This is one of those essays that comes with a disclaimer…
What I’m about to write about could be used very UN-ethically.
Because it gets at the core of how to make someone feel terrible, to make them behave in a certain way — such as buying your product.
And, in fact, this goes on both consciously and unconsciously, every freaking day.
Yes, in marketing and selling.
Also, everywhere. You do it. I do it. We all do it.
By bringing more conscious awareness to it, my hope is that you can recognize it. And when you’re using it to control people in a negative way, stop it.
Then, when appropriate, understand this massive tool of influence and what role it might play in helping people in healthy and value-focused ways.
In other words, understand to help you be a good person. Use it to help others live good lives. And don’t be a terrible person.
Okay disclaimer done…
We are ALL easily manipulated…
Read this for a moment, and try to feel it…
(And don’t worry, I WILL bring you back from the brink.)
You’re not good enough. Your house isn’t nice enough. Your car isn’t cool enough. Your clothes are so last year. You don’t have the latest phone. And you’re clearly falling behind in all the travel and life experiences you should’ve had by now.
You didn’t go to a good enough university. You don’t have a good enough career. Your business should be far more successful. Your relationships are not what they should be.
You are a miserable excuse for a human being. Everybody else has this whole life thing figured out. But not you.
Who knows why or how you’re even getting by. Why do people even like you? It’s probably because they don’t know the real you. Because if they did, they surely wouldn’t stick around.
Painful enough yet?
If so, it’s because I just put words to feelings that you’ve likely had for a very long time. And if they aren’t conscious feelings but the above still bothers you, they’re probably stirring around in your subconscious.
And the worst part is these feelings are subtly reinforced EVERYWHERE throughout our lives…
The modern world is practically built to shame you…
When you log onto social media — which the average person does for somewhere between 45 and 135 minutes per day, based on various statistics I’m finding — you’re essentially getting other people’s curated version of reality.
People buy nice cars (with debt) to post pictures on social media.
People buy nice houses (with debt) to post pictures on social media.
People go on nice vacations (with debt) to post pictures on social media.
And even if it’s not debt, they’re buying these things to create perceptions in the minds of others, not simply because these things give them happiness.
It’s a massive shame feedback loop.
We see others having certain things, or doing certain things. They share the happy pictures. And so we think those things will make us happy. So we go get those things, or do those things. They don’t make us happy, but we think they should. So we pose for happy pictures, editing or otherwise filtering them as necessary so we look happy. Then others see us, and think they need to copy what we’re doing to be happy.
And the cycle continues.
We’re perpetually being shown alternative lives that appear to be the route to happiness.
How this relates to manipulative marketing…
Marketing often gets a bad rap, especially among liberals.
You see, for example, a weight loss ad. It emphasizes an unrealistic ideal, and promises a magic solution. It causes these huge mixed feelings. Because you want to be that unrealistic ideal. But also, you know at least on some level that it’s unrealistic, and so you hate the ad for emphasizing it.
If you’re easily swayed by this message, you hate the ad but buy anyway — because you want to believe that maybe this time, it could be real.
If you’re not easily swayed by this message, you simply hate the ad.
Some people think they’re immune to this. But most often, they are a victim of their own confirmation bias. They see themselves being immune to this manipulation strategy on certain topics, yet they miss the fact that their behavior is easily swayed elsewhere.
But here’s the thing.
Even if you hate the marketing, it’s not necessarily the fault of the marketer.
Sure, some are manipulative sociopaths who deserve to be caught for exploiting people, and punished appropriately.
But the marketer doesn’t create that demand. They may knowingly or unknowingly feed into that shame feedback loop. But that desire already exists in the market. That’s why the ads work, and keep coming back amid a cultural anti-manipulation bias.
And, usually, the desire also exists in the mind of the marketer. They’re literally doing the best that they can to help other people deal with something they’re still trying to deal with themselves.
The weight loss marketer who feels shame about their weight and helps others lose weight isn’t trying to tell that person they’re fat and ugly (even if that’s in the underlying message, or how it’s interpreted on a subconscious level). They’re trying to figure out how to get rid of their own shame, and trying to help others get rid of their shame, too.
