Spending is An Emotional Exercise

I am sure you’re aware of how emotional shopping has become in the last century. There was a time when buying was very much a practical exercise. When you needed pants, you went out and bought a serviceable pair. There were no designer labels. Your purchase was based on how good the material was and how much mileage you could get out of the pants. And the chances are good, you wouldn’t consider buying another pair until the current one had worn out.

Then in 1923, a man named Edward Bernays, a nephew of famous psychologist Sigmund Freud, was hired to help boost the post-World-War-1 economy in the United States. He taught retailers how to link purchasing with basic ego needs. Sex, status, prestige, and self-worth were intrinsically linked with the owning of products. Suddenly, the act of practical and frugal buying was turned into a negative trait. If you only owned one pair of practical pants, you were made to feel less-than, poor, and unworthy.

This was all done subtly, of course. In fact, it still is.

Successful marketers know how to subconsciously link their products to our base emotions. This is why the concepts of retail therapy and shop-aholism exist in our current society. We get an emotional high from buying certain foods, clothing or gadgets. If we start to become dependent on that high, the buying can get out of control. Ask any woman with a cupboard-full of unworn shoes.

Over the last few weeks, I met with a wonderful and successful coach and therapist who identified her services as a luxury, explicitly stating that they weren’t a necessity. Right next to her, a gentleman was drinking a Coca-Cola softdrink. I was suddenly aware of how much of a “necessary” item Coca-Cola has placed itself in the minds of the masses. The company has associated itself and it’s flagship product, the famous black fizzy drink, with feeling happy.

Being a healing therapist myself, I’m well aware of the importance of a regular massage session to maintain ourselves and our bodies in our hectic modern lifestyle. And you don’t need a PHD in Wellness to know that carbonated softdrinks are not the best for your body at any time. Yet, most people would sooner shell out for a can of Coke a day than for a relaxing massage a month.

Because at a sub-conscious level, the marketing gurus have succeeded in linking the idea of drinking the cola to happiness, while there aren’t any single massage or health therapy companies that have created a similar association.

What does this mean for you?

Two things. As a buyer, become more aware of what you consider necessities when constructing your shopping list. At an absolutely practical level, all you ever need is a single change of clothing and basic food. Everything else is optional. By managing your emotional spending, you will find you spend less money on a monthly basis, meaning you’ve more to put toward your savings and investments.

As a service or product provider, consider how you may be talking to your potential clients’ emotions when selling your wares. Regardless of your feelings about this way of selling, it is the predominant method used by all the savvy companies. And if any of those companies are your competition, you better learn how to play the game. Everybody buys for emotional reasons. They just justify intellectually.

Knowing this, be aware of the reasons your friends may give for purchasing a particular brand. Be aware as well of the emotions evoked through the more successful advertisements. Also, know that the really good ones are very subtle and people are not aware of how much they are influenced. Everybody you present with this information, including yourself, will immediately claim they are not influenced. Of course, if you truly do buy without emotional bias, you would be happy to get by on the bare essentials. You wouldn’t need designer, name-brand foods. You wouldn’t need an entire wardrobe of clothing. You wouldn’t need a fancy brand car or high-priced gadgets. No-name products would do just as well.

Consider your feelings (positive and negative) with regard to the following brands: Apple, Microsoft, VW, BMW, Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Woolworths, Pep, Ackermans, Ralph Lauren, Pierre Cardin, Virgin, Nike.

To name but a few of the brands you may be regularly exposed to. Every brand has an emotional trigger. The major players spend vast sums of money in research and advertising and various other subtle ways of ensuring you see their brand name on a regular basis and associate it with particular emotions.

And, yes, there are certain items (tech gadgets in particular) that are only produced by the bigger companies. How many of these do you really need? How many are show-off purchases?

I’m not slating owning really nice items. I love owning nice items. I just want you, as a consumer, to be more conscious of why you purchase what you’re purchasing. And, of course, from a business perspective, you may want to use this knowledge to your advantage.

Some food for thought.