In today’s consumer driven society, our possessions have come to define us, and almost everyone is fine with this, casually writing it off as signs of conspicuous consumption.
But I find it totally unacceptable as I have always had an intense dislike of being manipulated into doing things.
Just think about it. Somewhere there’s a marketing guy, coming up with insidious ways to fool me into thinking that using his product will make me stand out from the crowd or some other impossible thing, and then smugly laughing all the way to the bank as I and many others like me fall for it.
The very thought makes my blood boil.
Being taken for a ride
For instance, a car maker may spend millions on advertising to create an impression that those who buy his car are smart people. Now if I go spend Rs 20,00,000 or more on that car, even partly because I believe that, then I’ve literally let myself be taken for a ride.
The whole world of millions of consumer product advertising is nothing but this. And you can take my word on this, as I was in the advertising industry myself for many years. Finally it sickened me, and I quit, deciding that I would never ever let ads get into my head.
Let me clarify. I now own the Nano, India’s cheapest car. Does it make me a cheapskate? No, it doesn’t, any more than my owning the ridiculously expensive iPhone 6S+ makes me a superior person.
All it means is that I bought these objects for their intrinsic value, not the artificial value created by a big advertising budget. Let me elaborate.
Cheap vs Value for Money
The Nano is India’s most inexpensive car. Its tiny 625cc, 38 bhp engine can touch 105 km/hr, and the car is ideal for India, being small enough to dart through traffic, and park in tight corners where other cars won’t fit. And its short turning radius makes it easy to get out of that tight spot.
The top end model of the Nano costs Rs 3,00,000 ($4500) and comes with an automatic gear system, AC, a music system, power steering, powered windows, central locking, is quite spacious inside. Tata Motors, the maker of the Nano, offers a service package that takes care of all maintenance for 3–4 years or so. One would think that a car like this would be a top seller.
But the Nano is not selling.
Only 23,605 Nano cars were produced last year though its factory is capable of making 10 times as many in a year. One reason the Nano is not doing well is that it looks and sounds like an autorickshaw, a three-wheeler which is sort of a poor man’s taxi in India. This has led to the Nano being perceived as a poor man’s car. Tata itself is guilty of having mistakenly encouraged this perception by having initially promoted the Nano as the people’s car.
The loser in all this is the customer as the Nano is real value for money.
I’ve been using the previous model of this car for the last four years, and it’s been trouble free almost all of that time. Apart from some teething issues, which were resolved when the starter unit was replaced free of cost.
So how did I extract myself from the perception trap and convince myself to buy the Nano?
Status Symbol vs Mode of Transport Driving an expensive car is seen as making a statement about yourself. Possibly because the advertisers have slyly managed to convince most people that this is so. But isn’t there a better way to make a statement about yourself than buying a car that’s absolutely unsuited to Indian road conditions?
I was based abroad in UAE for a while. The roads there are good so that I got myself an old sports model of a Volkswagen, and used to zoom around at 100mph (that’s 160 km/hr). Whereas in India, roads are full of potholes, speed breakers and chaotic traffic, making it absolutely pointless to have a powerful car. A famous Indian sports personality once had a Ferrari which he only used to be able take out for a drive on the Mumbai-Pune highway at 2 am in the morning. He should have renamed it the 2am car!
The truth is in Indian road conditions, a car is just a medium of transport that gets you from Point A to Point B in reasonable comfort with a minimum of expense. The car that fits that definition best is the Nano.
Thin Skin vs Thick Skin This is the hardest part and most people can’t break out of the perceptions of a Nano, and the owner of a Nano. But when people look down at me for being a cheapo and buying the Nano, I tell myself the poor fools think they are buying the car of their choice. They are not. They are buying the car that a sly marketer has convinced them is what they need. Not the one that really matches their needs best.
Cheap vs Cute My kid initially bought into the poor man’s car perception. So I got the lime green version of this car which stands out from the sober colors of other cars on the road. My kid’s friends exclaimed how cute our new Nano looks. That’s all that was needed for her to begin to see the car in a different light.
