Two weeks ago, I finally set out to accomplish a task that has been on my to-do list for the last year: trade in my phone.
It was a beautiful Saturday filled with unexpectedly warm weather and a sense of accomplishment. I was knocking off all of my errands one-by-one and feeling like a champion. I walked into the Verizon store, told the salesman that I needed to trade in my phone, and began the longest two hours of my life.
The salesman who was helping me was clearly new, but he seemed very kind and genuine so I didn’t mind the process taking a little longer. His associate, however, seemed well-trained but not likeable. As my salesman was transferring my contacts and photos to my new phone, there was an error with the cloud storage. All of my contacts and pictures disappeared into a black hole and it didn’t appear that my salesman knew how to get them back.
I was freaking out. I could feel my face start to flush and my breathing become shallow as I tried to keep composure. It was at this moment that salesman #2 (let’s call him Tony), the one who had not been helping me, began trying to sell me various accessories and insurance plans. At first, I tried to ignore him and ask questions to my salesman about how progress was going, if there was anything he needed from me, etc. But no avail. Tony continued to write various numbers down on a piece of paper and push them over to me, clearly not reading the situation or my emotional state.
I decided to channel my Scandinavian ancestors and politely but firmly let him know that I was not listening to anything he was saying and that no, I was not interested in any of Verizon’s accessories but that I was very concerned about my phone. He gave me a rude response that reminded me of a toddler hearing that he/she is being disciplined.
My contacts and photos were returned, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I was nearing the end. I was once again proved wrong as my friend Tony returned with his sheet of paper and vague numbers. This time, he was informing me about how trading in my old phone grants me enough credit that is roughly the price of a phone case and screen protector.
An accurate representation of Tony.
He was talking very fast and giving vague responses to my questions, and only after 20 minutes did I learn that I would still be paying $60 for the phone case and screen protector, because my credit from my trade-in would be used to cover the tax for the new phone.
“So it’s not free then?” I asked, confused. Tony started fast-talking and writing down numbers until I finally said “if this isn’t free, I don’t want it. You said I wouldn’t have to pay anything and now I do, so I no longer want this product.” He again gave me an eye-roll, clearly frustrated as he removed the case he had already placed on my phone (which he did on his own volition) and put it back in it’s case.
My contacts and photos were returned, but I will most likely never go back to that store again. Why? I walked away feeling gross, like I was just viewed by the sales rep as dollar signs rather than a person. He didn’t listen or demonstrate care for me as a human being. I would like to think that with the rise of demand for brands to be authentic and transparent that the archaic act of assaulting your audience with a pressure to buy-buy-buy would disappear. Verizon, along with Adidas, has proved me wrong.
This week, Adidas sent out an email to the customers congratulating them for surviving the Boston Marathon. The horrific 2013 bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon occurred 4 years ago, but is still fresh in the minds of many people.
When I saw the headline, I immediately winced. The email provided a direct link to Adidas’ store, and it was clear the email was sent to capitalize on the marathon conqueror’s high and entice them to treat themselves to fresh Adidas gear.
We all sit here and scratch our heads, wondering how such an obvious offense could be missed by the creator or agency in charge. How did someone not make the connection?
It happens slowly and easily: brands stop seeing people as humans with real emotions, real histories, and real concerns. Instead, they see money.
It’s important to note that I like Adidas (And on that note, I used to like Verizon). I’m wearing their shoes now, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of apparel I’ve ever owned. But this definitely made me cringe. Is this the end of the world? No. Everyone will move on, the Adidas’ email subjects will be more thoughtful, and the sun will rise again tomorrow. But it does point to a larger frustration that I have felt with brands for a long time, the same frustration that led me to nearly losing my cool in front of Tony the salesman.
People can feel when someone is trying to get something from them. They can sense themselves change from a human to money bags in the eyes of the person (or brand) that is talking to them. And to be honest, it makes me angry and uncomfortable.
“That’s a salesperson’s job,” you may say. “Stop whining and just deal with it. You can always just ignore them or say no.”
Yes, that’s true. And that’s what I do. I have an ad blocker on my computer for that exact reason. But the growing distrust of brands has led to a dysfunctional relationship that leaves ad agencies and in-house marketing teams scrambling to find new ways to reach their desired audiences. And maybe I’m optimistic, but I think there’s a better way.
Had Tony the salesman read my emotional state, politely waited until the situation that was consuming my attention was resolved, and explained that the accessories they sold there were a comparable cost to the ones sold down the street at Best Buy (which I later learned) I may have considered just buying a case there. In fact, I probably would have. It would have saved me another hour.
Had Adidas taken their gaze off of their desire to capitalize on the marathon and viewed the people they were talking to as actual humans, they would not appear as insensitive or careless as they do now.
Do the opinions of one 22-year-old really matter to these brands? Probably not. They will still make enormous amounts of money and survive for decades to come. But I know a lot of my peers feel the same way, and that if brands keep fostering this dysfunctional relationship, there will be no one listening to hear them screaming "BUY".