The Bar Man, April 17, 2015: Adverts catch us all

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A recent philosophy night at the Kings Arms in Shouldham took consumerism as its theme. Do we buy too much stuff, and is advertising partly to blame?

The crowd seemed to feel they only ever buy what they need and were adamant that they were impervious to advertising, but I’m not so sure.

Do you ever buy stuff to replace things that are not broken or worn out, and if so why? Given a choice, why do you not always buy the cheapest available?

When you buy a beer, what influences your choice? Perhaps you consciously or subconsciously remember a slogan, ‘Probably the best lager in the world’ or ‘Refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach’. All empty words which either have no real meaning or are demonstrably false.

Maybe you think your choice is better quality, and are willing to pay more for it, soothed by the thought of it being ‘reassuringly expensive’, but would you trust your taste buds enough to test them in a blind tasting?

Even wine experts are fooled by the £2.99 bottle of plonk slipped into the test, or perhaps there is no story to report when they do pick it out.

We would be naïve to think the way that advertising works is that we watch something on TV and then rush out to buy it. I think it is a lot more subtle than that.

Imagine you walk into a pub and see six hand pumps on the bar all selling bitter, which is what you fancy. One of them is Greene King IPA, so will you choose it? Some do. I have spoken to several landlords who keep it as a regular beer because the customers buy it.

Is it the best on the bar? Probably not, so why pick it? Maybe you have seen it on TV, or associate it with the England rugby team.

Perhaps it’s on the beermats and bar towels in the pub or are you attracted by what they call their new ‘branding stem’ (the chrome coloured hand pumps introduced into many of their pubs).

Perhaps the name is on the front of your football shirt or they sponsor the stadium where your team plays or the league they play in.

One way or another it is likely to be familiar, and especially if you are a stranger to the pub or a newcomer to buying bitter, you won’t make a fool of yourself by ordering it.

Immune to advertising? None of us are, and it’s not just beer. Try doing a little research on how supermarkets maximise their sales. The smell of fresh baked bread, enhanced lighting near the veg to make it look bright and clean, sweets at child height by the checkout, cold air circulating near the chiller cabinets. See if you can find out how much they charge companies to display their products at eye level.

Lots of questions and as Olivia always says at the Kings Arms, there are no right answers. Hopefully, though, there is something for you to think about, preferably down the pub over a beer.