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Are you Marketing to ME?

By Shamus
on Saturday Sep 16, 2006
Filed under:


Advertisements are not written with the engineer in mind. I know this. Marketing – particularly the marketing of personal care products – is aimed at people who care about image. Ads are for people who will buy something not based on what they think of the product, but based on what they think other people think of a product. They are for people who can be hooked by clever slogans, soothing words, nice images, and who recoil at the cruel, hard world of numbers and quantifiable properties. You know, normal people.

If someone is selling perfume, they don’t bother telling you it smells good. They show you people who they hope you will envy or desire to emulate, and then imply that they use the given perfume. Engineers are all but immune to this sort of thing because a) Who cares what that moody idiot uses? and b) Why should I expect the same results? Plus: c) while we’re at it, just what sort of results are we talking about here? How does this increase my chances of mating with another person as compared to smelling like regular B.O.? How much will this improve my odds? How were those numbers obtained, and what was the error margin of the study?

No, marketing to engineers and mathematicians is mostly a waste of time. Better to aim your salesmanship at their friends, spouses, and coworkers and hope your product is purchased as a gift on their behalf. Given the way engineers tend to smell, this is actually a pretty safe bet.

I know all of this, but I still get incredulous when I read the idiotic things I see on packaging. I get irritated and defensive, as if someone wrote them for me. What do you mean? Do you actually expect me to believe this stuff? You think I’m an idiot or something?

Case in point:

Suave Conditioner

Suave hair goop. Haircare has now advanced so far that you need a PHD in Molecular Biology just to get your hair wet. Shampoo, PH-balancing conditioner, oily / dry correctional post-conditioner rinse, super-hold gel, and let us not forget that towering nemesis of the ozone layer, hairspray. (And let us not speak of the complex chemistry set they sell you if you plan on changing your hair color!) Whatever this is, the back of the bottle has this to teach me:

Suave Conditioner – Costs less than more expensive brands!

Translation: This product does X, and costs less than products which cost more. Of course it costs less than more expensive brands. It would be impossible for it to be otherwise! It reminds me of this old post from Steven: A blurb which sounds nice but contains no information.

But I suppose that’s better than simple nonsense:

A box of off-brand generic band-aids.

Seems harmless enough. But when we look closer:

A box of off-brand generic band-aids.

What exactly is “family protection”, and how would it differ from the other forms of protection offered by other types of band-aids? Are these designed to be worn by more than one person at a time?

And my favorite sort of blurb: The herbal paradise utopian new-age eco-spiritual sales pitch:

Some sort of herbal thing. Stuff.

Go deeper into a world of botanical bliss and unleash the power of your naturally beautiful hair. This luxurious conditioner, blended with 100% organic botanicals will take your hair to a place it’s never been before.

This one paragraph is a deep, bountiful source of untapped insanity. This reads less like a sales pitch for shampoo and more like an invitation to join a cult. Fully deconstructing this and holding each bit of sophistry up to the cold light of reason would take ten pages, but my favorite bit is this: “will take your hair to a place it’s never been before”. So, I guess it’s like the U.S.S. Enterprise of shampoo? Scotty! Three to beam down, plus my hair!

Comments (10)

  1. Some of that stuff almost reads like Engrish.

  2. Heather says:

    They also don’t consider those who buy only what is cheapest, be it on sale, with coupon, or whatever. They think that they will get you hooked, they don’t realize that savvey moms choose cheap. My favorite shampoo is the one that is free because of overlapping coupons and sales.

  3. Shamus says:

    Which is, I’m sure, how we ended up with the above bottle of barking herbal madness shampoo.

  4. BeckoningChasm says:

    I think that last shampoo would be perfect for Medusa (not the ancient Greek one, the Marvel Inhuman one).

  5. Hair Women says:

    LOL BeckoningChasm, definately a good post.

  6. Tola says:

    Given the nature of the standard Herbal Essences adverts, are you SURPRISED?

  7. Davey says:

    I now have no reason to take a shower, thanks!

  8. Annon says:

    I always thought it would be entertaining to see a commercial that just put everything down on the table, up front. I visualise a car insurance commercial (maybe one with that gecko) where the advertizer would just stand up and say “Please give us money. That’s all we’re really here for–to take money from as many people as possible so when one of you gets hurt when can pay the bill just before snatching more money from you. And we’re damned good at it too!”

    Or something to that effect.

    Vis-a-vis the abominable hair product, I would say you’re looking at it the wrong way. Instead of getting annoyed, have fun with it. Here in Armpit IN, there is [i]nothing[/i] to do. What better way to fight boredom than to stroll through Wal-Mart with a good friend of yours doing nothing and look for the inane ways that companies try to dupe the common man. An example: Excedrin Migraine. A bottle of 50 Excedrine Migraine used to go for 2 to 3 dollars more than regular, even though it had the exact same active ingredients in the exact same proportions as plain old Excedrin. People spent more money because it said “Migraine” one the box. Companies are finding that the generic brand sells better purely because people think it is cheaper, especially with bulk food-type items. Again at Wal-Mart, the name brand of milk is a dime cheaper than generic, because some idiots won’t even look.

    As a fellow engineer, I would say we both picked the wrong vocation. Here we are using our brains for consturctive thought when I could make a killing doing just the opposite in advertizing. Still, it does spice up a little grocery shopping.

  9. Joel D says:

    Shamus, thanks for another fit of late-night giggles.

  10. Brickman says:

    “This reads less like a sales pitch for shampoo and more like an invitation to join a cult.”

    And to think, until now I always thought the comic was the best part of your site. That’s pure gold, there.

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