Fear sells

For days we've been hearing about this horrific storm-to-come.  And though we've learned to be a bit skeptical about weather predictions in the Northwest, we did make our dutiful trip to the grocery store to stock up (the parking lot was utter chaos with people cruising for spaces, and all the shopping carts were in use).   But so far -- as you can see from this brief video shot on our back deck -- this one seems fairly tame, though of course we're at sea level, and tend to get less snow than the higher elevations.

As 20-year veterans of New England winters, we tend to get amused by the hype for snow here, but in this part of the world even a light snow has a way of bringing everything to a standstill, because drivers have little experience coping with snow and people don't tend to have chains or snow tires (we went looking for snow tires for our daughter's car and no one even carries them).

In addition, the cities don't tend to have very many snow plows (why invest in all that equipment to use only once or twice a year?), and they don't salt the roads, they just sand them, so if it's particularly cold things get very slick and icy.  This year the city of Seattle decided to switch to salt; hopefully that will make a difference (for them, at least).

But news is slow this time of year, so the TV stations are full of dire predictions and helpful suggestions, and they're busily resurrecting images of past snowy crashes to raise the fear factor.  I suppose at some level the intention is good -- they're trying to ensure that people who don't know how to cope don't venture out unnecessarily -- but it seems a shame to use fear to attract viewers and sell products.

I remember, back when I was working in an ad agency in Boston, that was one of the first things we were taught: figure out what potential fear the product might alleviate, and then capitalize on that.  According to an article I read in a recent issue of The Economist, it was a Viennese psychologist named Ernest Dichter who was responsible for having introduced this idea into the American marketplace.

In a book published in the 1930's called The Strategy of Desire, he said that"marketplace decisions are driven by emotions and subconscious whims and fears, and often have little to do with the product itself... Dichter's radical approach to goading shoppers, called 'motivational research,' was considered so successful that he was even accused of threatening America's national well-being.  Sociologist Vance Packard, in his 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders, claimed that Americans had become 'the most manipulated people outside the Iron Curtain.' "

... which might explain both the Iraq war and our current economic situation... I'm just sayin'...

At any rate, I think where I'm going with this is that we don't have to allow ourselves to be manipulated by fear.  We may not always be fully rational, and our choices may not always be the best ones.  But I think any time we get that panicky feeling we may very well just be responding to forces outside of us that are not necessarily acting in our best interests.  So stay calm, breathe, and see if you can get back in touch with what is real, what is here, what is now, and what is wise.

As my 7th grade history teacher used to say, "Illegitimi non carborundum."  I'll leave that for you to translate so I don't have to type in  any expletives...

PS: My daughter just sent me this video, which beautifully describes what happens when snow comes to Seattle; enjoy!


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