So too in success and self-help, wealth, health, and more.
Someone feels a “should.” They create a product that presumably offers a solution to the “should” desire. And they use the “should” message to sell the product.
We’re all f-ed up, broken, and insecure…
That’s the title and message of my favorite video I’ve ever recorded.
We are all doing the best that we can, in spite of all the emotional pain and agony that comes from just trying to get by in modern life.
Is it any wonder that there are drug problems and so many other addictions today? (Including subtler distractions that we can even argue are positive, such as work — “grinding” —, escapism through religion and spirituality, and obsessive fitness.)
We are constantly looking for even a momentary escape of these feelings of shame and inferiority that life throws at us.
We are manipulated by the next momentary escape. For a hot minute, it actually feels like it could be good and acceptable. It gives us flashes of pleasure that we mistake for a deeper satisfaction. And we share the good news with others, whether through our marketing or through our other interactions with the world.
And then that momentary escape tires, and the flash of pleasure fades. We go back to feeling empty, and looking for the next fix. Meanwhile everyone influenced by our sharing — thanks to the tools of modern life — is experiencing their own bubble and bust, to borrow apropos terms from my investment writing.
Now for the good news…
I promised I wouldn’t end this on a dark note. And so let’s look at the alternative.
You are good enough.
In fact, you are PERFECT the way you are.
Not in a “you have all the material things you want” or “are awesome at relationships” or “are spiritually enlightened” way — because I’m sure you could find flaws in me claiming any of those, or a thousand other claims.
But you are perfect in the sense that you are exactly what you are meant to be. And in this grand dance of the universe, you, your consciousness, and your life is EXACTLY the dance move the universe wants to be doing right now.
If you judge from your own limited perspective, you may thing everything you’re DOING is not enough. But judged from the perspective of the universe, or God, or spirit, your BEING is whole and perfect, always has been, and always will be.
You came from stardust and energy waves, and you’ll return to stardust and energy waves. In fact, you are — even now as you read this — simply a swirl of stardust and energy waves that our limited consciousness happens to interpret as a human being.
All the troubles and insecurities and shame and frustrations that can be used to manipulate you are nothing but the wild and fascinating dynamics that come from this swirl of matter and consciousness.
1,000 years after you are dead, odds are you won’t be remembered. Neither will I. 10,000 or 100,000 or a billion years later, as the universe goes on, it’s pretty much guaranteed we will have been forgotten completely.
Even more so the photo we filtered and edited to look just right on “tha Insta.” (Ha! That makes me sound old.) Or the stuff we bought. Or whatever.
To some, this might sound negative. But in fact, it’s incredibly liberating.
When we embrace the truth of our mortality and cosmic insignificance, it’s easy to step back and recognize how silly so much of this stuff is. To recognize how little of it brings us a deep sense of joy and happiness.
And to find those things that matter. Such as behaving in loving, kind, caring, compassionate, and generous ways towards others. Such as being true to ourselves, even if that’s not what will get the most likes on Facebook. Such as creating a life of meaning, independent of having or not having.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things. It doesn’t mean you can’t be materially successful. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to practice better behavior every day.
It simply separates your happiness from these things in such a way that you can pursue them with awareness, independent of the conscious or unconscious manipulation of others, of marketing, of society, and so on.
The opposite of manipulation is love…
If you’re acting out of shame, you try to control others. You try to get them to do what you want to do. And you often use manipulation to make this happen. When you’re not doing it consciously, you’re doing it unconsciously. Which is probably more ethical, but no less painful.
The opposite of this is to truly love, accept, and appreciate others for who they are and who they want to be. To bring to them your best, and then let them make their own decisions on what the best is for them. To relinquish any sense of control you wish to have over them, and instead embrace them just as they are. And, to do the same for yourself.
You can do this in personal relationships. You can also do it in business and in marketing.
It is a narrower path, but it’s even more rewarding.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,