Do You Let Yourself Be Manipulated To Buy?

Remember my Can You Resist $107 Worth of Advertising post from a few months ago? For those readers who missed it, this post discussed how the entire advertising budget of the entire food industry in the United States works out to only $107 per person per year.

In other words, in order to keep from spending ourselves silly, each consumer must resist the enormous pressure of about nine dollars a month in advertising. Nine bucks.

There was some excellent back and forth in the comments after that post, but one of the most intriguing comments came from the blogger who inspired the post in the first place, and there's a specific part of it I'd like to address directly:

"Yes, they may be spending "only" $107 on advertising per person. But they're spending even more than that on packaging design (expertly designed to manipulate us), research and development (designed to manipulate through taste, whether it's healthful or not), lobbying (food policy is such a huge component of this), and so much more."

Let me say first that I'm grateful for reactions like these from readers because they start conversations that make us all smarter and more savvy as consumers. But what I'd like to do is get at the subtext and the implications of this striking statement by asking three questions to readers:

1) Have you ever been "manipulated" to buy a food product by the design of the package?

2) Should food companies be required to sell food that doesn't taste very good?

3) Should owners of food companies be forbidden to advocate for themselves in the political system that we have collectively created? (Careful: this is a trick question.)

Readers, I want to know your thoughts to any or all of these questions. Share your reactions in the comments!

Once again, I owe an enormous debt of thanks to Andrew at Eating Rules for inspiring this post.

Related Posts:
How to Defeat the Retail Industry's Ninja Mind Tricks
The Mysteriously Shrinking Hershey's Bar
Where Going Generic Works... And Where It Doesn't
What's Your Favorite Consumer Empowerment Tip?
The Top Lame-Ass Excuses Between You and Better Health

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Anonymous said...

Collectively Created - you have to be joking! Without getting into how much sway the Koch brothers have in our system, just today in the Washington Post
Thirty-three members of Congress have directed more than $300 million in earmarks and other spending provisions to dozens of public projects that are next to or within about two miles of the lawmakers’ own property, according to a Washington Post investigation.
Sorry, I was not in that collective & I doubt that I am in the food industries collective either.

Steve Tallant said...

Remember when we were kids and the original "generic" foods came out? White packaging, with black print saying what the item was. Green Beans, Corn, Beer, Pasta. Went over like a lead balloon. Why? People want to purchase not just food that tastes good, but food that makes you feel good and safe. Generic packaging "felt" inferior - though the products were generally fine. So sure, I've certainly made conscious food purchase decisions based on packaging. If a company is not going to put the effort into appealing, professional packaging, what effort are they putting into what's in the package? (or so goes the thinking)

As to the other stuff, you're challenging Mom, Apple Pie and the American Way. Big Food is Big Business. The same issues and questions are applicable to Wal-Mart. Americans WANT Big Food, despite screaming to the heavens about "local", "organic", "farm to table", etc.

Martha said...

Interesting read...

chacha1 said...

"1) Have you ever been "manipulated" to buy a food product by the design of the package?" Not manipulated but certainly influenced. If packaging is attractive, or visually sophisticated, or just makes the product look appealing, I'm not ashamed to say I'm more likely to buy that than the adjacent, mostly-identical product with a label that looks like the average 8 yr old made it. To me a thoughtfully-designed package signals more care taken with the product. This may be completely illusory but I cannot tell a lie.

"2) Should food companies be required to sell food that doesn't taste very good?" LMAO yes, all products that are non-nutritive should contain no yummy salt, sugar, or fat (or their artificial analogues). I see what you did there.

"3) Should owners of food companies be forbidden to advocate for themselves in the political system that we have collectively created?" Well, in my perfect world lobbying would be banned. It's not necessary anymore. Any citizen or company can reach his/her/its elected representatives 24/7/365. So YEAH. :-)

Daniel said...

Good comments so far, thanks for the insights. A few reactions:

Anonymous: I can't really comment on the Koch Brothers, but despite all the power that Big Food supposedly has over all of us, I still have never been gang-tackled by food company executives and forced to eat unhealthy food. If you've ever had a different experience, I'd love to hear about it. :)

Martha: interesting (and worrisome) article on privacy, thank you for sharing. But that's just targeting, right? How does this control the consumer?


Daniel said...

Steve and Chacha: Interesting points about being influenced by packaging. On some level I hear it, but on another level we are increasingly thinking of fancy packaging in the same way we think about advertising and marketing spending: it's something that just adds to the cost stack of what the consumer is buying.

One other thought: there are some instances where we prefer the generic products. But not always. And of course, ugly, unprofessional packaging doesn't exactly sell. So yes, this is a great nuance. Thanks for the input.


Joanne said...

Well, I think it's also important to remember that you can look at it as that companies spend $107 per person on advertising...but really, I'd say the population is broken up into a group of people who are CONSTANTLY being influenced/manipulated by advertising and a subset of people who never/rarely are. and companies know that, and are tailoring their advertising towards the former rather than the latter.

I think I was manipulated by advertising much more when I was younger but the more I learn about the food industry, the less susceptible I am. I also don't own a tv, which helps. And I really almost never buy processed foods as a general rule.