On Mad Men, Con Artists & Advertising
7 ideas on how to avoid being manipulated by communication experts
How much do you really know about human nature? Not much right. At least not as much as professional advertising agencies, corporate communication experts, and social media platforms do. They understand how to manipulate our behavior to their advantage in the wake of our ignorance, attention deficit, and busyness.
Last week I read a post on LinkedIn about a celebrated communication experts’ key insights into human nature which can be summarized as follows:
We think less than we think and prefer following habits and emotions.
We pretend we’re rational but in reality we make emotional decisions.
We are social beings, choosing to follow the herd over critical thinking.
Understanding this is invaluable to every organisation to manipulate (sorry, have an impact on) our behavior to sell us more things we don’t need to spend money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like, to freely quote personal finance expert Dave Ramsey.
Harvard professor and biologist Edward O. Wilson, regarded as the father of sociobiology makes the dilemma of human nature even more clear: “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”
Meta stands for manipulative
The most extreme and in many eyes evil player in this field is of course Facebook who has designed a business model around collecting, mining, and selling behavioral meta data, until recently behind our backs, to the highest bidder. The new brand promise of Meta, Inc. is not about a future metaverse for users but of even more sinister ways for advertisers to manipulate behavioral meta data. Data that we volunteer for free.
Needless to say, the market economy is rigged – irrational and inefficient – and we are all sitting ducks, ready to be shot, flogged, and devoured in the name of manipulative consumption. Unless we get smarter, learn about human nature, and start acting like classic economic theory states, rationally, we are utterly screwed.
The thesis of frequent usage
That’s where the thesis of Fewer Better Things can be useful: only buy and own things that you frequently use, preferably used or recycled. It’s about rationally rightsizing our lives for the better of people and planet. It’s about deploying our limited attention wisely and blocking unwanted distractions. It’s about personal integrity over social likability and popularity. We are human beings, not f-ing pets.
Belief drive behavior and if we believe that we are not enough, as is the core premise of all fear-based advertising, we’ll keep shopping and filling up our spaces with the useless until we drop dead, missing out on the good stuff in life. It’s a waste of our time, attention, and money, and a tremendous waste of our planet’s resources.
The clash of the titans
So what’s the remedy here? How do we level the playing field between the non-stop onslaught of communication from highly paid corporate mercenaries and ourselves as intelligent human beings? Well, not surprisingly I’ve got a few ideas.
Know thyself. When you really know who you are, both as a human being and person, you don’t have to plug emotional holes with stuff you don’t need. During this process you’ll also learn that you are unique, like no-one else thus no-one knows you as well as you do yourself. Think and act accordingly.
Don’t listen to “friends”. In social media everyone is a friend but in reality very few are. By calling our online contacts for “friends”, instead of contacts, which they really are, we fool ourselves to believe that they know what we need and will show up when we need it the most. In reality, real friends are very rare.
Identify your essential needs. Once you know who you are and have learned to trust and love yourself then make a list of your real needs. Use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to guide you and only select stuff that you frequently need and use. Also, think about the diminishing return of an extra pair of jeans and the increasing cost in ownership, waste of money, and ecological impact.
Declutter and simplify your life. Get rid of everything not on your list of needs but be smart about how you divest: resell, freecycle, donate, or recycle.
Learn how to not give a shit about what you think people think of you. I’ve given talks infront of bankers and top executives in jeans and t-shirt and gotten raving reviews. That reminded me that we are who we are and not what we wear and that’s more than enough. To be clear: stop following others blindly and start leading your own examined lives. It’s called personal integrity.
Reuse what you have, repair what’s broken, resell what you don’t need. Only buy from sustainable brands that offer multi-use products, offer free repairs, free returns, and resell platforms. Divert your hard earned dollars from the greedy assholes to the real good guys. Vote with your feet and clicks.
Strive for mastery. Mastery is the antidote to consumption. When you acquire real skills you’ll learn that you need less. You understand that there is no stuff in the world that can help you reach self-fulfillment and realize your tremendous potential except for the work you do on yourself, for yourself. Let mastery be your guiding light, not the lastest sports car or oversized mansion.
I don’t just say this, as long-term subscribers know, I’ve been living this philosophy successfully for the past 15 years. If we spend less time on the useless we can spend more time on the useful, shifting the world from the path towards extinction that we are on today towards a better world and a healthier planet for coming generations. If we toss a few whiny non-taxpaying billionaires in the fire on the way, so much better.
Things You Should Check Out
Want to become an expert? David C. Baker has written the book “The Business of Expertise” on becoming an entrepreneurial expert. The central thesis is that you need to position your insights correctly to multiply expertise, impact, and wealth.
Ready to pull the plug on Facebook? Here is a great write-up by Jathan Sadowski, research fellow in the emerging technologies research lab at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. He tells us that it’s not too late and that it will only get worse.
Want to focus better? Here are 15 skills you can learn in how to improve your overall focus and attention. Tip: Start with turning off your smartphone.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler, writer, futurist and businessman
“The more you know, the less you need.” – Yvon Chouinard, rock climber, surfer, environmentalist and the fearless founder of Patagonia
“There is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention.” – Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and lecturer
About Fewer Better Things
This newsletter is about how to declutter and simplify our daily lives, only owning the essentials that we frequently use to reconquer wasted time, money, and attention. It’s a for-pay newsletter, with occasional free editions, to stay independent and ad-free.
I’m an advisor, speaker and writer on sustainability, technology, and innovation. Previously I developed and managed digital products in Silicon Valley. Today I live and work in a small surf shack in Southern California, practicing fewer better things.