al berrios & co. CONSUMER STRATEGIES REPORT 10.07.03: Us Vs. Them: An Abstract Discussion on Programming Consumers

[1] UPDATES: Studies, Events
[2] CONSUMER: Us Vs. Them: An Abstract Discussion on Programming Consumers

"More people may be better educated these days, but they are also more insulated and naïve. Higher education tends to favor theory over judgment rather than assimilate the benefits of both. Individuals thus become less decisive and less, well, individualistic. This leads to more vacillation, interdependence on others, and consensual validation for the legitimacy of any thought and action. Unfortunately, this group dynamic follows a natural progression from peer pressure and group-think to political correctness and coercion, culminating in potential tyranny of majorities and outright totalitarianism." - Richard Reay, Letters to the Editor, Opinions, Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, August 6th, 2003.

Good morning execs,

I had a theory that our public school system didn't teach us how to realize our dreams, define our goals, nor achieve happiness as a member of society. After all, how many of you knew what you wanted to do upon graduating college? You probably got a good job, but decided you didn't like it. So you went back to grad school to increase your value, but how can you increase your value if you don't know who wants you? If you do, are you just learning to work for one company or industry? The purpose of life, it appears, is to always be a peon. In upcoming months, al berrios & co. will undertake studies and write articles on this matter from the viewpoints of academic administrators, high school students, and of course, your truly. Be on the look-out.

This Thursday, October 9, I'm hosting the first of what will be several executive panels at Baruch College in New York. Executives from advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather will come to talk about creativity and agency life. Be there or be square. Reply for details.

On November 6th, 2003, yours truly will also be hosting a small interview of senior marketers at Baruch College in New York, as part of our ongoing executive panel series. The goal, to figure out to how to spend $100,000,000 reaching consumers and other stuff you just can't learn in marketing textbooks. It's free to go, just let me know.

Enjoy your REPORT!


Us Vs. Them: An Abstract Discussion on Programming Consumers

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> Programming Us To Be Better Buyers
> The Tools They Use
> Why Can't They Just Do It?
> So Who Is The Leading Class?

It hit me like a Mike Tyson uppercut - we're living in a world with two classes of people: the leading class and the grunt class. The grunt class is supposed to be you, me, and most of the people we know. We're expected to do our jobs, without question, and not desire more than what they want for us.

The leading class needs us to work for them. They program and manipulate us with public schooling, entertainment, fashion, and alcohol. Everywhere you look, you see their influence, but we don't recognize it because we're not supposed to see it. Jersey City Board of Ed's new advertising campaign tells us that "the road to [our] dreams goes straight through the schoolhouse", then tells us that we should dream about being nurses, police, military, firefighters. With all due respect, why not doctors, lawyers, or consultants? The leading class has even convinced us that it's not good to be over-educated (giving it derogatory terms such as nerd, geek, brainiac, dweeb, wise guy, etc) and that material possessions and the jobs we hold define our individual success (as opposed to family, relationships, and altruism). Of course, you knew this all along.

Programming Us To Be Better Buyers

Last week, I received my re-certification to teach grammar school and high school. The process took me through a new, intensive, Teaching-masters crash-course and opened my eyes to the unimaginable - schools don't teach, they program.

Not everyone's expected to learn (in fact, the less they know, the better consumers they are), and those who do move on to the next phase - college - encounter a non-stop assault of entertaining distractions and peer pressure that keep them from learning (and questioning authority). But if you do learn, guess what, you've learned based on the standards set by leaders, not your own, and since leaders want to keep the ever growing grunt population happy, these standards are set low enough that they're fairly easy to meet if you're programmed correctly. And we're all perfectly happy thinking we have choices because we've met societal standards.

Since biblical times, grunts have always served as a solid economic platform for leaders. The less choices we're aware of, the easier it is to get us to buy stuff. And the more difficult it is to understand stuff, the more likely we are to stop thinking and accept it. Forget high/low involvement decision making processes, if it caters to our cravings, it's good.

