“America…just a nation of two hundred million used car salesman…” Hunter S. Thompson
Anyone watching a political debate must realize candidates aren’t selling platforms. In fact, you don’t actually get greater value with either candidate. One is a slick politician, the other is a slick businessperson. Both are dealing with the same issues. You’re just voting on who looks better.
The same goes for everything we buy these days. For example, since the 50s, car manufacturers have focused on the look of the vehicle. It doesn’t matter if the engineering is significantly better. Even Elon Musk’s Tesla, with its remarkable battery technology, still relies on the “beauty shot.”
The reason is simple: We’ve been brought up on packaging. Anything we buy must look nice. Apple can come out with any number of new features, but these features have to be surrounded by what we find appealing.
We don’t buy ugly.
It looked atrocious. As one GM executive, Bob Lutz, famously said, it reminded him of “an angry kitchen appliance.”
Remember the Aztek? It was introduced in 2001 by Pontiac as the mid-sized crossover for Gen Xers. It looked atrocious. As one GM executive, Bob Lutz, famously said, it reminded him of “an angry kitchen appliance.”
The Daily Telegram in August 2008 ranked the Aztek “the ugliest car of all time.” The model used in “Breaking Bad” sold at auction for $7,000.
On The Simpsons, Homer’s long-lost brother asked him to design the ultimate car. Wasn’t Homer the average consumer? The result was a disaster.
It looked like an Aztek.
Networks only introduce “new” when one show essentially wears out its welcome.
Visual appeal allows for all kinds of lies. Everything becomes an attractive outer shell with ominous inside ingredients. We’re not even shocked when supermarkets pour blood on older meat. If it looks good, it must be good.
We’re now learning that cereal manufacturers for years have included all sorts of preservatives to keep their product from going soggy. We like crispy, so each kernel is coated in something we don’t even want to know about.
Remember “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? where Clark Griswold’s boss congratulates him on creating a varnish for one cereal brand? We laugh, we think it’s the funniest thing, but we’re now hearing foods contain preservatives like formaldehyde. This is what frogs were kept in when we did science experiments. We could be looking good long after we’re dead.
Pepsi recently admitted their product could have cancer-causing ingredients, making their latest commercials “Pepsi’s forever fun” a bit of a grease catcher. They even show how it’s generational, how your father, your father’s father, and stars ranging from Michael Jackson to Brittney Spears and Cindy Crawford all drink (or drank) Pepsi.
They look good so it must be good. Except it’s not good, and drinking Pepsi for extended periods is probably worse than living beside Three Mile Island or Chernovo. As one blogger wrote: “I need a Pepsi with my Tide Pods.” Something’s wrong when your laundry detergent looks more appetizing than your Kraft Dinner. Both probably have the same cleaning properties.
At a gun show in Minneapolis, a vendor admitted that many people buy weapons based on looks. “I go into all the stuff like velocity and rounds per minute,” he said, “but they’re more interested in the appearance. Does it look dangerous? Will it make a statement with my new suit? It’s crazy.”
So are we “two hundred million used car salesmen,” like Hunter S. Thompson pointed out? Or have we reached a point where we’re seeing behind the marketing and endless series of pronouncements and lies?
One writer here wrote about talking to marketing students, and asking them why they “mute” the commercials. It seems Millennials, considering all the hours spent inundated with advertising messages, aren’t buying the “looks good, must be good” strategies anymore. “There’s no content,” one student said, which is true. There is no content and it’s making us feel like dupes.
The Diet Coke commercials during the last Super Bowl drew a lot of criticism. Nobody was buying “If you want a Diet Coke, have a Diet Coke.” Even Gillian Jacobs, pretty as she is, sounded like she was rationalizing her latest tattoo.
“We’ve stripped away the glossy marketing and we’re just telling people how good Diet Coke really is, “Danielle Henry, group director of integrating marketing content for Coca-Cola North America mentioned in a statement. She said a lot of people haven’t tasted it in a while “or ever.”
Well, it stands to reason if all you’re saying is: “Why not just do what you want?” Sure, we’re guilty of eating and drinking things with no nutritional value whatsoever, and we eat the occasional Tide Pod now and then, but there’s obviously a line between being gullible and completely stupid.
Perhaps we’re finally recognizing where that line is. Diet Coke crossed it, so did GM with that stupid Aztek. Consumers only take so much, and signs are everywhere of buyer discontent. Sales of processed foods, sugary drinks and chips of staggering varieties are on the way down. People are looking for healthy alternatives and sugar, ain’t cutting it.
When consumers are asked what snack they would choose above all others, the overwhelming answer is: fresh fruit. Chocolate came in a close second. We’re not completely over our sweet tooths yet, but it’s obvious fresh ingredients are looking better than processed ones.
Maybe we’re finally smartening up. Maybe we’re realizing looks aren’t everything, something dancercize instructors discovered back in the 80s when everyone started hitting the gym. Having great abs and gams doesn’t make up for nothing upstairs.
Marketers (and politicians) need to understand that. Until they do, we’ll hit the “mute” buttons. And maybe we won’t laugh so hard at Clark Griswold getting a bonus for varnishing cereal.
We don’t buy ugly, but maybe we’re re-defining ugly. That could include putting “content” ahead of looks.
If it is, there’s hope for us yet.
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details (you can buy the book directly from them).