By Erick Rommel
Catholic News Service
You are unique.
If there’s one lesson that everyone has tried to teach you from the moment you were born, that’s it.
There is no one else like you.
Just because you’ve heard something your whole life doesn’t make it entirely true. While there is no doubt your combination of genes and DNA makes you unique, a lot of other factors make you just like everybody else.
One group of people knows that very well. It’s their job to identify what you like and how to get you to buy more. They don’t need to know much to know what makes you tick. Sometimes all they need to know is whether you’re a boy or a girl.
Take a look at the restaurants and minimarts around you if you have any doubt. The hot new item for sale this year is one of the coldest: iced coffee. Over the past five years, the number of people drinking iced coffee in the morning has more than doubled.
But not everyone buys iced coffee in the same amounts. If you’re a teen girl, you are 84 percent more likely to drink an iced coffee than the average American.
That statistic comes from the NPD Group, an organization that tracks consumer information, but that’s not all they know. Retailers even know why teen girls like iced coffee more than everyone else. They say it’s a cross between the general teen love of the energy hit that comes from caffeine and the love women have for iced coffee’s lower calorie count compared to other drinks.
If you’re a girl, keep this in mind the next time you buy 84 percent more iced coffee than everyone else. Chances are that most items you see for sale in its vicinity will be targeted at teen girls and women, not men.
Whether you’re a girl or boy, teen or adult, to marketers you are not unique. Every display you see in every store is designed to get a specific group of people to buy that product.
Advertisers are spending more money now than ever to get you to buy. Some 25 years ago, companies spent $100 million a year marketing to you. Today they spend more than $17 billion a year.
Those advertisers target you because they know it’s effective. Preteens alone spend $30 billion of their own money every year and they influence their parents to spend $150 billion more.
As you become more independent, the amount you spend goes up as well.
The problem is that spending money is fun. Learning when to spend and, more importantly, when not to spend is not fun.
If you’re a typical college student, you’ll have at least one thing in common with your peers when you graduate: You’ll have more than $3,000 in credit card debt and four or more credit cards.
This is where you don’t want to be just like everyone else. You want to be the person who starts his or her adult life without the albatross of debt tying you down.
Before you purchase something, ask if you really want it or if you’re being told you want it. Ask yourself if you’ll still be interested in the product in six months. If it’s food, ask yourself if you’ll regret eating it six minutes after it’s gone.
It isn’t much, but it’s a start. Once you master that, find other ways to fight the advertising that surrounds you.
If you’re a teen girl, at the very least cut back on the iced coffee and leave some for the rest of us.