Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Insightfulness of a One-Line Marketing Slogan

This morning, as I was driving to meet with a new potential client, there was a sign that caught my attention. It read, "Everyone drives used cars." At first glance, it seemed like the typical appeal-to-popularity type of marketing gimmick used to convince you, as a consumer, to join the masses (real or imaginary) by making the same choice they all are supposedly making. My second thought, in analyzing the one-liner from a logical basis, immediately shocked me with the profundity of the statement. It wasn't merely an appeal-to-popularity. It was a statement of logical fact. That simple fact is one that has been quite obscured to us, due to mental conditioning.

When considering cars, as consumers, we are taught that there are two extremely different categories of vehicles: new and used. These categories of vehicles are presented to us as polar opposites. New vehicles and used vehicles are sold at different places, for different prices by different sorts of people. New vehicles are presented to us a superior choice, FAR more valuable than any used vehicle could hope to be. Used vehicles (except when being described by a salesman) are old, decrepit things that are merely functional, but not especially desirable.

That one-line slogan cut through all of that socially-conditioned thinking. The simple fact is, the only actual difference between a used one, is simply that it has been owned by someone. But even an ostenibly new vehicle can quite accurately be described as "used" a mere week after its purchase. The moment the car is even driven off the lot, its market valuable depreciates, and it may properly be classified as a used vehicle. Hence, the statement "Everyone drives used cars," is a mere declaration of fact. The fact that we have accepted the taxonomies offered to us and created an artificial mental distinction between new and used vehicles is a sign that we often embrace the modern tendency to taxonomize things without giving them much thought.

The other insight this slogan offers is that social status is mostly a mental illusion. Social perceptions play an undeniable role in influencing the decisions we make and the judgments we make of others. A person's car is a sort of status symbol. Regardless of the actual substance and being of a person, people use psychological shortcuts to judge a person. I recently read about a fellow who performed a social experiment. He scheduled dates with two different women. With the first woman, he dressed up really nicely and picked her up in a brand new Bentley. With the second woman, he wore very casual clothing and picked her up in an old beat-up car. The content of the dates themselves were essentially the same. Yet, the way the two women viewed him was extremely divergent. While one had an extremely positive view of the fellow, the other woman described him as a "loser." The exact same guy was perceived in completely different way, simply based on the way he dressed and what car he drove.

In that regard, the brilliance of the slogan is in the way it highlights the way we often don't even see things through our own eyes, nor do we judge things rationally. Instead, we often allow other people's judgments and categories to be used in lieu of our own. We accept the inaccurate and agenda-driven perceptions of others and use them as a shortcut to thinking things through on our own. Humility offers us an alternate way to approach life and people, by pointing out the wisdom of suspending judgments and by pointing out the potential pitfall that arises when overcategorizing various aspects of life.


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