Socially-Influenced Versus Self-Imposed Dichotomies

Interesting article on the “us and them” false dichotomies we face each day.

People Who Drive Silver or Blue Cars Should NOT Read This

by Brian W. Vaszily, for

People who drive silver or blue cars or trucks should definitely not read this column because they won’t get it anyway. That’s just how they are.

But if you drive any other color car or truck — especially a red one like I do — you’ll get what I am about to tell you, and you’ll quickly see how this secret knowledge can help you avoid getting duped in many areas of your life.

So for all the non-silver and non-blue car and truck drivers out there, you should know that one of the most powerful ways marketers get you to try things, think things, do things, and buy things you never really intended to is through what is called “granfalloon tactics.”

A “granfalloon” — a term coined by author Kurt Vonnegut in his novel Cat’s Cradle — is a group of two or more people who feel a bond because they share some circumstance that, beneath it all, has little to no real significance. Vonnegut’s shorter definition is “a proud and meaningless association of human beings.”

So, for example, they may feel kinship simply because their first and last names start with the same letters, or they were born in the same state, or they use the same brand of cell phone service… or they drive the same color cars and trucks.

Like the rest of us, you have probably been in many granfalloons — whether long-term or momentarily, you have felt a bond with others just because they shared something with you that, upon even a bit of reflection, you’d realize is actually quite insignificant and doesn’t make for a real connection.

Perhaps one of the most immediately recognizable examples (unless you believe strongly in astrology) is the excited bond you feel with someone when you learn they share your birthday. Wow, cool! But … so what.

Point is, because humans are social beings, it is natural to bond, even if the points that connect you are arbitrary or flat-out worthless and the bond is only fleeting.

As with all the most effective marketing tricks, granfalloon tactics prey on this fundamental human need. They manipulate you into feeling part of a group — centered of course around their product, service, political party, or idea — in order to obtain your allegiance and your money.Are You a “Wheel Watcher”? A “Dittohead”? A “Chevy” or a “Ford Man”?

The most infamous example of a successful use of granfalloon tactics is probably Nazi Germany, where Adolph Hitler and his Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Gobbels created a rabidly cohesive “us” among Germany’s “Aryan” citizens by repeatedly blaming all of Germany’s problems on a “them” — the Jews.

W’s Rule!

The social psychologist Henri Tajfel once conducted a simple experiment that demonstrates the power of granfalloon tactics: He brought a group of subjects into his lab and randomly, based only on a coin toss, assigned each subject to be labeled an X or a W. Each member of both groups was then asked to make a variety of assumptions about each of the other subjects. Though they were all total strangers, each person made much more positive assumptions about those within their group than about those in the other group.

Slavery too was (and in some parts of the world still is) heavily bolstered by granfalloon tactics, as is racism in general — “we are different and superior because of the color of our skin or our ethnic background, whereas they are inferior because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background.”

Entire populations and generations, in other words, have been duped by the power of granfalloon tactics — resulting in extreme devastation — which makes your awareness of their increasing use in our commercial society even more critical.

Today, though much of the mass media rhetoric is about “unity” and “globalism” and breaking dividing lines, the evil marketing geniuses of the world are feverishly using granfalloon tactics to take things the other way… to push you and your children into bonding with and therefore defining yourself by the brands you choose (brands of products and services, but also brands of politics, religion, music, and more)… to push you into multiple little compartments.

Are you Mac or PC?

Are you Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Cingular or Nextel?

Drink Pepsi or Coke… or do you choose to “Be a Pepper” by drinking Dr. Pepper?

Pro or anti Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie?

Al Franken or a “Dittohead” — a label Rush Limbaugh applied to all his radio show listeners?

Are you hip-hop, country, alt rock, adult contemporary, or polka?

Do you watch Wheel of Fortune routinely, making you a “Wheel Watcher” according to their successful TV ads?

Drive a silver or blue car or truck, or a red, black, white or green one?

The reason dictators and other marketers push people into granfalloons, as you have probably gathered (no matter what color car or truck you drive), is that it is far easier to control people when they are compartmentalized, and far more profitable, too.

If I, as a marketer, can get you to feel a sense of belonging and pride at listening to my radio show versus another, or eating my brand of peanut butter versus another (“Choosy mothers choose Jif!”), or driving my company’s brand of truck versus another, I can easily create a sense of us versus them in you.

I can then easily make you look down your nose at them, and even despise them, simply because (no matter how insignificant a circumstance your group is based on) they are not a part of your group.

