That was me. Waiting in line out in the cold at Best Buy. Checking my phone every few minutes in case another potential deal was posted. Driven by a desire for a great deal, anxious that I might miss something I really need anyway, anticipating that feeling of success. Imagining my wife and my friend's looks of surprise and admiration as I described the unbelievably small amounts of money that I paid for the most amazing things.
I need the stuff anyway. Why not get a great deal on it? It's the smart thing to do.
This is the story I told to my freezing fingers and numb nose as I stood in line in the dark with the throngs of others. But yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, or my gut, something said everything isn't as it should be. Or maybe it was that little angel on my shoulder quietly reminding me of what's right when I get quiet long enough to listen. "Your strings are being pulled," the inner voice whispered as I danced to the advertising around me.
But, everyone else is doing it. And as much as I love the high of getting a great deal, I hate the low that comes after hearing about how I just missed out.
I knew I was a puppet, but my thoughts rarely surfaced higher than puppethood to wonder if there was something more. An old quote popped into mind:
“The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want right now.” - Zig Ziglar
I needed a perspective that would allow me to rise above the urgent sales to do what's right rather than what's most pressing.
Seth Godin provides some of that perspective in his post today about the secret beginnings of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Black Friday was created by the National Association of Retailers to promote shopping on a slow news day. Likewise, Cyber Monday was deliberately created to further leverage the growing "media/shopping complex mania". The formula Seth describes is this:
Here are some of the steps involved in creating a marketing phenomena like this:
- Find something that people are already interested in doing (in this case, shopping)
- Add scarcity, mob dynamics, a bit of fear
- Repeat the meme in the media. Press releases, B roll, clever statistics regardless of veracity
- Do it on a slow news day, and mix in famous names, famous brands and even some hand-wringing about the plight of workers
The result is two new holidays devoted to buying stuff that get more attention and air time than Thanksgiving itself.
I know my strings are being pulled. I know how they are being pulled. Because of this, I've been able to temper my actions a bit. I don't even open the pile of advertising that comes with the newspaper anymore. I know looking at the ads will just make me want things I hadn't known about before or had previously forgotten that I wanted in the first place. I avoid the in-store rush and revel in free time with my family and friends. I get more sleep. I spend less. I'm replacing the pride of getting a great deal with a pride of being counter-cultural. I remember another old quote:
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” - Henry David Thoreau
Have you ever felt like a puppet with someone else pulling the strings as you darted around town on Black Friday? Have you heard that small inner voice wondering if you should be spending more time with your family as you monitor online ads in preparation for Cyber Monday? What are your secrets to rise above it all?