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How not to fall for BS advertising

Updated on January 27, 2014

How to be a smart customer

Once upon a time our year was divided into four astronomical seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter. Things have changed. Today the year is divided into shopping seasons. Pretty much each month has its own holiday that you simply MUST celebrate by buying stuff. From Valentine's Day to Christmas, sales people are hunting for you, too often choosing not-too-ethical practices to tempt a customer. How not to fall for marketing tricks? How not to be manipulated by advertising specialists? This page tries to answer those questions.

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money public domain
money public domain

Purpose of advertising

Logic is your best protection against unhealthy marketing strategies. The most basic thing to remember is rather simple - advertiser's purpose is to MAKE YOU BUY SOMETHING. Marketers don't know a thing about your personal circumstances, your needs and limitations, their aim is to make a sale - not, as they are trying to make you believe, to make you happy.

Can I repeat it once again? Sellers are not there to make you happy. They are earning their daily bread by persuading you to buy things. Their life, comfort, success depend on you paying for their product. If you (or someone) don't buy the merchandise, a merchant does not get the profit.

Now, not too many people go into advertising for the pure joy of it, with thousands put aside to live off if something goes wrong with the selling. Nope, for most sellers out there it's a simple choice - sell and pay the bills or... don't.

Please keep that in mind when shopping.

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Repeat every day before going to bed, 300 times:

The purpose of advertising is making money for the seller, NOT making you happy

dangerous sales public domain
dangerous sales public domain

Advertising and (white) lies

Most people (and yes, advertisers, marketers etc. do belong to this group, although sometimes it's hard to believe) feel uncomfortable when telling a direct lie. It gets easier when you lie to someone you've never met, but still - big fat lies are dangerous, because nobody wants to deal with liars.

Unless, of course, circumstances ensure you won't get caught. Let me give you a real life example:

'Our manufacturer gave us better price for the product. We pass this benefit to you by offering you the lowered price'

Sounds great, doesn't it?

How about:

'Our competition is cutting prices and we have to lower ours because nobody buys from us anymore. We do it with heavy heart, as it has direct impact on our company's profits, but we have no other choice'.

Which one are you more likely to hear as a customer?

Which one do you think is true?

How about white lies then? There's a hell of grey territory between the absolute truth and straight lie. Keeping an important information secret may not fall directly under the definition of 'lying', but it has the same effect - it prevents you from seeing the whole picture and making an informed decision. Stressing or downplaying particular product features influences the way you see it.

Such practices are not an exception - today they are norm. What can you do to protect yourself?

1. Ask questions before you buy. Even (especially!) the uncomfortable ones.

2. Read the small print very, very carefully.

3. If something looks to good to be true, it probably is. Remember, price you're paying is meant to cover the product cost AND pay for keeping the business going (you think paper on which your invoice is printed buys itself?) AND pay wages of the seller (and, optionally, his employees). There is no way around it. If someone claims otherwise - they lie.

4. Think before you buy. This is your very best anti-fraud protection.

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Do you believe in advertising?

I am a total radical and believe that all advertisers lie to the best of their ability. What is your opinion?

Do you think advertisements lie?

See results

True or False?

True or False?
True or False?
dreaming woman public domain
dreaming woman public domain

Selling dreams

We all want to be happy, loved, safe, accepted, prosperous. These are basic needs and dreams common to all of human kind, and you could probably add a few yourself.

Unfortunately marketers know about it too. They also know your fears and doubts.


A device to keep your child absolutely safe. An e-book to make you a millionaire without any actual work. A wonder pill causing you to shed extra kilograms without diet or work-out. A workshop to solve all your personal problems. And so on.

We all would love this to be true. It isn't. There are no fairy godmothers desperate to make your life a fairy tale, at least not outside fairy tales.

Please remember about it.

