The secret to the ‘sex sells’ approach to consumerism

Most of us have heard of the phrase “sex sells,” but what is not so well-known is the inner secret behind this term. When properly understood and meditated upon, the concept behind these two words clarify the deepest quandaries related to any decision we make in life.

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It is no coincidence that both the annual CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and the first annual Geek Awards Israel recently finished. According to the Book of Formation, the sense that corresponds to the month of Shevat is taste or eating the fruits or products of our efforts.

But how do we know which branch or cluster is appropriate for us? With so many thousands of choices, how do we decide which one to select?

In the story and video that follows, you will learn about Howard Moscowitz and his data cluster conundrum. Once you read through to the end, then I encourage you to apply these concepts to your own lives, for every decision derives from it.

Once upon a time…

A few years back I watched a TED video from Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce. Since close to three million people viewed it, there’s a good chance that some of you have done the same. But in case you haven’t (as this article refers back to that video), I encourage you to first find seventeen-and-a-half free minutes, and watch it before reading further.

Link to Video on TED

If you are still reading, then you have been introduced to the ‘hero’ of the speech, Howard Moskowitz and the taste-testing data cluster conundrum. Before Howard, there was one universally-accepted spaghetti sauce. It was thin, and it sunk quickly to the bottom of the bowl. Then Howard came along, and as the result of his taste-testing caravan trips across the country, he revolutionized the food industry by encouraging Prego to introduce three varieties (plain, spicy, and chunky) instead of the original one.

It is also interesting to note that chunky was the least obvious of the three (in interviews held before the taste-tasting, the participants didn’t mention chunky). But one-third of the market was indeed attracted to this variety.

Conceptualizing the Topic

In the sentences that follow, we’re going to begin conceptualizing this topic within the landscape of Torah. If you read carefully till the end, and integrate these few short paragraphs, you will learn how to develop the products that people want (even if the public doesn’t yet know that they want it). But before you proceed, let me preface with these words of caution: keep your product symbolic. As I wrote in “Peace is not a Product, and another story…,” your product doesn’t contain the concepts of “love, mercy and compassion,” or any other universal ideal. Products should be seen as only as symbolic references or placeholders for the concepts that we hold dear. If you stay honest, the public will keep coming back out of respect for the idea you are presenting. An idea that is beyond anything you or I can accomplish from our own efforts.

Data Clusters

The inner reason why Howard discovered data clusters was as a result of the concepts that these taste preferences hover around. Once the palate detects a food as closer to spicy than sweet, then the taster’s preference immediately transitions to the other extreme. To say it another way: the reason that there is no bell curve is because the psyche of the taste tester is travelling from concept to concept. As we will explain related to the three primary types of spaghetti sauce mentioned in Gladwell’s talk, each data cluster corresponds to a sefirah on the Tree of Life model of the sefirot.

So definitive is this approach that it can be implemented without the need for taste tests, study groups, and lengthy product developments negotiations.

Kabbalah of Choice

In the terminology of Kabbalah, the taste of something relates to the sefirah of knowledge (דַעַת), as it states “teach me good taste and knowledge.”

In the Torah, knowledge is used to refer euphemistically to marital relations as in the verse, “And Adam knew his wife Eve.” Chassidut explains that knowledge is both the sefirah which makes contact with outer reality, and that which serves as the bridge between the intellect and six emotions of the heart (“the key that opens the six doors to the six chambers of the heart”). While the Adam and Eve instance of the word knowledge pertains to marital relations, the sefirah of knowledge also relates generally to the decision making process.

The Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edels) analyzes the motivators for choosing a wife brought in the Talmud. There it says that either a man chooses a wife because of beauty, lineage, or the reward for marrying someone than other may not (Ein Yaakov also brings “wealth” as a fourth category). The Maharsha suggests that we focus on the aspirations that lie at the core of each in order to generalize into three factors–good/virtue (lineage), pleasure (beauty), or profit (either the reward for marrying those which others don’t or the wealthy).

Still within the sefirah of knowledge, these three factors of the Maharsha repeat themselves through the full array of the sefirot, beginning with the three levels of the superconscious “crown” (כֶּתֶר). Since Gladwell’s talk relates primarily to the three emotive sefirot of “loving-kindness” (חֶסֶד), “might” (גְבוּרָה), and “beauty” (תִּפְאֶרֶת), we’re also going to do the same. But understand that a full treatment about decision making and product choice analysis, should include the full array of ten sefirot related to consciousness, called the “conceptual structure” (פַּרְצוּף) of “consciousness” (דַעַת).

Original Spaghetti Sauce

Gladwell’s talk begins with a story about lineage. There was one type of spaghetti sauce that for generations was thin and runny. Then Howard came along and expanded our pasta-eating horizons. The imagery at this level is that the sauce was viscous or water like. It has a low adherence, as it is called, and immediately fell to the bottom of the bowl. This characteristic relates to the sefirah of loving-kindness (חֶסֶד), located on the right axis on the Tree of Life model of the sefirot; as the basic physical symbol of loving-kindness is water (as it says the nature of water is to go from a high place to a low place, i.e., to the “bottom of the bowl”).

