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Jack McCall: Marketing goes above and beyond

Jack McCall • Updated May 1, 2018 at 6:00 PM

I recently had lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. After enjoying a fine meal of beans and greens, I headed for the checkout counter.

There, I met Joyce, a pleasant woman with four stars on her apron.

“How was your lunch?” she asked with a friendly smile.

“My lunch was great,” I answered, “Just what I have come to expect at the Cracker Barrel.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” she said.

Then, Joyce, without missing a beat, very deftly slid a big Hershey bar right in front of me.

“Would you like a Hershey bar today for only a dollar? she offered.

“Actually, I would love to have a Hershey bar,” I answered. “And the price is certainly right … but not today. I just had two glasses of sweet iced tea, and I’m over my sugar limit.”

“I understand, sir,” she replied, “Have a wonderful day,”

Two days later, I stopped at a Pilot Convenience Center. After buying gas at the pump, I went inside to buy a soft drink. At the cash register, a young lady rang up my sale. But just before she gave me the total, she pointed to a box only inches from my left hand and said, “We have a great special on candy bars today, three for only $1. What do you say?”

“That is a great special, and I could eat all three of them, but I think I’ll pass. I will, however, give you an ‘E’ for effort,” I teased.

“Sorry, sir,” she said, almost apologetically, “It’s part of my job.”

“I understand,” I replied. 

In less than three days, two different people had made the effort to sell me four candy bars that I did not need. 

It is yet another sign of the times. Savvy marketers are pushing harder for a bigger piece of a shrinking pie.

The push is on. But the push has been on for many years. Marketers have been selling and the American public has been accommodating. We modern Americans are legendary for buying things we don’t need. And don’t think for a minute that marketers don’t know what they are doing. Why do you think they call it “the power of suggestion?” Because suggestion is powerful.

I pull up to a popular fast food restaurant drive-thru and, before I can utter a word, a friendly voice chirps, “Hello! Would you like to try a latte today?”

I’m thinking, “No, I want something off the dollar menu.”

When I was a kid, I remember “painting by numbers.”

Today, fast food marketers have trained us to “order by numbers.”

And it doesn’t stop there.

If I say that I want a No. 1 or a No. 3 or a No. 6, this friendly voice quizzes, “Would you like to upgrade to a medium or a large?” 

“Heavens no,” I’m thinking. At my age, more is not better.

I made the mistake of upgrading to a “large” recently. When I picked my order up at the second window, my drink was in a cup as big as a gallon bucket. Unfortunately, I was driving on a rather long trip. I managed to keep the interstate restrooms busy for the next 200 miles.

And then there are credit cards. I have estimated that in the last 20 years, I have been pre-approved for more than $13 million in lines of credit, sometimes by banks I have never even heard of before. And the big banks don’t stop with credit cards. Once they get your name and address, including e-mail address, it’s life insurance, asset protection insurance, identity theft protection, etc. It goes on and on.

And marketing ploys are so subtle. It is almost amusing.

How about this one? “You should own this car because ‘you deserve it’” Oh, oh, we have arrived in the “age of entitlement.”

Since when do you deserve that which you cannot afford?

Here’s another favorite as relating to progressive sales events,

“The more you buy, the more you save.” 

Excuse me. I think I remember my parents and most of their generation saying, “The less you buy, the more you save.”

It hasn’t taken us long to get things turned around backwards, has it? 

The marketing forces under whose spell we have fallen as a nation are powerful indeed. It is best we be “on our toes” in these changing time. 

In the meantime, I have decided I will have water with lemon with my meal the next time I dine at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

That way I can justify buying that Hershey bar when I check out.

Jack McCall is an author and contributing columnist who writes weekly for The Lebanon Democrat.

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