Hurry! Don’t Miss out! Save! Limited time only. Click here. Etc.
For years now I’ve be interested in the reasons for ever increasing levels of anxiety in the UK. Once, anxious people were easy to spot because of their rarity. Now, it feels as though it’s just normal to be anxious. Once, it was rare for people to be on anti-depressants. Now, it seems half of the population is on them. The other thing I’ve noticed is people’s lack of focus, or more to the point, the ease at which they are distracted, particularly by their phones.
This has fascinated me for years. Why are younger and younger people getting more and more anxious about more and more things?
Demands on mental health organisations have skyrocketed to the point they simply cannot and will never cope with the demands placed on them. I don’t think any amount of cash will solve the problem.
It’s complicated but in these ramblings I want to talk about one contributor to the creation of the ‘anxiety culture’ in the UK. Advertising. Advertising from it’s very conception has tapped into our fears and offered us a simple solution. Just spend some cash on something and all will be well. If advertising can distract you, make you anxious and then offer you a solution it has done it’s job.
Unfortunately, most of it is just noise.
This is not a post on rubbishing advertising per se, since communicating an offering to an audience that needs the offering makes sense. If you struggle with a freezing house and advertising communicates with you a solution called a ‘heater’, then there’s a benefit in that advert as some fundamental need (to be warm) is being met.
What if advertising says something more subtle? What if it convinces you that your heater isn’t as good as your neighbours, and ‘everyone is talking about’ a different heater?
Feeling slightly unhappy now, another advert tells you to hurry to the local superstore to get ‘that heater’ at 50% off, but you can only get it if you respond NOW? Hang on, by that point you’ve forgotten what you were doing..
Hopefully you get the point I am trying to make?
Hurry! Get Anxious Quickly!
It comes in many forms but a quick scan of my inbox reveals a whole load of offers that involve me having to respond quickly to get them. Here’s a few:
- Time limited deals.
- One time offers.
- Black Friday.
- Cyber Monday.
- Baby showers.
- Last Chance.
- It’s not over yet!
- Ends soon!
- Time’s Ticking..
In fact I am now so aware of these tactics that if anyone sends me a message telling me I need to quickly respond, I generally ignore it – even if it might contain something I could be interested in. And yes, there have been times when something I did need was cheaper as part of one of these offers and I didn’t get it for that reduced price. It wasn’t the end of the world.
Don’t Miss Out!
Have you ever had a message telling you that everyone is talking about a particular product, only to discover nobody you know is talking about it after all? Ironically, there’s a lot of talk about a new type of heater at the moment but for some reason, it’s only available for a short amount of time at 50% off. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is another one of those anxiety-inducing tactics to encourage us to do something we weren’t that bothered about before. Here’s a quick scan of my inbox.
- “Deals are going fast, don’t miss out on our 50% reductions.”
- “Extra credits, a deal you don’t want to miss out on..”
- “Don’t miss out on our Black Friday offers. Only 7 left!”
I am bombarded with these messages, again, if it tells me that I am missing out on something then generally I ignore them rather than wondering what I am really missing out on.
I think if I took in every ‘miss out’ message I receive then I’d go mad. My focus would be so much on what I don’t have that I might completely ignore and fail to appreciate what I already do.
This particular message always tickles me. In order to save, I need to spend, which to me, is not saving. Rarely do you get the message “Save thousands on a new car: don’t buy me at all, you’re old one is fine.“
An advert telling you about how much you can save is a lazy tactic to either encourage you to spend in a way you wouldn’t normally do, or to switch your required spending to someone else. Insurance is one of those irritating examples that tell you how much you could save but it only ever works to keep your premiums low if you constantly switch providers.
I’ve never fully understood why insurers brokers aren’t honest with you. Why don’t they say “Stay with your existing insurer and we’ll put your premiums up by 50% even if you haven’t made a claim.”
Or more to the point, why don’t premiums stay the same or go down if you stay with an insurer and haven’t made a claim?
Buy one get one free (BOGOF), or any of its complex variants are another example of Save! The lure of getting something for free often overrides the simple facts that 1) You don’t need that many or 2) The price of just one seems to have shot up before this deal was available.
