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Why Your Old High School English
Teacher is Your Best Prophylactic
a "How We Get You" Column by Brian Vaszily

The next time you see a commercial for a prescription drug - meaning the next time you watch at least three minutes of TV -- ask yourself this:

Brian VaszilyAbout
Brian Vaszily

Brian Vaszily (pronounced "vay zlee") is a bestselling author, positive change advocate, speaker/organizer and sometimes funny guy whose life mission is to help others explore, experience and enjoy life more intensely while bypassing the traps that would hamper that goal -- particularly unscrupulous marketing and rampant consumerism.

Brian is the founder of, has authored several books including the acclaimed novella Beyond Stone and Steel (see for some reviews), and with over fourteen years of marketing management experience is President of the TopMarketingPro consultancy.

In addition to his How We Get You columns here at SixWise, Brian also leads the popular blog, "The 'Live Deeper' Blog by Brian Vaszily." He has appeared on many TV and radio shows and been quoted in many publications regarding his books, columns, articles and ideas. Brian Vaszily was born and raised in Chicago, growing up on the northwest side in the blue-collar Portage-Cragin neighborhood. Brian and his wife and two children currently reside outside Chicago, Illinois.

Why does this drug-pushing commercial take place in such a pretty location instead of, say, a basement, dog food factory or a dump?

Not all prescription drug commercials take place in a blossoming garden, near a sparkling mountain stream, or in a Martha Stewart kitchen, of course (a few take place under toenails), but most do. And I'm sure you already have a sense of why ...

It's All about the Story

Very few business leaders I have worked with get it right away when I tell them that everything -- their company, products, career and reputation, even their role as spouses and parents - is about story. It is about the tale they choose to tell for each of these enterprises, or the tale that inevitably and usually unfortunately will be told by others if they don't take charge of the telling.

Most don't understand this initially because the whole idea of "story" seems like it belongs to the world of novelists, Hollywood directors and your old high school English teacher. It is foreign to the analytic mindset and lingo of corporate meeting rooms. People who spend their time thinking of "story" are more apt to spend their workday in old jeans, corduroys or pajama bottoms, not business suits or Dockers.

But it is all about story. And when the business leaders do finally get it, meaning they recognize the amazing potential of embracing the notion, well, they tend to REALLY get it.

Even fewer consumers -- especially those who complain that they don't feel "in control" of their finances, waistlines careers or relationships -- get it when I note that the key reason they make bad decisions is because they're constantly romanced, bamboozled and downright misled by stories ... most of which are not even true.

So here are two of the three most important pieces of advice worth remembering as a consumer (I'll give you the third and most important at the end of this column, where it will make the most sense):

  • Every product, service, idea, belief, and everything at all that could possibly make someone richer or more powerful has a story behind it that is intended to captivate you and make you want to be a part of that story -- whether it is healthy for you to be a part of it or not.

  • The most successful products, services, politicians, ideas and beliefs are usually not the best available but instead those with the best "authors" behind them.

Your Old High School English Teacher is Your Prophylactic

"Picture yourself behind the wheel of this Hummer, steering it over those boulders and ramming it straight through those whitewater streams ... "

"Yes, you too can feel like your walking on the world's most beautiful beach ... just ask your doctor for this new prescription drug for hemorrhoids ... "

"Look, the sky is falling, the sky is falling! Hand over all your rights to me so I can save you!"

"Hey baby, imagine some soft music, warm candlelight, delicious Chardonnay and you and me ... "

Want to protect yourself from getting romanced, bamboozled and downright misled by all the stories you're confronted with daily from commercials, the news, TV shows, salespeople, and desperate men in bars?

Then remember it's all about story, and remember what your high school English teacher taught you (that back then you thought you'd never use): the elements of story.

If you train yourself to pay attention to the characters, viewpoint, plot and setting being portrayed in any situation - or even just one or two of these elements -- you will be miles ahead of most people in protecting yourself from getting suckered.

And if you train yourself to mentally substitute your own characters, viewpoints, plots or settings for the ones they are trying to portray, you will be light years ahead of most people in protecting yourself.

By way of example, let's go back to where I started, to arguably the most powerful story element of all -- setting.

Setting Yourself Up So You Don't Get Set Up and Upset by Their Setting

honesty advertising

Occasionally there IS complete honesty in advertising!

Dissect any situation where someone has persuaded you to buy, do or believe something, and chances are that the setting described or inherent to the situation was the key to the persuasion.

