Shadows of Marketing: Are You Paying Attention?

coat-desk-chairWhen I was attending architecture school at Cal, I took a class called Environmental Design 11A: Intro To Drawing. It was four hours of class on Monday and Wednesday, and a meetup for an hour on Friday as well. The crazy part was that this didn’t include the time that was needed to complete our weekly projects. In total, I was averaging about 35 -40 hours a week just for this one class out of my entire schedule. Ah, the life of an architecture student.

During the semester, we were taught that one technique to make our drawings look more realistic is to not focus on the object that you’re drawing, but to focus on the shadows on and around the object instead. Why? Because shadows are everywhere—we just don’t realize it.

If you take a quick glance around the environment you’re in right now— whether you’re inside a home or office, or outside in a cafe—you’ll begin to notice that shadows are everywhere. Even in and around the keys of your keyboard lies a very precise pattern of shadows.

If you try to draw something, it will not look realistic without shadows.

After I learned this lesson, I began to look at the world in a different way. I noticed shadows everywhere, and I became a better artist as a result. Some of my non-architecture friends thought I was weird, because I would point out certain shadows that looked really fancy or interesting to me. Ah, the life of an architecture student.

Shadows of Marketing

Ever since I started doing business and marketing online, I’ve begun to look at the world in a totally new, different way. Much like how I started to notice shadows to help improve my artwork, I notice marketing techniques and strategies all around me, everywhere I go. It has opened my eyes to numerous ways to reach people that I have or would like to incorporate into my online repertoire.

The shadows of marketing are everywhere, you just have to notice them.

Take a quick glance around the environment you’re in once again, and notice how many forms of marketing are around you already. The labels on your electronics, the t-shirts that people wear, and every single commercial on television, just to name a few things.

Trillions of dollars are spent each year on marketing by companies who are fighting for our attention. Notice what does catch your attention, and figure out why it worked on you. Is there a way you can incorporate the same kind of strategy or thinking process into your own work? It costs these companies trillions of dollars to put it out there, but it’s free for you to consume and learn from.

There are way too many examples that I can show you, but here are a few of my favorites:

Costco Samples

3814180603_848e8d8ab3Costco is awesome. Not only do I like to go there to get my annual supply of peanut butter and a 12 pack of croissants, but I like to go around the store and try all of the free samples too. Have you ever given any thought to why they give away free samples? Yes, it’s because they want you to try certain foods and purchase that product, but its far more calculated than that.

For one, there is human interaction involved. You go up to grab a piece of hotdog with a toothpick stabbed in it it, and you’ll get back a nice smile, and a small 5-10 second mini-presentation that describes the piece of food. Sometimes, you feel kinda bad just taking and leaving, so you listen for a little bit. A plate with food and no human interaction wouldn’t do any good.

Secondly, there’s social proof. You see large huddles of people standing around a small cart with a microwave on it, and you want to know exactly what everyone is excited about. It triggers a kind of “I want that” emotion inside of us, and sometimes that thought transfers from the sample, to the actual bulk product itself.

Lastly, it’s another awesome reason to come back and shop. Anyone who I’ve ever talked to about Costco always mentions the free samples, and not without a little bit of excitement or a smile. Have you ever seen anyone frown because they get something free, especially if its a small piece of something delicious?


I’m proud to admit that I love to watch infomercials. I’m sort of a night owl, so I get to see a lot of informercials in the late hours of the night. I don’t buy the products – I study the sales pitches. The next time you stumble upon an infomercial, spend a few minutes to watch it from a marketing perspective.

First, think about what channel you’re on. That’s called target marketing. It’s not a coincidence that half of the commercials during the Price is Right are for some kind of mobility scooter or denture cream.

Each infomercial is a carefully calculated sequence of events that has been researched and optimized to sell. People end up buying products they don’t even need, because these sales pitches are so good. You might not buy whatever it is they are trying to sell, but they know that someone out there who is watching the same channel as you definitely will.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself while watching an infomercial:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is their solution?
  • What are the benefits of their solution?
  • What kinds of things do their testimonials say?
  • What are the features of their solution?
  • What was the original price?
  • What is the actual price?
  • What are the bonuses or free gifts?
  • What is the scarcity factor?
  • And what kinds of images are shown in each of these stages?

