We are all constantly throwing one giant marketing campaign for the most important product ever – ourselves.
Just like most companies, we are trying to build a “cool” brand amongst competitors with a very similar product. And just like these companies, we pull all these clever marketing techniques when the spotlight is on us.
These marketing techniques we use are called: status signals. Status signals are anything we do with the purpose of signaling to others that we are high status i.e. that we are “cool.” For instance, we might tell our friend that we never eat fast-food because we believe they value health-conscious or environmentally friendly people.
We all use status signals to our advantage and there is nothing wrong with that. However, there is a breed of status signals which cause a lot of problems – the cheap, unreliable signals. These signals are unreliable indicators of actual high status, but people use them anyway because they are cheap and still work.
For example, consider the Livestrong bands. For only a dollar, you could signal to everyone you meet that you’re a charitable and caring person. The band is simply not costly enough to be a reliable indicator of those desirable traits. On the other hand, consider the “I donated blood” t-shirt or sticker. This signals for similar traits as the Livestrong band, but is much more reliable. In most cases, people wearing the “I donated blood” shirt actually donated blood. Obviously, donating blood is more costly than spending a dollar and, therefore, the shirt is a more reliable status signal than the band.
People who aren’t truly high status resort to cheap signals. For example, someone who isn’t truly environmentally conscious can’t afford to go too much out of their way to signal for it. They would rather join the “Keep Davis Clean” Facebook group than to actually go around picking up trash.
We have to be more aware of these cheap, unreliable signals so we don’t falsely attribute higher status to someone. For this reason, I have made a list of cheap, unreliable signals that my friends and I have observed in Davis. Next time you catch someone saying or doing these things, you’ll calibrate your perception of them appropriately.
Once it is common knowledge that a signal is cheap and unreliable, the signal reaches expiration i.e. it becomes ineffective. Hopefully, publicizing this list will bring these signals closer to their expiration date.
This first signal is on the verge of expiration: making people know that you only like bands that nobody knows about. This signal is supposed to indicate your individuality; your taste in music isn’t influenced by group-think. Fortunately, most people are skeptical of those who make an extra effort to show-off their unique taste in music.
Telling people you don’t watch reality shows and, instead, only watch the Discovery Channel. This one is suppose to signal that one is intelligent or sophisticated. The Discovery Channel does not require much intelligence to enjoy and plenty of smart people like reality shows.
Saying, “Ah, I know, I am such a nerd.“ Usually girls say this after saying something atypically abstract or educational. This line is just a clever way for girls to covertly signal for intelligence. And as a rule of thumb: Real nerds never say this.
Blasting Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, Spice Girls or Britney Spears when people are around. This sounds like a good status signal because occasionally doing something un-cool is cool. However, people who do this aren’t courageous individuals who can determine what is cool again; they just saw some other people do it and successfully solicit the desired response.
Telling people you haven’t eaten or barely ate all day. This signal is supposed to imply that you’re such a hard-working person that you haven’t had the time to even eat. In most cases, people who don’t eat all day were just too lazy to get food.
LIOR GOTESMAN wants to know what cheap, unreliable status signals you’re sick of hearing/seeing. Tell him at firstname.lastname@example.org