull bars to keep the crazy 2-wheeler riders from trying to dodge under my wheels.

I have had no regrets, or major expenses, in the three years I’ve had it.

Horses for courses

These days, smartphones in India are being sold for up to Rs 100,000 ($1500). But with technology changing so fast, most phones soon get outdated.

What the industry wants is for me to keep replacing my phone with the latest, most expensive phones they come out with.

They got me on this one as I tend to drool over the latest tech. I figured the best way for me is to buy a less expensive phone and upgrade it every two years. So when my iPhone 5 recently died, I opted for a Rs 10,000 ($150) Xiaomi Mi4i. It’s sleek, light, fast, comes with the latest 64-bit tech, and a 5" full HD screen. I do miss some of my Apple Appstore apps though.

If you are not into tech, you have more options. My wife uses a 3.5" iPhone 4 as she prefers compact phones. It costs less than 20% of the latest iPhone model, but will run quite slow on the new iOS, and quite a few apps will not even work on it. Planned obsolescence, is what Apple calls it.

My foot, is what my wife calls it. She points out that she isn’t a techie, and doesn’t need the latest and greatest apps. So she has the old iOS that came with her iPhone 4 still running on it. It works perfectly, is quite fast for its age, and she’s absolutely fine with it.

She also gifted me the iPhone 6S Plus as she figured a cheapskate like me would talk myself out of buying it.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!

it’s an odd world

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