The Tools They Use

We can't stand to live without music, movies, gambling, strip clubs, and video games. But when asked why, most state emotions as the leading factor for their purchase decisions. Therefore, it's safe to say that the entertainment industry is completely irrational. No one is expected to understand why consumers place value on content that's 1) recorded on rapidly-outdated technology, 2) that looses marginal utility due to scarcity of our time (there's only so many times you can watch the same thing over and over), and 3) can't be resold anyway, due to copyright restrictions.

Fashion allows us to fit into society. You may call yourself a free-thinking independent grunge-kid or rapper, but you're not the only one. You may not fit into your neighborhood, but you're part of a group of people that have a similar desire as you to belong to something. The clothes we wear, the chemicals we put in our hair, the make-up that color our bodies, and even the fragrances that mimic natural scents are all part of our desire to fit in to someone else's standards.

Why is it that the poorer the neighborhood, the more liquor stores you can find? That jails have the largest smoking populations? It's not a coincidence that a consumer's inability to earn money is directly associated with their addictions and need to sustain them, sacrificing all other expenses. But without this class of people, the companies that produce these substances would probably go out of business.

I was thinking about producing quality teachers the same way you produce quality cars on an assembly line. But you can't, even if they've spent generations in academia, have Ph.D's coming out the ying-yang, and have no lives other than teaching. There are too many variables regarding types of teachers and types of students.

The amazing thing is that we have created an assembly line for teachers and we're all products of it. Except, in this assembly line, the only color available really is black (a reference to Henry Ford's famous reply, for all you political-correctness-violation hounds), even though its claimed you can get an education in a variety of ways (i.e. Special Ed, E.S.L., Zero-Tolerance). The question grunts struggle with is shouldn't everyone be entitled to an education. Leaders don't struggle, the answer is always no. (After all, no one likes their authority questioned and their power base weakened.)

Why Can't They Just Do It?

I know, this sounds like some sort of massive conspiracy out of "1984". It was literally an epiphany I had while reading a book - as if the sentence I was reading suddenly changed and revealed all this to me. But check this out, this revelation isn't totally crazy: many of you who are reading this are entrepreneurs. You do it because you've decided that you're tired of adhering to someone else's standards. You live and breathe out-of-the-box. And you often wonder how you can inspire those around you to be like you. Unfortunately, as I'm sure you've already learned, that's pretty near impossible without a steady paycheck and benefits.

Risk-aversion is part of the programming so entrepreneurship isn't something everyone is willing to do. Since birth we're programmed to avoid hitting our heads on hard surfaces, playing with sharp objects, swallowing small toys, sticking our fingers in electrical sockets, burning ourselves with hot water and fire and that's just when we're babies. As we get older, it's all about avoiding parental abuse, avoiding rejection by our peers, and avoiding bad grades. As we become adults, we avoid arguing to please our bosses, avoid making noise to please our neighbors, and avoid our parental right to smack our kids into shape to please social services.

Just imagine if everyone was an entrepreneur, disregarding societal standards placed upon us by leaders? (No, I'm not saying to go out and pillage. Laws exist to guide our interactions with each other, not cramp your style. Remember, "due unto others" and stuff.) This goes a long way explaining why so many industries are experiencing consolidation, since consolidation is the absence of entrepreneurship, and risk-aversion is built into our culture.

So Who Is The Leading Class?

So who is the leading class? Bill Gates? No. George Bush? Yes. Sumner Redstone? No. Jeffrey Immelt? Yes. Your boss? No. Your pastor? Yes. Your teacher? No. Your teacher's boss? Yes. Leaders are entrepreneurs who do what they want, but always keep us in mind because without grunts, who would leaders lead? It's not bad being a grunt, as long as you realize you chose to be one.



Disclaimer: The recommendations, commentary and opinions published herein are based on public information sometimes referenced via hyperlinks. Any similarities or likeness to any ideas or commentary from any other sources not referenced is purely coincidental. al berrios & co. cannot control any results occurring from advice obtained from this publication nor any opinion(s) conveyed by any reader of this publication.

(c) 2001-2005. All Rights Reserved. al berrios & company, inc. Published by al berrios & co. This Report may not be reproduced or redistributed in any form without written permission from al berrios & co., subject to penalty.


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