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September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
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Breakfast And Happiness (Part IV)

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

The way to cope with our insatiable nature is to distinguish between our needs and wants. If you feel that you need something and you don’t receive it, you feel deprived. The advertising world is built on instilling the compelling sense of need and dissatisfaction.

The computer industry has no match when it comes to confusing needs with wants. They want you to know that before you remove the hardware from the box it is already obsolete. “State of the art” is a status of nanosecond duration. Yet this all pales next to the software.

We once subscribed to a computer magazine (and the only reason was to acquire a free mouse pad) and had to curtail the subscription, for it was too painful to see children utilizing software that I will never comprehend.

But there was another problem with the magazine. The advertisements were making me constantly envious. No matter what I ordered, I was informed the next month that it was outmoded, archaic, antiquated, old-hat and extinct.

Here are two advertisements, just one month apart, for fancy and expensive graphic programs:

1) “Beyond reality! You need tools as unlimited as your imagination. Take your imagination beyond reality with SuperPaint. Its speed is ferocious. Its versatility is unprecedented. It’s utterly precise, astonishingly nimble, and incredibly smooth. SuperPaint has rendered its competitors speechless” (MacUser, December 1989).

2) “Theirs may be super. But now it’s yesterday’s news. Evolution’s never much fun for the newly extinct. Simply stated, UltraPaint does everything you want it to do today. And tomorrow. We’ve made UltraPaint easy, flexible, powerful, infinitely expandable, and definitely under priced. SuperPaint users take a giant step up the evolutionary ladder” (MacWorld, January 1990).

In the campaign to rob a consumer of any sense of contentedness, which translates into sales, strategy is often focused on confusing need with want and the illusion of being dissatisfied.

(I was once in Connecticut waiting to board a commuter train to New York. A fellow approached me with a very deliberate gait wearing a suit that was anything but flannel gray adorned with a large campaign button. I did not know that it was three weeks before a municipal election nor did I live within 1,000 miles of the state. And yet when this gentleman approached me – non-other than the candidate himself, wishing to oust the incumbent – and shook my hand like an avuncular wise man, I was sympathetic – nay, supportive ‑ of a cause about which I knew nothing about. His look of sheer disgust and the way he intoned, “It is time for a change!” made me want to vote for the guy even though I was not dissatisfied, had no needs that he could fulfill – and did not even know his name!)

Advertisements assault us with the message, “If you think you’re happy with what you have, you’re wrong!” An advertisement in the Chicago Tribune read, “If you’re not happy with your house, give us a call!” Who wouldn’t give them a call? No matter how much you refurnished and refurbished, it could always be better.

But there is no end to this. “If you’re not happy with your spouse, give us a call. If you’re not happy with your children give us a call.” I’d be on the phone all day long!

Sometimes, out of sheer curiosity, I compare two (supposedly) different products in the supermarket: the one advertised as “new and improved” and the one further down the shelf that is assumingly “old and unimproved.” My non-scientific research has revealed scant difference between the products.

As far as I can tell, all shampoos, maple syrups and detergents seem to be more or less the same ingredient-wise, and purport to accomplish the identical thing. And yet the advertisers are out to convince you that only one product will make you content.

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2 Responses to “Breakfast And Happiness (Part IV)”

  1. This reminds me of a friend who always swore that brand-name vodka was so much better than generic vodka that he was willing to pay three or four times the price for it. I tried to explain that it all tastes like rubbing-alcohol and the cheap stuff will get you just as drunk, but he insisted that the expensive stuff tasted much better and didn't give you a headache the next day. While I admit the pricier vodkas do taste a little better, they still give you the same headaches if you drink enough and if you drink enough, the room spins at the same rate as the cheap stuff. For something to be worth three or four times more than a similar product or service, I expect it to be more than "slightly better tasting" or "slightly improved."

    In the end, by trying to get the "newest", "best", or "coolest", we end up being broke and more miserable, just like my friend, who always had the best vodka and the worst outlook on life. Or like the poor kids in the cities lining up to spend $200 on a pair of Jordan's. Happiness isn't found in a swoosh or a bottle. Not that I've cornered the market on being content or happy either.

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In the campaign to rob a consumer of any sense of contentedness, which translates into sales, strategy is often focused on confusing need with want and the illusion of being dissatisfied.

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