Corporate marketing deals in distorting reality to pressure people to buy products, typically manifesting itself in one of two ways. First, there is direct coercion, pushing people to buy something this very minute, because if they do not they will lose a certain amount of money. Then, there is the more tactful, yet mildly reproving, suggestive approach, saying that if you buy the proposed product you will end up saving, and that if you do not buy it you will lose out, and the more you buy, the more you will save in the long run.
Naturally, this is all done with the “customer” in mind, a provision of a selfless public service for the good of the customer, by marketers concerned that if you do not act now it will be a mistake you will regret for the rest of your life.
It is clear, then, that although the techniques and actual practice of this form of coercive salesmanship can vary to a considerable degree, these differences are largely cosmetic, and the basic underlying principles remain unchanged: The skill is in hoodwinking or confusing the audience.
Nevertheless, although the actual intentions behind such dubious assertions seems difficult to discern, for the most part, in everyday experience, they really could not be more obvious. The sellers just want to get rid of their goods and get your cash, while the potential customer that is their target in this scenario is faced with the flipside of this: You have to sell your goods, but you will be getting your hands on my cash, so of course you would say it is a good deal.
When we hear that a seller trying to sell their goods is “thinking of the customer,” they are assuring you that when your cash disappears — although it is actually going to them — that you have actually gained from the transaction, and that in fact the more cash that disappears, the more you stand to gain.
The wording itself is always pretty harmless, but you also have to take into account the manner in which it is delivered, and what is actually being said. The fact of the matter is that it is nothing other than blatant intimidation and menace, the idea being that this opportunity will not come again, and if it does, it certainly will not be at this bargain price.
When Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) announced that the government would accept the result of a referendum on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), did not his expression resemble that of a salesman assuring customers he had their best interests at heart? In his soft-spoken manner and silken tones gently persuading the public: “Why not seize the opportunity today? Now let me see the color of your money.” Did he not come across like a maestro of marketing, giving the public the classic “the more you spend, the more you gain” spiel?
If people are distrustful of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant referendum, suspecting that it is essentially a form of political maneuvering and opportunism, then perhaps they should trust that feeling. Certainly, a lot of the people I have asked believe this to be a fairly accurate summation of the situation.
And to repay the government for this unprecedented show of sincerity and goodwill — and of course in the referendum we only have to impart our votes, and not part with our cash — we potential voters/customers declare that we will vote in the referendum, no matter what form it takes or how the question is posed, we are resolved to do it. For if we do not vote, we lose all, and if we do vote, we gain what we want, and the more of us who vote, the more we gain. And that is what it really comes down to: People trying to outwit each other, while political planners think of the next move.
Fred Chiu is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica.
Translated by Paul Cooper