Shadows of Marketing: Are You Paying Attention?

Are you paying attention to the shadows of marketing? From Costco samples and infomercials to winner’s walls at casinos.

When 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.

Pencil drawing of a piano with a trumpet and coat on the piano bench

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

Photo of Costco Sample Table

Costco 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:

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.

In 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.

Wall of framed photos of winners

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

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  • Pat Flynn

    Hi, I’m Pat, founder of SPI and host of the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Let’s continue the conversation over in our communities.

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