Do you consider yourself easily affected by advertising? Are you someone who thinks through possibilities and foresees potential issues? We often think we are pretty smart. But our failure to anticipate challenges or plan ahead often leaves us making last minute decisions that are unwise or unhealthy. No one ever puts McDonald’s on the calendar as a destination. People don’t go out of their way to drive for hours to get the tastiest food available at the golden arches. People don’t plan on going into credit card debt with Ms. Visa. And people rarely wake up surprised after carrying around the weight of Sallie Mae, fifteen years after school is finished.
Companies fill in the gaps when individuals and families plan poorly, do not plan at all, or fail to build a life around efficient principles and habits. The effects of this poor planning often result in several extra pounds around the waist, clogged arteries, or mountains of unplanned, stressful debt. Companies like visa base their entire profit model on the expectation that individuals will not pay off their credit cards and use their product in an unadvertised way. Are they bad companies? Not necessarily. Most provide goods or services that are in demand by unwitting consumers. They are simply reacting to a gap they see in the market. And they are pretty crafty at it. If you are not careful, you will find out the hard way that McDonald’s is smarter than you.
What They Do Right
You’ve got to give it to them. They do an incredible job. Despite many individuals’ personal distastes, anyone can drive around a large city and realize that McD’s has done a great job of selling lots and lots of hamburgers. Their advertising campaigns continue to drive sales and their presence and marketing is impressive. You would be hard pressed to find someone in the world that has not tried a lowly burger or crispy fries from Ms. Kroc.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve enjoyed a tasty treat or two from [Insert popular fast food chain name here]. For McDonald’s, I think I took a good ten year break somewhere in between middle school and our first road trip with the little one. But it surprised me at how well done and mature the fast food concept has become. I decided about three years ago that we would stop going through any drive-thru. If we were going to indulge in high calorie nastiness, we could at least spare the time expense of going into the restaurant and eating slowly while sitting at a table.
So, what are they doing right? They provide appealing food at inexpensive prices. They have safe places for kids to play. They have wifi, fancy coffee drinks, and smoothies to cater to the adults who need a break from their kids. They have perfected the use of salt, sugar, and fat to make their food craveable. They have drive thru for the extra lazy and, honestly, they know their target audience really well. And ultimately, they are convenient for the stressed out, overfed, willpowerless, busy, hungry, and tired. Since I don’t want to leave anyone out, Visa does a pretty good job of extending credit to those who make just enough money, but plan so poorly that they will pay $1,000s of dollars in interest to live a lifestyle built to impress other people. They do a great job of perpetuating the illusion that credit card debt can fill in the gaps of horrible budgeting or poor communication within families. They are great at anticipating emergencies, and make millions in profit from individuals and families that are unwilling to face financial realities. In fact, their marketing campaigns are so effective they are able to instill in our brains the idea that: If you need us, we will be there for you.
Beating the System
What does it take to win in a system that spends millions of dollar to influence your opinion and behavior? Well, you can start by limiting your exposure to the system. For companies with products designed to meet your shortcoming, limit the opportunities they have to be there for you. Be there for yourself. In addition, here are some alternatives to being better prepared for the inevitable challenges that will arise:
- Plan, even just a little bit
- Practice a low information diet
- Don’t buy crap you can’t afford
- Make it more convenient to enjoy wise choices
- Think ahead and anticipate challenges
- Limit your exposure to advertising
- Limit your children’s exposure to marketing/advertising
Simply being prepared, both mentally and physically makes all the world of difference. Simple choices like, what you eat for every meal, must be made daily. Why not think through the potential choices before you are in a rush and starving? When doing activities with small groups, spend a few minutes thinking through current situations and ones that are likely to occur in the near future. Financially, spend a few minutes at the beginning of the year to anticipate future financial obligations. What, Christmas came again this year? Oh man, the car needs an oil change and new tires- who knew that would happen? Think through events that will happen and prepare for them. Suggest healthy options and prepare for things like long car rides, busy days, or holiday travel.
Companies fill in the gaps when individuals and families plan poorly, do not plan at all, or fail to build a life around efficient principles and habits. Build a lifestyle based on margin and healthy choices. Plan ahead in areas where you know temptations will arise. Have healthy options available and work towards developing efficient habits. Don’t let corporate advertising campaigns become smarter than you.