Oh, and in case you were wondering how to create an online sales page for your next information product, you’re welcome. :)

At the Casino

As a person in the architecture field who worked on a few projects in Las Vegas, I knew that Casinos were places of marketing genius. In the way the floor plan is drawn, to the location of their slot machines – everything is carefully planned to get the most bang for their your buck. For example, did you know that some of the loosest slots are placed next to the buffet line? Why? Because everyone who is waiting an hour and a half to get their prime rib dinner can watch all of the winners nearby. I’ll bet you that 99% of the time, when people are finished with their buffet they are trying to get their money back on the slots.

Next, casinos aren’t built so you can find the exit easily. It’s sort of like an Ikea. The more lost you are, the more you get to take in, and the better chance there is that you’ll find something that peaks your interest (and your wallet).

Here in San Diego, there are more than half a dozen Indian Casinos that are within an hour of where I live. My parents and I like to go every once and a while, not really to gamble, but more to take advantage of the pretty awesome buffets they have to offer. I do gamble a little though.

3967692659_309c1674acIn each of these casinos, you’ll notice a Winner’s Wall, where previous jackpot winners are featured for everyone to see. Have you seen the types of people who are featured on that wall? No offense, but none of them are particularly beautiful people. They are just average. Why do you think that is? The reason is because it makes it seem like anyone could be a winner. If there were only beautiful people on that wall, it would discourage the average person from thinking that they could win a jackpot, and therefore spend less money. They aren’t consciously thinking that – it’s just subconsciously what happens.

How about the free drinks to anyone playing at the tables, or the really loud sounds from the slot machines, or the beautiful waiters and waitresses. The list goes on and on, you just have to notice these things.

Try It Out

As I said, I could go on and on about this. It’s come to a point where I notice things that work, and notice things that don’t work either. Sometimes, I just want to call the marketing department of a company and say “What are you thinking?!”, but I’m not going to do that. I’d rather use my knowledge that I learn from the outside world on my own blogs and businesses, and I invite you to do the same.

The next time you turn on the television and see a commercial, or go to the mall to shop for something, consciously think about how companies are trying to get your attention. What is the company, who employs the person that says “hello” to you in a retail store, really trying to do?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it), and I wish you and all of your families a safe, happy and relaxing week.



p.s. The artwork at the top is from a mid-term in my ED11A class. We were to draw something in pencil that incorporated a coat, a desk, and a chair. I chose to represent the desk and chair as a piano and piano bench, and I also threw in my trumpet, which was my passion at the time.

Images used under Creative Commons from Webolutions and Spider.Dog

  • Learn Creative Visualization

    The slots next to the buffet are loose, there are two cashiers, to make sure that anyone crosses the maximum amount of tables before cashing out, no windows, the list is large. As an architect you could share more insights, it is interesting. Great Post.

  • Adrian

    Wonderful insight my friend!! Gonna remember it 😉 Thanx

    BTW, check out book Free by Chris Anderson, has lots of info on how to market with free and the differences of “free” from 20th century and 21st century. Since you are interested in this stuff, I think the book will be great read too 😉


  • lucnypes

    This is definitely going to become the blog post of the day

    Actually, I like malls where I can get lost in the abundance of goods, especially candies and chocolates.

    What about writing a post about the Art of Annoyance? I used to dislike annoying, not-sophisticated advertising, but now I enjoy the volumes of energy put into them to provoke people to maybe dislike, but definitely notice the brand…

  • Omar

    Awesome post Pat, defenitly opened my eyes a little more!


  • moon h

    I try to make observations whenever I can. Now to take action on these observations… hmm :)

  • Dustin | Engaged Marriage

    Excellent observations…but an even better sketch! I’m an engineer, so the artistic talents have eluded me. But I do appreciate some cool handy work.

