Selling Sensation

James Twitchell, the author of Shopping for God, about how churches compete by marketing, in an interview on WAMC, reminded me of one key point in sales.

What we sell, after all is said and done, is not product, but sensation.

Products we need we just buy. We don’t have to sell drinks. Rather, we have to sell why our drink makes you feel better than other drinks.

In his example, after a certain point, you don’t get any more quality in, say, a handbag. A $250 handbag doesn’t have to be much worse than a $500 handbag, and a $7500 Birkin bag, well, that premium isn’t because it’s so much higher quality.

That premium is because you can feel that you are more powerful and more sexy and more unique and more privileged because you have a bag that you know other women envy.

In his book, he talks about how mega-churches become mega because they deliver pleasurable sensations to men, who are much more resistant to the charms of community than women are. Good chairs, jumbotron screens, less guilt — all things that can make men feel good.

I suppose that even thoughtful ol’ me can’t debate that the heart of the trans experience is sensation. Without that inner drive in our bodies, that seeing of pleasure rather than discomfort, we wouldn’t go through the shit that we do.

I remember that asshole Blanchard from Toronto saying that MTF trannys say we express trans because we are more comfortable that way, then making a list of all the things he identifies as discomforts in the process — high heels, hose, girdles, padding, makeup, wigs — and using his identification to dismiss the comfort narrative and replace it with his constructed fetish narrative, androgynephila by name. The idea that women often feel more comfortable in the world when they see themselves as well dressed, even if that dressing requires some tension, well, that’s not something Blanchard could seem to understand.

Humans do things that give them pleasurable or comforting sensations. So they have to identify which sensation they want to have, and find a way to get that sensation. A fella on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition worked two jobs and lots more to support his challenged kids, so the sign For My Family became vital to him. He may have been suffering in body and mind, but the sense he was taking care of his children was enough to give him pleasure and encouragement in difficult times. The pleasure he got from being a father, caring for babies, well, that was a good sensation to him, and he knew that the sensation of abandoning and/or losing them would be pretty darn bad.

The luxury of a culture beyond basic need is the luxury of selling sensation. It is a cycle, the machine cutting humans off from basic sensations, like community and connectedness, then creating products that seek to create similar sensations, now man-made and at a price. We brand ourselves to become part of a tribe — The Yankees Gang or The Starbucks People or The Coca-Cola Village — or stretch ourselves to gain status, with a bag or a car or a watch.

By denying myself the quest for sensation, and trying to engage the sensations I actually have, even if those sensations are decay, pain or isolation, I am aware that I go against this world.  My wishes have been marked as sick, so I live in my mind and not in my wishes, and that makes me separate.

But as people shop for holiday gifts, I need to remember that what they are actually shopping for is sensation, and their words around those desires can easily be rationalization of a deeper craving.

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