I had a laugh with a local shop owner in my old village when we launched a special offer in his shop to see if there were any takers. The offer was “Buy one pint of milk for the price of two and get the second free!”. It had several takers who hadn’t considered the logic of the offer.
You’re Ugly: Buy Me to be Beautiful.
This is probably the most anxiety inducing advertising tactic out of them all. I believe it is one of the most harmful, deceitful, and dishonest tactics too.
It taps into the fears of people who feel they need to be more ‘beautiful’ or just ‘better’ than where they are at right now. In one sense, this isn’t a bad idea? It’s just dependent on what the thing is. Growing in kindness or compassion or wisdom are wonderful things. As is increasing fitness and overall health. However, this type of advertising taps into that little insecure bit of you that feels the need to show others how good you are. It encourages judgement and discourages the contentment of accepting where you are now.
Sure, in the short term you get a sense of something having improved, but in the long term it never ever works. You’re always going to be uglier, drive a worse car, wear worse clothes than someone else who is prettier, drives a better car or wears better clothes. You are also always going to be prettier, drive a better car, wear better clothes than some who is uglier, drives a worse car or wears worse clothes than you. So why worry?
So, Why Worry indeed?
From an advertisers perspective, worry and anxiety are good if it leads to a purchase. For consumers, it is a temporary fix to solve a perceived problem. However, it’s only temporary as some other anxiety inducing advert is lurking around the corner waiting to distract the pennies from you.
As far as I can see, in the long term being constantly distracted by adverts (or anything else for that matter) makes people miserable and bonkers. Continued consumption of the things advertisers are offering you is also killing the planet. I think in that respect, no wonder everyone is getting anxious.
Why worry is an interesting question and touches on the very real and very mistaken idea that you need to be in a constant state of growth in order to be ‘happy’, if happiness is even the end goal in the first place. Material growth feeds economies that need to grow and there is an endless cycle of convincing people to consume, spend and change.
In one sense, it’s easy. In another it’s complicated. The simple answer is to accept yourself where you are at, enjoy more of what you already have, and mature with what you have. Be aware of all the messaging that is tempting you into worry – then choose to ignore it. Before you know it, your focus and sense of peace returns and you’ll enjoy more of what you already have, where you are.
If people stopped consuming, producers would stop producing. All those factories around the world who are producing the plastic tat that gets consumed throughout the world (Christmas, Halloween etc) would no longer exist, so those coal fired power stations used by the tat producers wouldn’t have to operate either.
So never mind trying to stop polluters from polluting, if people stopped consuming the products these producers produce, then pollution related to these products would reduce too.
The Big Issue
Are we prepared to be accountable for our part in this whole process? I think that is key. Are we prepared to give up the idea it is up to our leaders to provide the solution? Are we prepared to stop blaming and start changing our own approach to things? Are we prepared to then find ways to encourage others around us to do the same? Are we ready to accept we all have a responsibility to stop moaning at everyone else and start encouraging others?
The loss of control is a key factor in generating anxiety. If someone’s mental health is affected by the continually changing winds of the modern world, it’s time to take back control.
Boris Johnson (or any UK Priminister).
I like Boris, for all his faults. I hated Margaret Thatcher for all hers as I passed through my teenage years. Yet as I grew to understand we see these people through the lens of a media that is increasingly looking for page-views and advert clicks, it made me realise they people in such positions are usually driven by a desire to make things better – nothing else. Their desire may be based on false premises (like the belief that free-market economics will provide the solution to all the worlds problems) or faulty implementations of those premises, but either way I’ve yet to meet someone who entered politics in order to line their pockets. They exist no doubt, but I’ve not met them yet.
Yes, I got distracted.
For those of you who do now know who the wise Gilbert Keith Chesterton was, Google him and find out. Not only did he love his theology and philosophy, he also loved his beer. He wasn’t a looker by any means. He was rather odd. Yet his books and words will last way beyond the comings and goings of any influencer, social media platform or craze of any sort.
When someone wrote to him asking him what was wrong with the world, his simple reply was “Dear Sirs, I am.”. And so it is with you and me. The thing that is wrong, particularly as we can actually do something about these things, is you and me. You and I are not to blame for everything, but you and I need to play a part in making the wrong things right.