courtesy of The Daily Beast

How Did It Happen? – Pt. 6

How did an imbecile like Trump become President?

Featured image courtesy of The Daily Beast.

Sell it in one – continued

In the last installment we talked about the psychology of marketing, at least part of it. We talked about Anchoring and Effective Frequency. We discussed what is required to “sell it in one” and a had brief discussion about the Personal Recount episode of This American Life.. To refresh your memory:

  • Predisposed to wanting or believing something because it is something you would like or want. (Bias)
  • Doesn’t directly impact you. (Me & My)

Sadly, Trump supporters didn’t read any of this because they could have benefited greatly. Many of you think I’m just making this stuff up. The reality is you’ve all seen it happen.

Many of you have fallen victim to this type of marketing. Some of you still have the evidence hidden away in a closet, basement, or crawlspace. Most of those victimized by this hid their evidence in a landfill. Some of you put the evidence on a garage sale and when your neighbors asked, even if you bought it yourself you said “It was a gift.”

$19.95 plus shipping and handling

Some people I worked with at regular companies called that the “imbecile price point.” I call it “The 35+ Hook.” I’m sure there is some official marketing name for that price. You saw it for decades on cheesy sounding products advertised on television. Most people didn’t read the fine print to find out it was actually $27.95 (or some other hideous number) shipping and handling.

Where did $19.95 come from? You will get lots of opinions. The price fluctuates with the economy for the middle and upper middle class. Basically, if you went to a first run theater to see a movie, bought a ticket during non-discount time, got the soda plus popcorn and snacks you would be out about $20.

I call this “The 35+ Hook” because somewhere at or after 35 the human bladder ceases to expand like it did when you were a teenager. The only “deal” at the concession stand is a soda that is 3-7 times the size of your bladder.

So, what do you want to do for your $20 of entertainment this week? You can go see a movie and miss part of it going to the bathroom, or, if you like tinkering you could spend $19.95 (ignoring the shipping and handling because for some reason everyone does) and spend a few hours playing with whatever when it arrives. Maybe you will play with it a few times per year so now it’s value goes up in your mind.


One creates Bias in their mind because of the price. You know you are going to have to rent the movie anyway if you liked it because you missed a chunk going to the bathroom. You really prefer your comfy recliner and being able to hit the pause button.

Sometimes the price has to be less than $5 with a greatly inflated shipping and handling fee everyone seems to ignore.

I had forgotten how cheap that product was. I worked with a twenty-something dad of two who received one as a Christmas present from his wife. He cut his mouth on the first glass he made and threw everything in the trash. K-Tel really knew how to market.

Oh, that’s the other point I need to make; many of these things were bought as gifts. You wanted to give them something memorable and didn’t want to spend a lot of money. Most families had at least one member who really wanted to try some of these things but wouldn’t spend their own money on it because deep down they knew it had to be junk for that price.

In defense of the bottle cutter, it’s still a niche hobby today. You can find a lot of videos online about how to do it. The trend today seems to be finding old bottles where they used to actually etch the glass. Not today’s glue-on label bottles.

Let’s take a look at a classic commercial for a product that was still being sold at least as of a few years ago when I last worked at a marketing/advertising firm. I know this because someone got one in the Christmas grab-bag.

If you go to many movies you have seen your share of duds. You can spend $20 on a movie you don’t like or you can spend $20 on one of these $19.95 products. Your life really doesn’t change and you have something to do if the weather is icky outside.

Call to Action

The way you hooked people into buying more expensive things from this category was the phrase:

Just N easy payments of $19.95

You would skip a movie you may or may not like for N months. Again, not a real change to one’s life.

Lately I’ve noticed most of the ads in this category using $29.95 as “The 35+ Hook” so movies must have went up quite a bit.

But wait there’s more! Act now and . . .

I might as well round this out. This last bit is “the call to action.” It’s not specifically required if you are selling a lie. For the cheesy products that are now make you smile nostalgic, this was sealing the deal of a sale.

We’ll include a second one at no charge. (now in hurried whispered voice) Just pay separate shipping and handling.

When you are selling a lie wanting people to vote a specific way you need a call to action. When you just want people to parrot your lie on social media so it is in a never ending echo chamber you don’t need a call to action. You just need repetition and anchoring. Social media will do the rest.

Subliminal Advertising

This is one of my favorite topics whenever I have to venture into the world of marketing. Here is a link to a very good and detailed explanation of what Subliminal Advertising is with some examples. That isn’t a thumbnail sketch nor is it a shot glass full of information that will get you to the heart of the matter.

Subliminal Advertising like the ubiquitous phrase “Family Value” means something different to everybody. When a person hears it they all assume you are using their definition. More importantly, it seems every few years yet another news agency runs and investigative report stating subliminal advertising doesn’t work. Part of me believes the advertising agencies pay them to do that.

