Although my daughter took her first degree in marketing and I know several people who work or worked in advertising, I am neither expert in the theories behind persuading people to buy things they didn’t know they wanted, nor a fan of the means by which they do so.
For me, television commercials have always been unnatural interruptions to programmes during which one took a comfort break, prepared a cup of tea, or even made a (hopefully brief) telephone call to someone you’d hitherto promised, but forgotten, to ring.
The advent of recording and ‘fast-forwarding’ television programmes was a boon to those of my persuasion. I now regularly record ITV dramas and other programmes that are surrounded by commercials, rather than watch them as they go out, simply for the schoolboy-ish pleasure of being able to flick through the commercials and thereby reduce the amount of my precious time spent watching the action proper. [I saw a newspaper report yesterday claiming that, during the last series of Downton Abbey – which as it happens I don’t watch – approximately 20 full minutes of every 90 minute transmission slot was taken up with commercials.]
Yesterday I had a more personal brush with the inside of the marketing industry.
Nipping into town in order to buy something for lunch, I was stopped in the street by a lady in her sixties clutching a clipboard and asked if I used a male perfume and, if so, which one. I said ‘Yes’ and told her my choice of habit, which details she noted down.
She asked if I would mind taking part in a marketing survey that would take 15 minutes of my time. As I had nothing much else on – and was curious from my sceptical perspective on this sort of thing – I said yes. As we walked off to a nearby shop/office to do the business, she asked how old I was. When I answered 62, she initially commented that wouldn’t do, but then said “Oh well, it doesn’t matter, when they ask your age just say you’re 59”. Which I duly did.
The survey had three phases. First, I sat in a darkened room whilst a young lady put up slide images of shelves of perfumes and scents in a pharmacy shop-type setting and asked me to press a hand-held button when I spied one that I might like to buy.
Second, I was taken to another room where a different lady had me turn round to face a wall on which there was a poster of a similar shelving set-up and asked me to make the same choice, whereupon she then asked me some set questions designed (presumably) to inform her client perfume-manufacturer as to whether I like a particular form of packaging that they were trialling, or not.
Third, I was put at a computer, shown two different makes of male scent and asked various questions about whether I liked their packaging and – if so – why. The final leg of this test was answering questions as to how likely the packaging (and pricing) on show would prompt me try the product – on a scale from very unlikely … to quite likely … right through to ‘very likely’.
Apart from the fact that doing the survey took me 28 minutes, not 15, I kind of ‘enjoyed’ the experience, I suppose in the same way that one enjoys getting one’s hair cut or having a spa treatment.
However, throughout I retained a permanent ‘disconnect’ from the survey process and emerged back into the sunlight marginally more sceptical about the art of marketing than ever.
Why should this be?
Well, as far as I could tell, the designers of the survey has completely failed to understand the male psyche – or at least, the psyche of a male like me, who is both ancient and instinctively averse to trying new things.
I was somewhat resistant the concept of using male scent – or ‘poof-juice’ as we used to call it in those politically incorrect days – until my mid-twenties when, accompanied to a department store by a girlfriend who helped me choose it, I alighted upon a product called Eternity. Since then, on and off, I’ve been using it for the past thirty-five years.
I learned for the first time from the lady with the clipboard yesterday that it is actually produced by one of the big names. She’d originally asked me to look for my preferred fragrance on her clipboard list and, having done this, I’d announced it wasn’t there.
Which was it then? “Eternity”. “Oh, that’s by Calvin Klein which is on my list” she responded, pointing this out to me.
The trouble with all three parts of the survey mentioned above is that – whenever I was asked to look at a representation of a shop shelf of male perfume products and choose one, and/or then asked how likely the specifics of the particular products’ packaging was to make me try and/or buy them – I was into the realms of fiction as far as my response was concerned, despite my willingness to be honest (and indeed help them) with my decisions on the multiple choice questions and/or my comments when sought.
The fact is, when asked look at shelves of male perfumes and choose the most attractive from a packaging sense, I was only looking for the Eternity example. Because that’s the one I buy.
When directed towards two other manufacturers’ products – and asked to pronounce how likely their packaging was to make me buy them – I was ‘making up’ my responses. The fact is that I would never be tempted to buy either of them, whatever their packaging was [well, unless one of them promised that a crisp £10 note would be inside the box along with the perfume].
I’m an Eternity man. If I’ve run out, go to a store in order to buy some and find they don’t have it, I just walk out. And that’s the long and the short of it.