The consumer isn’t stupid

I asked a friend who’s a “journalism connoisseur” whether he has a paid subscription to any news publications. He said only one: Foreign Affairs. Initially, his school had paid for digital access, but after he graduated, he kept the subscription active and put in his own payment information. I asked how often he accessed his subscription content, and he said not that often. Then why keep a subscription? He said, “I’m a fan of the work they do and I want to see more of it.”

My head exploded instantly. Why people pay is an important question for any marketer to understand, and having to wear that hat every once in a while myself makes this question a recurring fascination. But the reason his response blew my mind was because: Oh wow, you’re like that too?

Like that means, you understand the power you have as a consumer to shape and influence the future. The raw power of voting with your dollar. If you want to see more of something in the world, when you want to be the change you wish to see, purchasing products which resonate with your beliefs is a decent means to that end. But even more fascinating is the innate selfishness of the whole act: You buy something because it represents your ideas, and you want your ideas to spread. You want more of you.

Here’s the thing: I had, in all my biases, been under the impression that this was an “advanced” way of consuming, because I had only myself been awoken to this reality only several years ago, made probably in part by Netflix food and health documentaries espousing the importance of buying foods from people who do it right.

But my friend says, not so. He says that most people understand that when you purchase something, you’re spreading the seeds of the ideas which they inhabit, empowering them to nourish and grow.

In situations like these, where I perhaps don't always have the luxury of getting to know each and every person I encounter individually, it helps to know that whatever I am, whatever you are, is likely not unique of anything, but a symptom of the whole. If I watched some documentaries on Netflix and awoke to the powerful new reality of voting with your dollar, then it’s likely that my awakening is only a symptom of the whole, of a larger movement, and not some exclusive right of passage.

There is a (now woefully outdated) quote from some famous marketer ages ago that speaks of the importance of not underestimating your customer: “The consumer isn’t stupid; she’s your wife.” I think we can rebrand that today to: “The consumer isn’t stupid. They’re you."

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