Getting Played

Jim Wasserman

“IS CBS PIPING fake birds into its Masters coverage?” That was the headline on a recent Slate article, which speculated that the television network might be adding “enhanced audio” of fake bird chirping to its coverage of the golf tournament.

This is not a scandal for the ages. But it serves as a timely reminder that we have fantasized notions of life that marketers and the media don’t hesitate to exploit.

Make no mistake: The PGA, with the help of CBS, is selling golf. They’re playing to our fantasy of a perfect day enjoying both golf and nature. Such multi-sensory appeals aren’t limited to broadcasters. Many sellers of big-ticket items know we come to the potential deal with an idealized image and, by playing to that, they can get us to lower our guard.

A good example is home buying. Many people want spacious homes, so camera tricks are used in real estate listings to play to that ideal and get us in the door. Once inside, realtors then go to work on our other fantasies, filling a house with the smell of fresh-baked cookies that further enhances the home’s appeal, even for people who know they will never cook.

No one is immune to these Trojan horses. One of the savviest lawyers I know only went to look at potential homes on bright, sunny days—which is what most of us do. She bought her “dream house,” but then discovered the gentle slope of the meticulously manicured yard caused a river to breach her front door with every hard rain.

Similarly, smart home buyers don’t just check out a potential residence on fun and free weekends. Instead, they go at least once early on a weekday to test the traffic for their morning commute.

You can’t blame sellers for playing to our fantasies. It’s up to us to make sure those idyllic images and their powers of persuasion don’t block out the realities of a major purchase or life change. Since my wife and I retired and moved to Spain, we often get inquiries about how great it must be, lounging about in an exotic land, eating paella and drinking wine under a Mediterranean sun.

Yes, we get our share of that. But there are, of course, downsides, including being far from family and dealing with a bureaucratic system seemingly unchanged since it financed Columbus’s voyage into the unknown. We also suffer the frustration of not speaking fluent Spanish, which leads to miscommunication.

Unfortunately, among the foreigners here, we’ve seen people who chase some fantasy life—and then spend extra money to try to make it the way they imagined, like building an American-style home in a place not made for it. Result: They sometimes give up on their Spanish dream, after much wasted money and time.

Jim Wasserman is a former business litigation attorney who taught economics and humanities for 20 years. His previous articles include The S WordApplying Pressure and Five Mistakes. Jim’s book series on teaching behavioral economics and media literacy,  Media, Marketing, and Me, is being published in 2019. Jim lives in Granada, Spain, with his wife and fellow HumbleDollar contributor, Jiab. Together, they write a blog on retirement, finance and living abroad at

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