To misquote Polonius, “Neither a sucker nor a charlatan be.” People spend a lot of their lives deluding themselves, often spending vast amounts of money in the process. Don’t do that.
There’s good money catering to suckers. Being a charlatan pays. You help them along with their happy delusion, and they’ll love you for it. Don’t do that, either. It’s dumb to sucker yourself, but it’s loathsome to sucker other people.
When I started out at the farmer’s market, I didn’t fully understand this. Customers wanted to project their suckerdom onto me. Okay, fine, it’s a free country, but the bad thing is that I really felt the pull of their expectations. I wanted to nod my head when they talked about organic certification when, in fact, I think that the organic movement is a hollow shell (besides, I don’t join things that want me to fill out more than two sheets of paper per lifetime.) I wanted to agree with them when they said that raising eggs the way I do is VERY IMPORTANT. Come on, let’s get real. Much as I like the whole process, free-range eggs do not peg the Important-O-Meter.
I even felt that I was letting the team down by openly drinking diet sodas.
Well, this spasm didn’t last very long. I’m used to being an authentic eccentric, and I reverted to form pretty quickly. I don’t even bother concealing the McDonald’s bag if that’s what I’m having for breakfast.
Which has worked out pretty well. The fact is, a couple of color photographs with chickens, green grass, blue sky, and fluffy clouds are better than political correctness anyway. (Especially if there are also little kids in overalls.) Consumers know that they’re constantly being suckered, so it can come as a relief to them when you show ’em a little reality. It doesn’t work on all of them — look at all the suckers who are buying bottled tap water because they don’t trust tap water — but reality-based marketing has enough appeal that you don’t have to be a con man if you don’t want to.
Of course, the product has to be good, too. Real free-range eggs off a green pasture look good (with dark yolks) and taste good. People who start off thinking that my farm is just a scammy way of getting five bucks a dozen get converted after trying them.
This is where the organic biz has fallen down on the job. If you grow the same old crops but leave out the chemicals, you get the same old produce. It doesn’t look or taste any better, but it costs a lot more. How much fear of chemicals must a consumer muster to buy produce that isn’t worth a second glance otherwise?
The local organic growers are starting to distance themselves from the organic movement because all the supermarkets are full of boring organic produce from out of state. So they grow better-tasting and more interesting varieties, leveraging the fact that they are extremely skilled farmers who care a lot about food. One local farm has opened a restaurant! They aren’t afraid of low-grade organic produce from Mexico. Sure, the same people who buy bottled tap water will buy low-grade organic produce, but these folks aren’t paying enough attention to be captured by a high-class vendor anyway.
So my advice, as both a consumer and a producer, is to see trends as a warning sign and be extra careful. If you find yourself repeating what people expect you to say, you’re doing it wrong. And if you shell out big bucks to buy what other people are buying, you’re really doing it wrong!