That's because your emotions are bound to the setting, by which I mean the environment in its widest sense including the landscape, lighting, smells, sounds, and surrounding humans and animals or lack of them. And certain landscapes and lighting, certain smells and sounds, and certain life-forms impact your emotions in specific ways.

Furthermore, while there are of course individual exceptions, these certain elements of setting impact almost all of us in the same or similar ways. Think of reclining on the soft sands of a sunny beach with the ocean gently lapping against it; unless you were stranded on a deserted island with little food and water for months or years at some point in your life, it is likely a very soothing thought no matter who you are.

Writers, directors, painters and artists of all stripes know this, and they create and manipulate setting in order to inspire awareness and truth and beauty and stuff like that within you. The best marketers -- whether they create commercials for drug companies or sell cars or wars or are trying to pick you up in a bar -- also know this, and they too create and manipulate the setting in order to make the sale.

So as noted above, beyond training yourself to always be aware of this in any situation -- especially those situations where you're being asked to sacrifice your money, health or virginity -- train yourself to change the scene they're portraying before deciding to make the sacrifice.

When the TV commercial or showroom salesman prompts you to envision steering that Hummer over giant boulders and through whitewater streams, or prompts you to envision how all the women will think you're rich and powerful and will want you bad for driving that Hummer, change the scene in your head. Envision instead how virtually all of the steering you'll be doing is on the same paved roads that a moped can handle too, and picture how much standing and pumping you'll be doing at the gas station. Imagine what the women whose heads will be turning as you drive by will actually be thinking -- that you think you're cool in your mammoth Hummer when in fact you're likely accommodating for a small ... self-esteem.

When the man is whispering in your ear at the bar, instead of imagining the candlelight, music and the wine he's trying to plant in your head, imagine (just like Mom told you) what he's really thinking about in his head ... and imagine what he probably looks like in daylight.

And the next time you see a typical TV commercial for a prescription drug, instead of the blossoming garden, sparkling mountain stream, Martha Stewart kitchen or whatever landscape they're employing in the background to manipulate your emotions, envision the backdrop to their commercial is instead a garbage dump. Instead of the peaceful or upbeat musical soundtrack the drug commercial is trying to lure you with, imagine some thrash metal screaming in the background. Instead of the clean, pretty people doing the acting in the commercial, imagine the ugliest people you know. And instead of some trustworthy doctor-like voice doing the commercial's voiceover, imagine the voice of Elmer Fudd.

If -- after mentally changing the setting they're trying to manipulate you with to one you control, like the suggestion above -- you find you're still interested in the prescription drug, then maybe it really is worth exploring if the drug is right for you.

So Is Your Life a Comedy, Drama, Action/Adventure, or Horror?

I promised you one final and most important piece of advice worth remembering as a consumer. It is also worth remembering for all aspects of your life:

  • Make sure you write the story of the rest of your life, and try your best to stick to it

It sounds simplistic, but it can be challenging and IS the most rewarding thing you will ever do for yourself.

It also sounds obvious, and yet it is apparent that so few people are doing it. Stress-related diseases are at an all-time high, so is consumer debt, and so is overweight and obesity. More than half of all people dislike (or hate) their jobs. Instead, people are by and large living the scripts others write for them. "I must buy this car, this cream, this drug, because they will make me a happier, more beautiful, healthier person." "I must marry this man because he is the type I am supposed to marry." "I must work in this job because it pays so well." Etc.

As my friend Henry David Thoreau put it, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

So take some time -- now or very soon, so you don't let lesser things consume you and make you forget this essential task - to write the story of the rest of your life, answering questions like these in your story:

What will happen to you from this day forward?

What will you become, and what will you achieve?

Where will you go, and where will you be?

Who will be with you? Who won't be?

It is crucial to leave room in your story for the unpredictables (the tragedies, the pleasant surprises) and then remember: many things can and will change the surface details you had in mind, but nothing can change the true substance of your story unless you let it. It is how true you stay to the main themes of your story when the unpredictable occurs that primarily determines if your story gets lived.

It is also crucial to remember to revisit your story periodically in case you want to change it -- you have that luxury and right.

When you've authored the story of the rest of your life you truly know what you value. You're committed to living it, and that makes it nearly impossible that their stories, no matter how tempting their setting, characters, etc., will alter yours without your conscious permission.

With all that in mind, go watch some prescription drug commercials.

Watch Brian Vaszily's Favorite
"Prescription Drug Commercial" Now!

(be sure your volume is on!)

Check Out All of Brian Vaszily's Columns Now ...

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