Retail Ninja Mind Trick #1: Association

Retailers create powerful and artificial associations for us--without us even knowing it.

Why do 50-something men buy red sports cars? Why do 30-something women buy $1,000 pairs of shoes? And why do teenagers demand a specific brand of clothes and refuse to wear anything else?

Because these products and these brands somehow make us feel a certain way. A red sports car symbolizes youth, vitality and hair. A pair of $1,000 shoes symbolizes sexiness, strength--and bunion surgery. A certain brand of jeans can be the difference between a teenager sitting with the cool kids and sitting with the band geeks (extra credit for any reader who can guess which group I sat with).

But why do these things carry powerful associations? They're just things, right? How is that they can make us feel anything?

Well, partly, it's because life as we know it is kind of ... empty. We have to work really hard to make life meaningful, and because most of us spend almost all of our time looking after our stuff, our careers, our mortgages and our kids, there's so little time left over that many of us find ourselves taking shortcuts to a meaningful and happy life. So we buy things that represent "meaning" to us.

But here's the thing: who decides these associations? Who creates them and who gives them meaning--to the point where people will even choose their friends based on a brand of pants?

Hint: if you actually think you decide, you're already doomed. Don't bother reading any more of this series.

Next up: Hedonic Adjustment

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chacha1 said...

ooooh, now I feel like such a rebel because I scoffed at the girls who craved Gloria Vanderbilt jeans (yes I know I am dating myself).

Except I myself whined for a pair of Candies shoes. Oops.

Just in case anyone out there doesn't remember, 13-year-olds looked like li'l tramps in 1979, too.

I have come a long way, though. The only garment I own from a "hot" design house is a pair of dressy sandals by Guess.

How much of "association" is also "aspiration," I wonder?

Anonymous said...

Ooooh! Ooooh! I know! I know! Our esteemed blogger was a "Band Geek"!

Daniel said...

Guilty as charged, Anonymous. :) You got me.


Anonymous said...

Hooray for band geeks!

Due to funding constraints (my rather frugal father and cheap mother) I never wore the "it" clothes in high school. Or ever really. Highlight of my senior year was one of the "it" girls with her head to toe brand names coming up to me and saying "you're not cool enough to be the valedictorian"

I don't really remember what I said, but boy it was nice to win! As if my clothes mattered