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Alex Genov

User Research and Innovation, SOFTWARE INDUSTRY

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The power of a brand to turn us into puppets.

I am a staunch individualist! I have never been one to follow trends, the crowd, or allow myself to be brainwashed by advertising. At least that’s how I see myself. This makes the following story all that more interesting.

One morning in the recent past, I was to meet a friend for coffee early at Pete’s Coffee. I got there a bit before my friend and was eager to get some strong coffee in me. We have a toddler and an infant at home and the lack of sleep has turned my wife and I into zombies who function on strong coffee. I approached the counter and ordered a tall latte with an extra shot of espresso. The barista looked funny at me and repeated my order back to me – “a medium latte with extra shot.” I repeated back to him – “yes … a tall latte” He corrected me again, “you mean MEDIUM.”

At this point my mind cleared up a bit and I realized, much to my amazement, that I was not at Starbucks but at Pete’s. It must have felt insulting to the Pete’s barista that I was confusing their establishment with the competition. I was slightly embarrassed and motivated to figure out what had just gone on.

The Psychologist in me figured things out. You see, extensive research in Behavioral Science has shown that many times we move around the world on auto pilot, driven by habit. For example, have you ever headed for place A, fell deep in thought about something, and ended up at place B, just because place B is the one you usually go to? A recent study reported by David Rock, shows that “humans are on autopilot nearly half of the time.”

What had happened to me was that during one of my (sleep deprived) autopilot mode episodes, I was under the influence of a powerful brand – Starbucks. I had used the Starbucks lingo at Pete’s Coffee! Moreover, this was the lingo that I had stubbornly refused to use during my first visits to Starbucks!

To me, that is an excellent example of how effective brands get under our skin – they pull he strings while we are asleep at the wheel … Scary?


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    Oct 29 2012: The power of brands to turn the individuals into puppets goes hand-in-hand with the weakness of many individuals who ignorantly or willingly allow the brands to turn them into puppets. We cannot control the brands' influential power, but we definitely can monitor our own weakness and so this is what each mature individual should more concentrate upon.

    IMO, the incident described in the title above is very interesting & instructive, but it's not so good example for illustrating this weakness. Because as you say, usually you are aware about the brands' possible bad influence on you and you do not allow them to affect your decisions. And now, due to your recent experience, you are even aware of the sub-conscious effects the brands create within us in their sophisticated ways. So in my opinion, people who are almost constantly aware of the brands' influence upon us and do not allow themselves to turn into puppets, have no real reason to feel scared, even if they occasionally go through experiences like the one you passed.
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      Oct 29 2012: Yubal, you call this "weakness" ... I am not sure this is a fair label. Can you call fear of the dark a human weakness? I do not think so. It is a property of the human mind that developed very early on in human evolution and has evolutionary advantages or purposes. Humans use a lot of mental shortcuts to make decisions - these are not weaknesses, just how we operate. Of course, if we are mindful and know these mechanisms, we can prevent being influenced by them.
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        Oct 30 2012: But suppose an adult is refusing to enter a room at his own home because it’s dark there, would this be considered normal just because it’s an evolutionary effect ?? I think we both agree this adult has some mental complication//weakness. Because we expect the average adult to overcome this evolutionary fear by using his rationality to see that his evolutionary fear of darkness is far exaggerated in this specific case. Evolutionary drive as I see it, has a single goal, that is to survive. But when one or public allow the evolutionary drive to affect them continuously far beyond the limits, it’s an evidence for relinquishing the rational judgment, which is in my view a mental weakness.

        The evolutionary drive itself is NOT a mental weakness. But continuously becoming a victim of that drive IS a mental weakness.
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        Oct 30 2012: Hi Alex,

        My feeling is that perhaps you haven't read the entire first comment of mine. I wrote there that the (mental) weakness I am talking about cannot be attributed to people like you, but on the contrary. Please read again the second paragraph there.

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