    I think an entire book could be written on the marketing ideas inside of a casino. A favorite factoid of mine is that they pump fresh oxygen into the playing areas to keep your mind alert and less drowsy late into the night. Free soda and coffee help with this as well. And of course, you’ll never see a dark window or clock in the place!

  • Shane

    Great post, Pat! Really excellent mash-up of architecture and marketing info! :)

    I noticed this effect, too, by the way. After I got into online marketing, suddenly, I saw and could name things that I didn’t notice before. “Oh look, that’s an upsell. And there’s an ad implying scarcity and time-constraints.” Stuff like that.

    And after reading your first paragraph, I was amazed at how differently I can see things by focusing on the shadows. Very cool.

  • MoneyGrubber

    Interesting observations Pat!

    Since starting my blog, I’ve also started to pay more attention to the marketing strategies all around us. I especially enjoy finding effective viral marketing ads.

    This is one that I actually recently saw in Hollywood:

    The hard part now is figuring out how to adapt this to an online business…

  • Ms. Freeman

    My favorite marketing vice is the Shopping Networks. I used to be able to flip right passed them because everything was sooo over priced.

    Well the stuff is still way over priced, but now those geniuses have come up with ‘Flex Pay’ options. So now there really isn’t any reason for anyone that is up late watching those channels not to impulse buy. It only cost a fraction of the total per month.

    Ugh I am definitely a sucker for good marketing.

    P.S. I am such a fan of the free samples at Costco, I can pretty much eat enough of them to make a lunch by the time I’m done shopping.

  • Tammy Gray

    Great Post Pat and the sketch is really good. Ive found drawing to be a good way for me to relax, hmm, needless to say i have been drawing anything of late.

    We have a Costco here in Australia, an american friend of mine was telling me all about it and she is going to pick me up to go take a look in a couple of weeks. I think I could be happy not finding exits in that kind of place, lol.

    Im starting to notice more and more how advertising works out in the real world as well, particularly at this time of year, flexi pay for one and if you flexi pay over a certain amount you get a free something.

    Im also sharing alot of what im learning from you with others who are having some issues with marketing. Before I would have just smiled and nodded my head, now I pass on what Ive been learning from you everyone is blown away that I even know anything like this, hehehe, its good to be able to help others freely!!

  • Azad Shaikh

    Nice post long one. Your views about shadows are really amazing and there relation to marketing are just awesome. One of the best post, no doubt about it. Best of luck for other best post in future.

    Azad Shaikh

  • Diggy –

    Hey Pat!
    Totally cool post! I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to shadows and marketing around me, haha, you inspired that!

    Architecture is tough. I had a girlfriend once who was studying archi and they made her work like a dog, projects, models, drawings, sketches. I like design, but not so much that I would contemplate studying architecture :)

    Have a great day Sir!

  • Pat

    Thanks everyone for your comments about this post (and my artwork too!). I had a lot of fun writing it. I just wanted to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving! Be safe, and don’t go too crazy on Black Friday…

  • Marty Green

    Great Post Pat, I’m a huge fan of Costco as well. Also, this is really great stuff you talked about…

    What is the problem?
    What is their solution?
    What are the benefits of their solution?
    What kinds of things do their testimonials say?
    What are the features of their solution?
    What was the original price?
    What is the actual price?
    What are the bonuses or free gifts?
    What is the scarcity factor?
    And what kinds of images are shown in each of these stages?

    I’m going to really focus on this when I do a product launch.

    Thanks again!

  • Brandon

    Great article and I agree totally. Some of the best ideas you will find are in other industries. It’s like being in the Matrix. You need to step back and look at the world in a different way and be open to the great ideas all around you. I keep a small notepad in my back pocket that I call SnapshotNotes (the only benefit I got from working in fortune 300 co;) I write down these things so I don’t forget them.
    There is no spoon.

    Thanks for the great content! Will Tweet ya out

  • Sarah H.

    Great post and excellent sketch drawing!!

