If you visit the website ‘youneednothing.com’, you will be greeted with the following words: “You have everything.” Scroll down a bit and another message appears “You need nothing.” Scroll down once again and you are shown a large photograph depicting a decorative black rectangular prism about the size of a can of Coke and made out of wood; the company’s product. The idea with this product is that you display it somewhere in your home (on your desk, for instance) so that every time you lay eyes on it, you will be reminded of the two aforementioned life lessons.
Because I have unreasonable contempt for this kind of thing—(the marketing of) bullshit products that are supposed to appeal to people’s spiritual side instead of the company just admitting they are desperate for your money—I’ve elected to overanalyse the fuck out of this and exploit every minor flaw in this company’s claims. I also think there might a be laugh in it, so why not give it a go?
“You have everything.” Steady on, mate! I don’t have everything. I’m reasonably well-off, but I don’t have everything. Unfortunately, I neither own a loft in Berlin city centre nor do I own a flying pet-unicorn, both of which would be lovely. On the flip side, I’m pretty happy I don’t have cancer or osteoporosis. What I’m getting at here is that the word ‘have’ can mean a lot of different things. In this case, it is about ownership. ‘Everything’ is also problematic, because it is equivocal, meaning it can be interpreted in different ways. In this case, it seems to be limited to material possessions. From this I infer that what the company meant to convey was: You have all the necessary material possessions that allow you to ensure your survival and well-being in the short and in the long term, and give you the potential to self-actualise. Not quite as catchy as “You have everything”, I’ll grant you that. Moving on.
“You need nothing.” I disagree. To even acquire this bit of information, I need a computer or a mobile device with internet access. I also need some form of virtual money if I want to purchase your stupid prism. And since I have other objectives in my life than to visit your website and potentially buy your worthless product, there are plenty more things I need. Toilet paper, for instance, is in my humble opinion a must-have, and I think a lot of people would agree. I don’t fancy shaking hands with anyone who doesn’t think toilet paper is an absolute necessity after having done a number two. Even more basic than toilet paper would of course be food, drink, and shelter. When this company claims “You need nothing”, I presume they actually mean something along the lines of: accumulating material possessions—excluding those relating to and/or affecting your survival in the short and long term as well as those influencing your basic well-being—will not lead to a permanent alteration in happiness. Again, not very catchy. And as we all know, catchy sells.
As a business in the current marketing climate, you pretty much need to make sure your advertising slogans are catchier than the Zika virus, otherwise you will be beaten by your competitors. So how do you make appealing advertising slogans? Well, when it comes to products that have absolutely no utility, like the bullshit prism, being vague, ambiguous, and possibly cryptic is the way to go. Leaving aside this specific type of product, I think the essence of marketing generally is exaggeration. “THE best pizza in town!”, that sort of thing. It might actually be the case that the pizzeria using this slogan has the best pizza in that particular town. However it is unlikely, mostly because taste is a matter of personal preference. Claiming to serve the best pizza in town is also a very generic advertising strategy for pizzerias, and the likelihood of a multitude of pizzerias in the same town using that particular slogan is hilariously high. In a particularly comedic circumstance, I once even saw two adjacent competing pizzerias both claiming to be the nec plus ultra in town.
Funnily enough it’s not just the companies themselves that resort to blatant exaggerations concerning the quality of their goods and services. Customers too can get very passionate about their purchases, as you’ll be able to witness if you visit the website of any big online retailer and subject yourself to some product reviews. I’m sure if you go to Amazon looking to buy something as simple as a pencil sharpener worth a whopping 1.20€, you will find at least one with a five star review where the reviewer claims that “THIS PENCIL SHARPENER HAS CHANGED MY LIFE!!!” only to find a one star review a bit further down that reads “DO NOT BUY! ALL MY PENCILS ARE BROKEN IN HALF AND NOW MY WIFE HAS DIVORCED ME”. If only everyone took it down a notch so we could get some genuine reviews about the quality of products, that would be splendid.
I think what I’m telling you by writing all this is that if I ruled the world, advertising would be unbearably tedious, but accurate. Claims like “THE best pizza in town!” would be substituted with “We put a lot of effort into making high-quality pizzas but whether they are tasty or not is for you to decide”.
Getting back to the bullshit prism, I think we can all intuit that the company’s words are not meant to be taken by the letter but are supposed to encourage people to consider adopting a philosophical view reminiscent of William Morris’ minimalism (material possessions should be immediately useful and/or beautiful), which is a view I actually subscribe to. However, I have to say it just seems ironic that the makers of the product want to convince people not to buy useless shit by trying to shift them useless shit. Why is the prism even necessary? If it takes a wooden block for you not to make regrettable decisions as a consumer then I think you have different things to worry about.
For anyone who’s not a compulsive hoarder of shit, I think one might as well cut out the middleman and just use one’s brain to remind oneself of “You have everything” and “You need nothing”. The great thing about the brain is that it allows you to store such ideas, which you can then choose to access anywhere at all times, so long as you’re not asleep, severely mentally impaired or indeed dead. Oh… wait a second… Oh bugger! How would the business make any money with this? Telling people to use their brains is not going to generate much income, is it? So I guess the business needs a product after all, no matter how pointless it is. Silly me for taking this long to wrap my head around this!
I think the only device that might effectively prevent people from making bad consumer choices would be some kind of portable A.I. (probably a smartphone app) that wittily and snarkily shames you when you’ve bought something stupidly unnecessary, for example if you’ve bought napkins that have got 500€ notes printed all over because you thought it would be hilaaaaaarious to use them next time you have guests over. Even before you’ve made it out of the shop, the ShopShamer (patent pending), having computed your recent purchase, would address you with words like “Hey, that’s really cool… if you’re into shit!” Or maybe “Wow! This will fit in really well with your collection of useless junk that within a week you’re never going to look at again!”
More realistically, I think what would most likely happen if you ordered a wooden block from youneednothing.com is that once it has been delivered to you, you’ll be so disappointed with its lack of utility and aesthetic appeal that you’ll own up to the mistake of having wasted 39€ rather quickly and vow never to buy or even consider buying such shit ever again. And, who knows, maybe you’ll even stick to your word.
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