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How to Keep Paying More, More, More for Absolutely Nothing
a "How We Get You" Column by Brian Vaszily

To earn the title of "Real Bright Consumer … and Good Looking, Too!," answer this question:

What do the following nine products all have in common?

  • Aspirin

  • Tape

  • Concrete Mix

  • Brown Bag

  • Pencil

  • Baking Soda

  • Comb

  • Notebook Paper

  • Shoe Horn

Choose your answer below:

A) They all make for rather boring topics of conversation

B) None of them are delicious

C) They are among the more challenging products to market

D) You have probably paid too much for them

E) They can all be used as weapons

F) All of the above

consumer award

If you chose "F" you are correct! You can cut the honor badge to the right out of your computer screen and wear it proudly all day … PLUS you've earned the right to read the rest of this week's column below to discover another way marketers get you to part with more of your hard-earned money than you need to!

(If you got the answer wrong, please go back and try the test above again.)

"This One Goes to 11"

If you've ever watched the classic comedy film This Is Spinal Tap, you witnessed what is easily one of the funniest moments in film history: the passionate but not-so-brainy rock star Nigel is explaining how his amplifier is superior to others because, while other amps' volume knobs just go up to 10, his amplifier's volume knob goes all the way up to 11.

The narrator questions why it is any different, why Nigel doesn't just make 10 the highest volume on his amp, too. Nigel pauses, seemingly trying to understand why the narrator doesn't get it, and then responds as if it answers the question, "This one goes to 11."

In actuality, there is of course nothing special about Nigel's amplifier, aside from the labeling on its volume knob, but poor Nigel doesn't grasp that fact.

Such is also the case with the nine products in the list above (and many, many other commodity-type products and services as well.) Aspirin is aspirin, baking soda is baking soda, and shoe horns are shoe horns, BUT the marketers hired to sell brand name aspirins, brand name baking sodas, and brand name shoe horns have to make you believe otherwise in order to get you to pay more for their brands.

Here's the crucial difference though: whereas Nigel is trying to convince the world of his amp's superiority out of his own mental shortcomings, marketers are paid to intentionally convince you of their same-as-any-other-product-in-its-class product's superiority … and they have a big bag of tricks they pull from to do it.

Wow! This Aspirin is "100% Pure Aspirin"!

So what do you do when you are Bayer Aspirin and your aspirin is no different from any other all-aspirin aspirin out there?

This One Goes to 12


  • Made from 100% Wood!

  • Super "Lay-Flat" Design!

  • No other 12" ruler measures farther!

Or when you are Arm & Hammer baking soda competing against all the other baking sodas including the grocery stores who are buying your product from you, throwing their store label on it, and charging less?

You hire some of the savviest marketers out there (including market researchers, strategists, advertisers, product developers, merchandisers, and more) to:

  1. Spin your brand so consumers believe there is something better about it and they therefore pay more for it.

  2. You ALSO create little variations on your base product so you can create new products from it, spin these new products to niche markets in order to capture them, and charge a bit more while you're at it because these products are now "specialized." Examples include Women's Bayer Plus Calcium and Low Dose Bayer. BUT I'll cover some very fascinating insider secrets on this marketing tactic in a future column, since it is worthy of its own.

The primary way #1 above is achieved?

After the research to figure out how best to grab consumers' emotions in relation to the product (see my previous column on the four different levels of fear marketers prey on for some fun insight into this) … and after strategizing the best mediums to reach the most consumers with the spin … and after going to the bar with your peers to celebrate your coming raise because this campaign is going to be so successful … you play with words.

Consider these proclamations carefully:

  • This aspirin is "100% pure aspirin"

  • This aspirin is "unsurpassed in speed - no other brand works faster!"

  • This aspirin uses a key ingredient "that doctors recommend"

These are just a few examples of some highly effective advertising phrases that have served to separate and elevate certain well-known brands of aspirin from their off-brand or generic competition.

And when you THINK about them, you will probably quickly recognize how full of sh… pardon me, how full of fluff these phrases really are. In fact, since you reading this column you are already in an active thinking mode and it may therefore seem immediately obvious that these phrases are fluff… and yet the brand name versions of products like aspirin and tape far outsell their generic equivalents, and if you recall your own shopping history and what is on your shelves today you have likely contributed to this.


Because marketers' primary objective is to attack you where and when you are most vulnerable.

As I have covered extensively in my previous columns, devious marketing succeeds because you generally DON'T think, DON'T focus, DON'T have your guard up when watching TV or reading a magazine or walking through a store … you are in a comfortable "entertain me" mode, and therefore an emotionally vulnerable mode, instead. You are in a feeling mode.

And "100% pure aspirin" and "unsurpassed speed" and "doctor recommended" feel pretty good, especially when paired with all the pretty colors and graphics the big-name brands throw at you. Only problem is:

  • The competing aspirins including the store brands and generics that cost 15-40% less are ALSO "100% pure aspirin." They're just not jacking up the cost of their product to cover the marketing costs to spin that message to you!

  • The competing aspirins all work just as fast, because they're all the same thing in different packaging… so they are all ALSO "Unsurpassed in speed." They're just not jacking up the cost of their product to cover the marketing costs to spin that message to you!

  • The key ingredient "that doctors recommend" is … aspirin. Same as all the lower-priced competitors. (And you guessed it, they're just not jacking up the cost of their product to cover the marketing costs to spin that message to you!)

Most that Glitters is Not Even Close to Gold

These ambiguous to meaningless words and phrases that make what are otherwise same-old, same-old products and services stand out and feel superior are known as "glittering generalities."

To stay focused and remain cautious of the glitter - toward the bottom-line of not spending more for nothing and therefore saving what is easily thousands of dollars over the course of your life -- remember this true story from some years back:

A man placed a small ad for a "revolutionary storage device" in the classified section of a popular magazine. To paraphrase the ad (because I am going on memory here), it stated that "This revolutionary storage device will fit in ANY closest. It is REMARKABLY DURABLE, can hold most ANY type of garment, is INCREDIBLY SIMPLE to install, and is available to you for a limited time at almost NO SHIPPING CHARGE."

What did those ordering this revolutionary storage device get in the mail?

A steel nail.

The man who placed the ad made over $25,000 on this scheme.

And I've got a revolutionary 100% durable and easy-to-maneuver hand tool that is unsurpassed at helping you slip your shoes on, and I am offering these shoe horns for $49.95 each should anyone be interested.

Brian is Preferred by 2 out of the 3 Doctors Who Read His Column!

Columnist Brian W. Vaszily (pronounced "vay zlee' or if you are a telemarketer, "vaz - za - zalily") is the author of several books including the acclaimed novella Beyond Stone and Steel and co-author of the bestselling Dr. Mercola's Total Health Program. He is President of TopMarketingPro, a "conscientious marketing" consultancy, and has over fourteen years of marketing and management experience in Fortune 500 and entrepreneurial environments. More than any of that, he is a father, husband, son, explorer, messenger, and humble appreciator. Also check out:

  If You Do Not Read this Column, Something VERY Bad Will Happen: Unethical Marketing 101

  Rebate Scams: How I Deceive the Heck Out of You with Consumer Rebates

Brian W. Vaszily

Check Out All of Brian's Columns for


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