The autopsy of a consumer. What creating adverts has taught me about what you want.

By Esteve Cardona, creative director

Fifteen years in advertising go a long way. Chasing monkeysin Cannes. Having your friends tell you they just love a certain advert, which is never one you’ve done. Seeing how your kids are born genetically ready to sleep less than five hours… And coming to the conclusion that raw materials in this business are not shower gel, yoghurt with fruit bits now and then without or that car advertised by Rosalía. The material our advertising dreams and nightmares are made of is that little internal motor that moves consumers: what they want.

And wanting is like stalking your ex’s Instagram or humming that political party’s hymn. You just can’t stop doing it even if it’s a martyrdom. You often know what you want, but not so much what makes you want it. And what you want isn’t often the same as what you need. You’ll understand why after reading this article. Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist and I’m not Paulo Coelho. But years in this business have taught me quite a few things that will help you understand how your customers operate and your own consumer mind. But, first, here’s a warning: Your wants are quite familiar and often accompanied by their in-laws: your frustrations and fears. If you want to understand the first, you have to accept the rest.

1. You’re a want copycat: you want what others want.

And you’ve always thought your wants were you own. How cute. Wanting is mimetic: it’s copied, reproduced and spread like contagion. You imitate wanting because you want to be like everyone else, because you’re always looking for their approval, because you’re a bag full of insecurities, doubts and influences, because you’re a social being rather than a rational one. That’s why most of the time what you want is not what you need: because another person wants it for you. Think about it the next time you open that human channel surfing app called Tinder.

2. Your wants are quite opportunistic. You don’t want based on what you are, but rather what you’d like to be.

You desire like a seducer, long for things like a millionaire, are anxious for things like a teenager and want like an influencer. Wanting is aspirational. Having what a seducer, millionaire, teenager or an influencer have created this illusion that you’re somewhat like them. But you’re not and that ends up causing more frustration than satisfaction. And since you’ll feel disappointed, you’ll continue turning that wheel to try to feel a little more like that seducer, millionaire, teenager or influencer… and you’ll get frustrated all over again. As one very wise yet crude person once said: “Be careful about wanting to eat everything up; later you have to shit it out.” Frustration moves your wants… and our sales.

3. Motivated thought. Your wants take advantage of your logic.

You think you’re quite rational and superior, the latest update on the system of evolution. But, sorry: your decisions are almost always based on emotion. Your overrated rational capacity shines through when you create supposedly logical arguments to justify the emotional decisions you go about taking. Once we’ve aroused your desire as a consumer, this psychological mechanism known as motivated thought kicks in and you come to the conclusion you most wanted to come to and convince yourself with a variety of creative and exotic arguments that it’s the most logical and most appropriate thing to do.

Does it hurt to read that? Well, just think about what neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor once said to make you feel even worse: “We are not thinking creatures that feel; we are feeling creatures that think”.

4. Programmed to compare. The Paradox of Choice has pulled one over you once again.

We’re genetically programmed to imitate and compare: for thousands of years, that’s been our main source of learning. But what offers an advantage for learning implies a disadvantage when wanting. And when your careful, obsessive, constantly comparing brain comes across an incredible special offer…

That overwhelming abundance of offers will make you compare and you’ll never be happy with what you get. It’s the Paradox of Choice: the more alternatives you have to choose what you like, the less satisfied you’ll be with what you end up choosing. And instead of enjoying what you’ve got, you’ll continue comparing it with everything else on offer and begin to think about your next acquisition, whether it may be material, professional or sentimental. And you’ll be wanting once again. Obviously, it’s quite the gold mine for any type of industry. Unhappiness and consumerism in a 2-for-1 pack.

So now you know: your wants have little to do with you, with your real needs and that much-extolled rational capacity you’re so proud of. Who knows? At this point, you may have already added a new wish to the list: not having read this article, having read it before, sharing it on LinkedIn to seem like a studious professional, calling a real psychologist to throw a Guide to Constructivist Psychotherapy at me or even (I could really hope) perhaps wanting to have written it yourself. If my arguments haven’t convinced you, you’ll always have that elegant resource of sending an ancient Chinese curse equally comprised of ancestral wisdom and thousand-year-old bad blood my way. Here’s to hoping all your wishes come true! But, just be careful… you must realise you’ll then be wanting something.