The Joneses

I’ve got a nightly ritual.

After I get done with finishing whatever it is I’m working on for the night, I go to the kitchen, open the pantry, look around, find nothing I really want, grab a glass from the cabinet, fill it with water, drink it down, head to the bathroom, brush my teeth, do the deed, then climb in bed with Lynne (usually already asleep at this point) and my iPad. When I know there is a show waiting for me, I’ll open the Hulu app, find what I’m looking for, and watch. Other times, I’ll open Netflix and find a movie to watch.

Wifey decided to watch a movie on Netflix last night. When I climbed into bed, she was halfway through The Joneses (aff link) with Demi Moore and David Duchovny. It didn’t take me long to be confused since I came in right in the middle of everything. Instead of starting it over, though, I watched it through to the end – not the most recommended way to watch a movie, I might add. At the end, I was intrigued, soI started the movie over so I could catch the beginning.

So what? Well, the movie is a dark twist on the concept of keeping up with the Joneses. And it plays right into the psyche of a marketing nerd such as myself. The basic premise: a marketing firm (not a traditional one in the least) promises its clients to increase sales through “self-marketing”. In essence, the firm hires people to act as the “perfect family” and puts them in a nice house, with all the nice things you can conjure up – big screen LCD TVs, the latest handheld devices, Audi Roadsters, jewelry, high-end perfumes and cosmetics, and on it goes. The objective? Make your neighbors envious enough to buy the things you have. I won’t spoil the end, but it gets pretty grim.

The concept is actually pretty smart from a business standpoint. What better way to get people to buy your product than to have someone that is the epitome of status conspicuously wearing, driving, or using your product and talking about how wonderful it is to their “friends”. The guards are down, people have no idea they are actually being “sold”. The walls that we all have when we’re dealing with salespeople are virtually eliminated.

A Marketer’s Dilema

Having grown up in suburbia, the concept of keeping up with the Joneses is no mystery to me. I actually took advantage of this very concept myself when I was selling kitchen cutlery in college. I would walk into one neighbor’s house – 7 out of 10 which I had babysat their kids at least once or twice – and give my “presentation”. To seal the deal, simple, I just mentioned how the Joneses (yes, we actually had a family with last name Jones on our street) just bought the top-of-the-line set and they are stoked! I sold $15,000 in kitchen cutlery in 3 days – to give you some relation, that made me the top performing salesperson for the company in the entire nation.

As a marketing consultant, I’m in a position of awareness that many people can only pretend they are in. Many people believe they know when they are being sold or coerced. Everyone thinks they know how to deal with that retail sales associate or the car salesperson. See, the difference is, I have been professionally trained and educated to actually teach marketers and salespeople how to get in your head and convince you to buy their product – without you knowing it.

Watching The Joneses, however, I was re-awakened to the danger of being too good at my job as a marketer. Our society has been built on the premise that we are to spend, spend, spend. The concept of saving our money is, at times, unpatriotic. Whenever anyone talks about the economy, the only thing they really reference is spending. Is spending up or down. If spending is up, we are in a positive economy. If spending is down, times are bad and we have to go out and spend more to “turn the economy around”.

Consumerism, fueled by greedy corporate executives in a capitalist society, has the potential to destroy each and every one of us.

The trouble I face, is that I believe there are companies out there, with products that are truly useful, that deserve to get their message out. Weeding through all the companies out there, to find the ones that deserve getting help, can be a challenge, to say the least. The world of high-fashion and luxury cars makes sense to me. I get it. I used to want to live it – terribly. Growing up in suburbia will do that to most people. Even those of us that think we don’t want all those things still find ourselves struggling to feel as though we fit in when we don’t have all those niceties.

Responsible Marketing vs. Buyer Beware

Companies that offer genuinely useful products that serve a purpose should be doing everything they can to educate and inform their buyers. Companies that are simply trying to make a buck should be squashed. Marketing responsibly should be a function of the companies performing the act. Unfortunately, the concept of self-regulation in a greed-driven society is naive, at best.

The responsibility then falls to the consumer, to you. My job, as a marketer, is to get you to buy the things I’m selling. And make no mistake, I’m very good at my job. My clients wouldn’t keep me around if I wasn’t – that’s just reality. I know how to get in your head. I know how to make you turn that simple want for a product into a need in your mind without breaking a sweat. And when you need something, naturally the course of action is to buy it.

So, next time you’re thinking of buying something, don’t ignore your own conscious telling you that you don’t really need to buy that product. It’s probably telling you the truth. Think about me, whispering in your ear, convincing you that you need this product, or you won’t know what to do with yourself. You don’t really need it, I’m actually full of it.

Okay, that last part isn’t really always true, especially because I only work with clients that actually have products worth buying – when it makes sense to buy them. I will never condone your purchasing a product if you can’t afford it. Everyone’s definition is different, but mine is this: if you don’t have the money (not the credit, credit truly is evil), then you can’t afford it. And if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. The responsibility is yours. Don’t rely on “truth in advertising” laws – they suck, and they don’t really protect you from anything.

Now, go out and spend. Wait, that’s not what I meant, or was it? Hmm…