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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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    Nov 1 2012: Hi Alex!

    My two cents here: I agree with you that some forms of advertising and some companies will get you to be part of their club (or even worst, sect) but there is choice, you can choose not to be impacted.
    I have being living without a TV for the past 10 years, and very happy.
    The city I live these days (Sao Paulo) has banned billboards.
    I do surf the web, meet people, go to shopping malls, etc, but minimize the AD exposure as much as I can.
    Why? Not because I want to avoid buying something I don't need, but because I value having my mind (and as much space as possible) focused on things I care about and thinking independently.

    I believe this strategy is better and "cheaper" than having to constantly rationalize advertising to defend yourself.


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      Nov 1 2012: Hi Julian, thank you for the comment! I think you are showing great strength in resisting commercialism. I wish I could give up TV :)
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        Nov 1 2012: Its not that hard really, and you not only "free your mind", but you have more time as well.


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        Nov 1 2012: I agree...it's not that hard...nice comments Julian!

        I started a practice years ago of not watching TV in the summer, so from April to October, there is no TV. If something important is happening in our world, I would turn it on for news, and otherwise, it is simply off....that is a choice. Now that I have a computer, turning the tv on for news isn't an issue. In the winter months, when days are shorter, I watch news, public tv, documentaries, etc. in the evening, when/if I choose to do so.

        Alex, if you REALLY wish you could give up TV, how about trying it for short periods of time? One day at first? Two days? A weekend? Get some good books, make plans to spend time with family and friends, do projects you always wanted to do and felt you didn't have time?

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