Okay, I promise that this isn’t a business tutorial. Mostly, it’s me flipping out on how effectively I have been fooled by nice lighting and membership cards.
For example, I recently got a membership card to the Yogurtland by my house. Yogurtland is a frozen yogurt place, I don’t know if you guys have ever been to one. it’s got a lot of soft-serve pumps along one wall and stacks of paper bowls at one end of that. You take your bowl, fill it with the flavor of your choice, add toppings at the toppings bar, plop your sugary confection on a little froyo scale, and then you pay by the ounce.
Yogurtland has approximately twelve pumps and cycles through about a million flavors. Well. Maybe like one hundred and fifty. But it’s a lot. It is within easy biking distance to my house, so I end up going like two or three times a week, each time to try a new flavor. I figured, if I’m going to be such a super-loyal customer, I better get free stuff for it, so I signed up for a membership card. “The more ounces you buy, the more you get–free!” it said. Cool.
It took me two weeks to rack up my first reward, “Three Free Ounces” it said, and I was absolutely thrilled. At least, I was, until I used it and realized that all they’d given me was a dollar off my purchase. I was confused. I was betrayed. I realized that three ounces is one quarter of a tall coffee at Starbucks. I also realized that I usually get only about six ounces of froyo, which makes me feel much better about my sugar habit.
Here’s the trap of the membership card: The other day, I was thinking about getting a smoothie at Jamba Juice (also within biking distance) but then I thought “Well, if I’m going to get something sugary, I might as well go to Yogurtland and get some rewards–” I caught myself. Oh. That’s how they get you. They have bought my loyalty with a dollar off a froyo every thirty ounces I buy. I have been sucked into the swirling vortex of effective marketing. It’s not even that much of a reward, but the thought that you’re getting free stuff keeps you coming back for more. Ooooh, very tricky Yogurtland. I see your wicked plot.
Granted, it’s the same exact plot as every other store in the history of ever, but it was brought home to me with the glint of a blue and green and white cheerful looking membership card with strawberries on it, and the little spiderwebs it sent out to reel me in, promising free frozen yogurt.
That’s not the only example of effective marketing I have for you. Whole Foods, you know, the health food store, has a very sneaky way of making you buy things that are bad for you because the packaging and displays make them look like they are good for you. Here’s how it works: You walk into Whole Foods, and their watermelons are resting on a bed of straw. Their walls look like they’re made of wood, and the lighting is warm and welcoming. There are vitamins and dried fruit displayed at the end of each stall, and the produce section is stretching out to your right. When you go a little deeper, and see the charming pastries in their gold-lit wooden bakery display, arranged on brown parchment paper, with a sign on a chalkboard, and the cookies done up in little baskets with bows, you don’t bother worrying about how healthy it is. Their gelato isn’t ice cream, it’s Italian and put into cute little white paper bowls with a little sprig of mint on top. Don’t worry, this is Whole Foods. A health food store.
You buy the pastry. You eat the pastry. No guilt, just the warm glow of having bought something delicious from a health food store. It takes you maybe an hour to realize that you can buy the exact same thing at your local Ralphs, in surgical rows with white lighting on white parchment paper, right next to the cookies that are in their plastic containers with their lurid frosting bright and clear. You vow never to make that mistake again.
You walk into Whole Foods. A health food store. You do not buy health food.
This has been a public service announcement by Kamryn. Keep your eyes open, kids, they might not be selling you what you think they’re selling you. Of course, this could also just be a mental trick I’ve played on myself to justify my sugar habit. Who knows. I certainly don’t.