How Commercials Get Us to Buy Stuff We Don't Need

Video screen capture. AJ+

I've done it, you've done it, we've all done it. But why do we do it?

How do advertisers get us to part with our hard-earned money for things we don't really need? Well, not you, of course, but all of those other suckers who go into debt trying to assuage their feelings of inadequacy through retail therapy...

Who are we kidding? We're just as susceptible to advertising and commercials as anyone else, and although our values might be aligned more with green, clean, and eco-friendly products, our opinions are still influenced by marketing campaigns that speak to these values. And if the products we buy because their advertising 'speaks to us' are things we really do need, and if those products do indeed live up to their green hype, then no harm done, right?

In a perfect world, perhaps, but in the real world, there's nearly as much misleading truthiness and greenwashing in the marketing for "natural" and "environmentally-friendly" items as there is in common mainstream advertising, so it's quite possible to be almost as environmentally-unfriendly by shopping "green," if by doing so we are trying to buy our way to a greener lifestyle.

Unless the company or product or marketing campaign is an extreme outlier (as some of Patagonia's advertising is), or unless we're ad-blocking ninjas both online and off, we're getting exposed to some 3500 advertisements each day that all want us to do one thing - buy more stuff.

How do they do it? This quick video from AJ+, featuring Jonah Sachs, founder of Free Range Studios (which produced The Story of Stuff and The Meatrix), lays out some of the psychological tactics used in commercials and advertising, among which is instilling in us a fear of missing out.