In most countries that passed laws against subliminal advertising they refer back to the 1952 book Hidden Persuaders and the claim movies had hidden messages (frames) in them to drink more Coke so movie theaters could make more money. The conscious mind wouldn’t recognize them but the subconscious would see and act on them. Lots of the laws that exist in the area of subliminal advertising exist in that narrow little definition.

Subliminal advertising happens each and every day. It is a much broader field than most wish to believe. Advertising generally doesn’t work without it. In large part subliminal advertising happens with Product Placement. That would be products appearing in or associated with things. Let me take you on a non-current journey so you can see there is nothing partisan about this.


During my childhood, everybody smoked. Hospitals had smoking lounges. Funeral Parlors had smoking rooms. Cartoon characters smoked.

We even had candy cigarettes.

If you look close you can see the message. I think the above were the version they came out with when these got banned.

The Camel bubble gum ones actually were pretty good bubble gum. They had a white paper wrapper to look like a cigarette and if you put it in your lips and exhaled through it before unwrapping the fine coating of powdered sugar would puff out like smoke.

When we were little kids and had a relative die we would spend much of the visitation down in the smoking room playing cards with a fog of smoke around us from all of the old people who had to sneak down for one. This was normal ordinary life. Pull knob cigarette machines were everywhere.

Nine times out of ten adults sent us over to the machine with a dime or quarter to buy them a pack of cigarettes because they were too lazy to get up. It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the subliminal conditioning going on. Gee! This really good bubble gum comes in these packages marked Camel. Those packages marked Camel must be really good for adults.

Product Placement

Brands pay huge money to have their products placed in a movie. There used to be a myriad of rules and general practices. Before we had generic products like this

We had movie prop people making cans that just said “BEER” and bottles that just said “Whiskey” if they said anything at all. Little by little brands started to pay for product placement and the rules relaxed.

Oh come on! You’ve seen movies where the really cool characters use Apple computers and “the bad guys” use something else. After the federal government basically banned smoking in movies the film industry went looking to replace the revenue with “less offensive” products. Lots of television episodes seem to have DELL laptops appearing as well.

When tobacco companies wanted more female smokers they started the “slim” product naming routine, subliminally telling women “smoke these if you want to be slim.” Most famously Virginia Slims sponsored female professional tennis.

How could smoking be bad for you if professional athletes smoked and played tennis? If you want there is a really good movie about this period in women’s tennis.


The 1980s were a treasure trove for subliminal advertising. Music videos were big business. Drunk driving wasn’t as big a crime and beer companies had money to burn. Eighties women were into big hair, short skirts and hooking up, at least in some parts of the country. I don’t think a lot of us guys managed to find those parts they showed in the commercials.

One thing is for certain, Michelob (or their marketing company) was a grand master at subliminal advertising. They paid big money to popular rock stars and created commercials making it look like everyone who drank their beer was beautiful, had a perfect body, and got lucky.

Phil Collins, Genesis, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and probably many more. In retrospect it seems like the commercial came out right as the song was released.

Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
In The Air Tonight
After Midnight
Don’t You Know What The Night Can Do

The sheer genius of this is difficult to overstate. People were conditioned to think about Michelob every time one of these songs played on the radio. It wasn’t reality but you were conditioned to think “I’m beautiful, have a perfect body, if I go out tonight and have a Michelob I will get lucky.”

Classic Rock stations still play these songs today. Pre-COVID-19 I have been in places where, when one of these songs were playing, a beer drinker old enough to have been young when these commercials came out will order a Michelob despite the fact they had been drinking Miller Lite all night long. It doesn’t always play out. Depends on how active they were in the singles scene during the eighties.

I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV

Subliminal advertising took a big hit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Soap Operas were huge daytime television. After the VCR came out working women would tape them to watch at night. Many of these soap operas (so named because laundry soap used to be the biggest advertiser) featured actors playing doctors.

Medical companies started using these same actors in a white smock with a stethoscope talking about the products. Some major legal trouble ensued because many people actually believed these actors were doctors. It was the subliminal message. That lead to commercials like the following:

I’m not a doctor but I play one on tv

No smock, no scope, and a disclaimer right up front. Don’t quote me, but I don’t think they can even appear in a hospital or doctor’s office type setting.

Subliminal Advertising Works

Subliminal advertising happens every waking hour of every day. Content pushing happens at portal sites like Yahoo and Bing where you are given an image and “the sound bite in text” yet generally don’t find out the source until after you click and even then it might be in tiny print if it is branded video.

For years you’ve heard about the million dollar jingle or slogan.

  • Got Milk?
  • Beef – It’s what’s for dinner.
  • The best a man can get.
  • Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.
  • A diamond is forever.
  • The breakfast of champions.

You can probably add many more without resorting to an Internet search. These things were encountered so often they are permanently ingrained in our collective psyche. The beef slogan was particular genius. Every day you have to ask yourself or someone else “What’s for dinner?”

This is why you see sock puppets appearing on all of the talk shows parroting whatever Mr. Trump Tweeted out of his ass most recently. They are following the Joseph Goebbels playbook.

Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth

the NAZI Joseph Goebbels

continued in Pt. 7

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