The two states of consumer awareness: Shopping for Vegetables and Being a Vegetable.

potatoOpen on Scene I: (In front of Hilton at SXSW Austin)

I’m on the sidewalk, minding my own business, inside my bubble.

My taxi pulls up and just as I’m about to hop in, I’m attacked.

Some Jesus-y type of person is in my face telling me how his god is better than my god and how my ass is gonna fry to a crisp on Beelzebub’s Griddle unless I take his stinkin’ brochure.

He doesn’t ask for my permission. He doesn’t know if I’m open to his message. He just thrusts a brochure in my face. I go into Matrix-bullet-time, dodge his sales pitch, leap into my taxi, and I’m gone.


Cut to scene II: (interior of house, living room).

This time, I’m at home. I’m watchin’ TV. In fact, to make it apples-to-apples, let’s say I’m watching “Taxi,” not waiting for one.

Suddenly the movie stops and another schmuck is in my face. Only now it’s some yuppie at his breakfast table telling me his coffee is better than my coffee. What am I? Flypaper for freaks?

Don’t these guys get it? Whether I’m watching “Taxi” or getting into one, I ain’t shoppin’.

Does lying on my couch in my underwear, eating stale Cheetos, does it look like I’m shopping? I’m not kicking tires, comparing prices, or squeezin’ melons; I’m relaxing.  I’m a vegetable.

Vegetables are not interested in sales pitches. Vegetables like escape. They like stories, adventure, drama, but definitely not pitches.

Tomorrow, however, is a different story. Tomorrow, I actually am gonna be buying something — a new Toyota. And before I buy it, I’ll want all the facts. I’ll welcome the brochures. I’ll listen to the sales pitch. I may even watch the in-store video. But that’s tomorrow.


I propose that at any given time, every customer is in one of these two modes: “Shopping for Vegetables,” or “Being a Vegetable.”

These two modes go by other names: passive and active. emotional and rational, intuitive and analytical. And if you agree there are times when you’re actively shopping and times you’re not, it stands to reason two different kinds of sales method ought to be employed.

It seems to me that any sales pitch that intrudes on someone Being a Vegetable ought to go easy on the detail and maybe just tell a cool story.

The Vegetable is not shopping, he’s watchin’ “Taxi.” He doesn’t have a notepad and pencil and  won’t be taking notes on whether a car has a V-6 engine or ABS brakes. In fact, even if his current car is on fire out in the driveway, now’s not the time to read him a brochure.

But the next morning? When the Fritos are gone and the TV is cold to the touch,  our vegetable will be in a different frame of mind. Now he’s ready to kick a tire. He’s Shopping for Vegetables. This is where the rational brain kicks in, gathering facts to support what began as an emotional decision; prices are compared, trunks looked in, brochures gathered.

Given all this, it would seem to me that traditional ad people ought to throw themselves in a quivering, grateful heap around the ankles of the internet and say thank you.

Thank you for helping take the load of information that until now every client wanted jammed into every ad, every TV spot, and if it didn’t fit, get a shoe horn and some Crisco because, by God, we’re gonna get it all in there.


  1. Spot on. (See what I did there?) Anyway… finally a simple and compelling rebuttal to all the Rosser Reeves out there. Well done, Luke.

  2. Hi Luke,

    I didn’t know where else on this website I should leave the following (probably because of what I’m about to write), here goes it anyway:

    Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk; edit sober.”

    Do you take this literally or metaphorically? I’m looking for an excuse to drink more (like I need one), so my opinion is biased, but when do you find your writing is at its best?


    • Ernest Hemingway blew his brains out with a shotgun because he was fucked up. I probably wouldn’t take any advice from him,
      even writing advice. Can’t tell if you are joking. Are you really looking for an excuse to drink more? If so, well, you may want
      to take a break and consider what that implies. As for me, I always wrote my best after a good night of sleep, usually around
      10 in the morning.

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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.