  • Deborah Richmond

    I’ve had those moments where I notice something not working and want to ask, “What were you thinking?” Some ads I’ve seen or taglines are so bad that I can’t believe a company paid good money for it. It does make me stop and think about what works and what does not.

  • Jason

    Very nice artwork… I used to do some sketching back in college myself but haven’t picked up a pencil in quite a while.

    My most recent art venture was the new blog design and photoshop work done to create it. I love my new blog and can’t wait to get some readers.

    Marketing a blog is really new to me and your story is very motivating and keeps me going.

    Thanks Pat,

  • Fanny

    Thanks for the post. It opened my eyes to how much we are bombarded by marketing and how much I can learn just by paying attention. My biggest eye opener was when I studied TV broadcasting in college and I learned that commercials were the main part of television, not the shows. You can’t have shows without a sponsor.

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  • Chris

    Good Post Pat! I know when I started studying marketing I started noticing the types of “shadows of marketing” that you talk about in this post….especially, when I watch a TV show or a football game. It’s amazing how many subtle brand names or products there are everywhere.

  • Frederic Dillahunty

    I like this information and it has provided me some inspiration to have success, so thanks.

  • http://Website Tiaolt

    Thank you for that publish, i enjoyed reading through it. I don’t agree with it all but it was a great publish.

  • Ian Robinson

    Great post Pat. Look for shadows is great advice.

    I was hoping for some closure with the girls chatting and cold calling at the cafe. Maybe they finally got a sale, or maybe you said “hey ladies, write an eBook and send it to them for free!”

    :) All in all, thanks for the post.

    • Ian Robinson

      whoops, that was meant to be put on on your other post!

  • Dennis

    I can’t believe there are only 24 comments here

    What a great post, and thanks for the sales page blue print. It’s true about the shadows, this internet marketing world changes you. Is something I NEVER thought I would be interested in… Marketing

    My mom works in Marketing but I was never into that, who knew ah? :)

  • Andrea Hypno

    There is a lot of Psychology and Behavioural Studies involved in commercials and marketing and as you said Pat there is a lot to learn from them. Basically they aim at creating an emotion and linking it with a product so that next time you see the product you are reminded of the emotion and are “attracted” to buy. Or like when in retail store they always put water and sugar at the end of the store so you must walk all of it and fill your cart. Pretty interesting to see that many times human beings are so predictable right? :)

  • eClaire Sowden

    Thanks for a great post Pat.

    My drawing classes were a reality bending experience for me too. I found myself fascinated by the lines between two tonal areas, and how shadows added meaning, depth and impact to any object… not to mention boring my friends with observations about such. (:

    Love your infomercial break-down! Found myself thinking, Hey that’s the sales letter pitch… But more because I just love going on the ride of a well sold pitch. Man, I have bought *way* too much stuff I don’t need because I love a great sales pitch.

    I think this blog epitomises the blend of art and science that is marketing – can’t wait to catch up on the last few years of them. 😉

  • Jeremy Ruggles @ Internet Marketing Tips

    Hey Jorge,

    Even 3 years later, after all of the Google updates and changes to internet marketing, everything in this post still holds true. I’m glad I found this post even 3 years later.

    Thanks for the great marketing information, Jorge.

    Take care,


  • John Warren

    I’ve noticed that the more I got into sales in the last few years and internet marketing in the last year or so I’ve noticed more and more details (or “shadows”) like this. It really is interesting to think through all that is going on around us that most people don’t even notice.

    A comment on the Costco thing – I was recently in a Whole Foods for the first time and I noticed they actually had some stands offering free samples with no attendant to smile at you. It’s not nearly as effective as a marketing ploy (though it was still tasty).

    The one stand that actually did have an attendant was some kind of chip made from kelp with different flavors. I chose wrong lol. The one my wife sampled wasn’t bad, but mine made me gag. I handed the rest of it to my wife and she didn’t like it either. I quickly ran to the cereal aisle which had a free sample with no attendant and grabbed some to get the taste out of my mouth. So yeah, free samples can make you frown 😛

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