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christmas lights public domain
christmas lights public domain

Artificial needs

Do you really, absolutely, completely need those spider-shaped candies on Halloween Eve? Is it totally necessary to put Christmas decorations into every room, corner, window and cupboard in your house (plus the roof, lawn, fence, drive...)? Will the book get any less helpful if you bring it home from the library instead of a shop? Advertisers keep repeating that it will but... is it absolutely true? Would the visiting children think any worse of you if they got ordinary chocolates? Will the world end if you restrict your decorations to a Christmas tree? The book won't suffer by being owned by the library either.

Marketers try to make you believe that you can't live without mountains of stuff (which they will be happy to provide you with at this incredible, irresistibly low price, lowered even more ESPECIALLY for you).

I've got a surprise for you - actually, it's the other way round. The less junk in your life, the happier you are, end of story. Human beings need very few things to stay alive, functional and satisfied (and you very well know what they are). All the extras excite for a few minutes, leave a lasting hole in your wallet and... end up packed away for years or thrown to the bin anyway.

Whenever you're about to make a purchase, ask yourself:


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Everybody has it, I'll have it too

sheep public domain
sheep public domain

Peer pressure is a fabulous tool for marketers. You're being told there's something wrong with you if you don't buy the latest gadget, don't follow fashions, don't stay up to date with the freshest trends.

BS, big, fat, stinking BS!

We are all individuals and it's one of the most precious features of our kind. Clone army may work well in Star Wars, but here on Earth it is not something worth striving for. You are a unique person, with your own tastes, quirks, preferences.

I may sound a bit cruel now, but I simply have to say this: if you stick to what is trendy at any given moment, you are no better than the clone next to you. You're indistinguishable.

When you remain yourself, you shine.

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cabbage public domain
cabbage public domain

A cabbage will not stop being a cabbage if you name it 'rose'

Instead of explaining, I'll illustrate this section with a few examples:

Don't miss on our deal of the week: a wooden pencil for the unbelievable price of 19.99!

Visit Chernobyl, the hottest travel destination this season!

Give your dear ones a gift of real luxury, choose our one-size-fits-all polyester track suit!

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reality check public domain
reality check public domain

Reality check

Most advertisements are trying to influence your judgement. Each item on sale is 'the best', 'top ten', 'highest quality', 'unique' etc.

I've lost count of occasions when I've seen a tag 'unique' attached to an item mass produced in China. Terms like 'unique', 'best', 'special' are well-working marketing baits (after all, we all want to buy the best, right?) but they are also very hard to confront with reality.

You can't argue with 'yellow', or 'wooden', but be careful with all the rest. Unverifiable words are commonly abused in the world of advertising.

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False promises

gift public domain
gift public domain

When browsing the Web, I often visit websites titled 'Best gifts for her this season' or similar. While the title varies from website to website, one thing tends to stay the same - the ever-present promise that such and such item will make the girl insanely happy.

Can I tell you a secret? If I were to describe my personal reaction to products advertised, it would look more or less like this:

0% of items advertised - oh my, you've just made me insanely happy!

1% of items advertised - hm, that's interesting. I actually like it.

9% of items advertised - well, it didn't sweep me off my feet, but at least I won't throw it out of the window the minute you're out of the door

90% of items advertised - you kidding me? You can't seriously think of giving me THAT? No, mister, we're done here.

I really am not that different from all the girls out there, so think twice before you trust a total stranger to know tastes of your girlfriend, ok?

The same holds true for all other miracle-promising recommendations out there.

Miracles don't happen. Full stop.

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Happy Shopping!

What are your thoughts on BS advertising?

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    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 5 years ago from Texas

      I don't pay much attention to advertising, because, like you, I know they are just trying to get me to purchase something. I learned long ago to think before buying. If I really want or need something, I can always return to purchase it.

      As for gifts, you are right on! The best gifts I've ever received cost little or nothing, and I treasure them more than the expensive ones. Nice article!

    • profile image

      dannystaple 5 years ago

      I've started to view much advertising as BS until proven innocent. Sad really - but sales has been too aggressive and burned any credibility at a terrible rate. We've had a few people try to pull the wool over our eyes - you definitely get better at spotting those that are dodgy. The lens also gave me some laughs too.