Inexpensive vs You gotta be kidding me The price of spare parts for most cars in India can leave me gasping. But spares are relatively inexpensive for a Nano. You will need parts as accidents are inevitable in India’s chaotic traffic conditions. For instance, replacing a broken tail light isn’t such a drain on my wallet in a Nano, as it would be in other cars. Replacing something bigger, like a defective AC would cost as much as my Nano would if I sold it.
Depreciation vs Appreciation That’s a bad pun but the fact is most new cars lose 25% of their value the moment you drive it out of the showroom. If you buy a Rs 10,00,000 car, you will lose half your money when you sell it after a few years. The same applies to a Nano but it’s easier to write off Rs 2,00,000 as compared to Rs 5,00,000. I most probably will trade in my Nano for a new one. This way I can get a new car every few years without taking too much of a hit on my wallet, which is something to appreciate.
Careful vs Carefree Driving expensive large cars in India’s crazy traffic can be a nerve wracking affair. But I zip through tiny gaps, take quick u-turns on narrow roads, and park in the tightest of spaces with ease.
Status Symbol vs Friend in Need
The iPhone is a admittedly an overpriced phone, but it does have certain facets that work for me.
It’s just work Being a long time iPhone user, I occasionally blog about iOS and iPhones (like this post on Medium). So in that sense, it helps to have the latest iPhone to talk about features and issues related to hardware and software, trending iOS apps, and anything else to do with the iPhone.
One Big Family I work on an iMac and an iPad, my wife has an iPhone, and my kid an iPod. My extended family, including my two brothers, my in-laws, friends and colleagues use Apple devices. Communicating, troubleshooting, helping each other, are all easier being on the same platform.
Ecosystem Having been within the Apple ecosystem for nearly 15 years, my personal photos, home videos, files and as well as all my work related documents and apps are within this system. It makes sense to get an iPhone as it’s part of the same Apple ecosystem. From an iPhone point of view, I have many apps that I would have to buy again if I switched to an Android. Learning how to use the Android apps would require a serious effort.
Camera Photography is my hobby and the iPhone camera is so good that I’ve almost stopped using my DSLR. My Android (Mi4i) also has a decent camera but the photos I take on my iPhone are far better. Yes, the high end Android phones are said to have better cameras but if I’m going to pay almost the same price, I’d rather stick with my familiar iPhone controls and apps.
Old Reliable My iPhone is with me right from dawn when it wakes me up till night when it tells me to go to bed. It also serves as a exercise aid, music and video player, news dispenser, and a tool to chat, bank, shop and myriad other activities. Having become such an indispensable part of my life, I don’t mind paying extra for a good experience while engaging in these activities, and my iPhone does deliver on that front.
Gifting I’m a person of very few needs so my wife finds it hard to gift me anything. When my previous iPhone crashed, I convinced myself to buy an Android. But my wife knows I’m fond of my iPhone, and after years of gifting me weird T-shirts, she was delighted to finally find something to gift me that she knew I would truly value and use. She got me the the 6S+ as its bigger screen makes it easier to view and edit stuff.
Our possessions are not statements about who we are
If people see my car and form an opinion about me based on that, it’s their loss, not mine. If they really want to know what my beliefs are, they should come up and have a direct conversation with me, or read my blogs.
Likewise, if I wanted my iPhone to make a statement about me, I would make sure it can be recognised as an iPhone. But I do the opposite. My iPhone is encased in a anonymous black, plastic, armour case. This serves to protect it as it goes everywhere that I go including jogging and tennis. The case covers every inch of the phone so it looks like any one of the black flat phones you see all around you. Even the headphones I use are not from Apple, but a third party, black coloured, bluetooth pair. Only a close look of the phone will reveal the iconic home button that identifies it as an Apple.
In short, my possessions do not reflect who I am. They just reflect my needs. I need a 4 wheel vehicle to travel from Point A to Point B, so I have a car. I need to know about Apple because I blog about it, so I have an iPhone.
Nothing more, nothing less.
The way I see it, our consumer driven world is now like a chess game where a marketer makes a move, and expects us to make a certain countermove. What we need to do is figure out what he wants us to do. Then we should do the opposite, and try to imagine the look on his face!
One last thing. My wife absolutely detests my Nano, as she has completely bought into the artificial values of other cars created by people like me.