This, in turn, makes it even easier to keep you coming back to the group I control for more, more, more… including to spend more. (Which makes it still easier for me to make you look down on them even more, and so on and so forth.)

Perhaps the most classic example of granfalloon tactics in the commercial world is the macho designation of being either a “Chevy Man” or a “Ford Man” that the two automotive companies were happy to foster. For decades — and in many parts of the U.S. still — a key aspect of many men’s self-definition was the brand of truck they drove: Ford or Chevy.

It didn’t matter if you shared views on nearly everything else, if you were a Chevy Man you were obligated to drive Chevys for the rest of your life, and if you were a Ford Man you were obligated to drive Fords for the rest of your life, and you were both obligated to beat the crap out of the other if you ever encountered him in a bar. (This may be why Toyota is about to become the world’s largest auto company — the Ford and Chevy men eliminated one another.)

If You Drive a Silver or Blue Vehicle I Hope You Did Read This Column Despite Its Title

Upon reading this far, maybe you are thinking, “I get what Brian is saying here, but I personally won’t be conned by these ‘grand balloon’ tactics or whatever they’re called.”

Don’t assume that! Big mistake! PLEASE remember the First Real Rule of Marketing — the key secret of those who seek to control your beliefs and habits in order to take your money, your votes, your time or whatever else it is they desire from you — is that nobody believes they can be manipulated by marketers all that much. But that’s the key reason why marketers can manipulate them so much.

For example, you were likely drawn to read this column in the first place because of the exclusionary nature of its title. If you drive anything besides a silver or blue car or truck — and especially if you drive a red one — you may have initially experienced a feeling of smugness or at least mild satisfaction that you were in the “in” group that would “get” this column. You were among us.

Meanwhile, if you drive a silver or blue car or truck, you may have felt alarmed and even offended that you were being excluded in such a manner. Even if only to a mild degree, you felt “out,” you were among the them. Maybe you even wanted to punch me (I really hope you don’t want to anymore.)

Point is, you were drawn to this column about granfalloon tactics through an (admittedly mediocre) granfalloon tactic. Sorry I did that. But the purpose was to make you aware of how insidious these tactics can be. They are potent, they can be hard to spot, and because of these two factors they have been very successful for commercial marketers and their use is on the rise.

So to help you remain vigilant of them in order to avoid the influence of their granfalloon tactics, here’s my key advice:

Define who you are. Pull out a piece of paper and write down what really makes you who you are. Routinely revisit and update your self-definition. Don’t ever let them (and this is a real them) define you for you.

You are not the brand of car you drive. You are not the label on your shirt. You are not the political party you vote for, the stores you shop at, nor the type of house you live in. You can adore sports and hate Gatorade, you can love God and not be a member of their church, and choosy mothers don’t necessarily choose Jif.

You are the stuff of your deeply held beliefs, the stuff of the accomplishments you worked hard for, the stuff of whatever you and you alone define as truly important.

Knowing what that is, and knowing it well, is your best defense against their greedy attempts to drive you into granfalloons. And if you drive a red car like I do, that’s especially true for you.

Fascinating. FWIW, I have owned red, white, and blue cars. (Yes, I understand that this is not the point of the article.)

Are you Mac or PC?
I’ve used both. I still do, though I now only use PCs at home.

Drink Pepsi or Coke… or do you choose to “Be a Pepper” by drinking Dr. Pepper?
I have all three brands in my fridge right now. Typically I do prefer Coke products if they are “leaded” and Pepsi or Dr Pepper products if they are “unleaded” (regular / diet).

Pro or anti Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie?
I don’t have any opinion, I ignore that stuff. Like, are they still dating? No? Yes? This is important to me…WHY? Honestly, I don’t give a crap.

Al Franken or a “Dittohead” — a label Rush Limbaugh applied to all his radio show listeners? 

I don’t find Franken’s books to be as funny or well-written as I’d like, and prefer Molly Ivins or Jon Stewart for snark.

Are you hip-hop, country, alt rock, adult contemporary, or polka? None of the above.

Do you watch Wheel of Fortune routinely, making you a “Wheel Watcher” according to their successful TV ads?
Is THAT what that meant? I was baffled.

Drive a silver or blue car or truck, or a red, black, white or green one?
No, yes, car, yes, no, yes, no. Shrug. Have also owned two Chevys and a Ford.

None of these things define me, which makes sense. They probably shouldn’t define you, either.

I seem to have some resistance to outer-imposed granfalloons, but am not above creating some of my own (are you my Myers-Briggs type or not? do you like Britpop or not?).

I find the whole thing to be food for thought.

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