Spicy Spaghetti Sauce

It is stated in Chassidic writings that there are those whose purpose on earth is to reveal God’s enduring presence within creation through the beauty with which they are graced. In spite of God’s apparent concealment, and the bitter state of our own existence, we are beckoned by such beautiful souls to acknowledge the transcendent splendor that inspires creation.

While the world is constructed with loving-kindness, it came after God’s initial intention to create the world with might. In food, this interplay relates to the two extremes or sweet and spicy or bitter. Whereas sweet relates to the revealed manifestation of loving-kindness or good, spice corresponds to a constricted state where the sweet is concealed. But within this spicy taste, is a higher level of concealed sweetness waiting to be revealed.

Similar to the beautiful soul that reminds us of the beauty of creation, spicy spaghetti sauce, and spicy food in general, also remind us of this concept.

In common vernacular, adjectives like spicy, hot, etc… relate both to beauty and food. But it’s important to realize where these concepts come from, and approach them in an appropriate way (especially as one’s own wife is the most perfect expression of all three qualities).

Chunky Spaghetti Sauce

The women who others are hesitant to marry says: “Take your acquisition for the sake of heaven so that you may adorn us with gold.” The Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman) analyzes this statement from the Talmud and suggests that the purpose of adorning a woman (this type in particular) is to bring out her natural grace: “For grace is elicited through externals.” Those externals—specifically, adornments—serve to amplify the intrinsic brilliance of the unattractive woman’s soul, obscured by the impoverishing darkness of the contraction of God’s Infinite Light.

This third quality relates to the chunky spaghetti sauce that no one thought they wanted at first. But after they were presented with the “adornments” (in this case, the visible solids), one-third of the taste testers were awakened to exhibit “compassion/mercy” (רַחֲמִים)—the inner experience of the sefirah of beauty—for this third variety.

The sefirah of beauty is located along the central axis of the Tree of Life model of the sefirot, and in the body, it corresponds to the heart (the other two correspond to the right and left arm respectively). It is then fitting that chunky spaghetti sauce should also be called the most “hearty” of the varieties.

The third category also relates to the wealthy woman (the category mentioned in Ein Yaakov). In addition to being hearty, chunky spaghetti sauce is also termed “rich.”

Probably the implicit connotation when Gladwell spoke about “chunky” spaghetti sauce is that it at first appears unattractive, like something that no one would want. But after thorough research, it was discovered that a third of consumers really prefer the chunky variety. But as we have related this level to the sefirah of beauty, even those men that happen to marry thin women, know that throughout the years of pregnancy and child rearing, the beauty of one’s wife remains pristine no matter what her physical size happens to be that month.

Kabbalah Product Research

From these considerations alone, setting aside our knowledge of Howard’s discoveries for a minute, how many variations of spaghetti sauce would we expect to get? To say it another way, how many data clusters, which we now know to correspond to the sefirot, would be expect to find?

We explained above that the sefirah of knowledge relates to taste, and this it also is the “key” that opens up the six chambers or emotions of the heart. That being said, still speaking in the emotive realm (there are also superconscious or purely intellectual reasons why we choose one sauce over another), this would give us either six or 36 varieties; either the six emotive sefirot, or the inter-inclusion or square of these six.

Now returning back to the lecture, this is exactly what the outcome of thousands of taste tests came to be! Gladwell concludes by informing us that there are now six kinds of Ragus in 36 varieties.

With this in mind, we can also redefine the expression “sex sells” into “six sells.” The psychological drive for self-fulfillment (which is both the beginning and end of all our decision making) relates to the sixth emotive sefirah of foundation. In the body, foundation corresponds to the organ of procreation, the brit milah. According to Kabbalah, when consumers begin looking for which product to purchase, they are seeking to actualize the latent potential within themselves. Instead of immodest advertising—which should be avoided under all circumstances—advertisers would do best to train themselves in the correct approach. An approach we called “six sells.”

The sages teach that there are at least 36 hidden tzadikim (righteous people) in every generation. As there are a total of 36 varieties, we can say that each of us would secretly like to manifest one of these 36. Aside from the interinclusion of the six emotive sefirot mentioned above, the inner reason why 36 was a complete number of flavors was because it represents our ability to actualize our potentials, as expressed in the fullest sense in the persona of a tzadik.

What we have just now explained is adapted from portions of the book “Consciousness & Choice: Finding Your Soulmate” by Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh. The take home lesson is that if you want to create a line of varieties to your product, or come out with a variety that is not being serviced, there is no need to hire a food researcher or psychophysicist. Once you begin to think in conceptual terms, grounded in the wisdom of God and His Torah, then the whole schematic will become clear before your eyes.

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About the Author
Yonatan Gordon is a student of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and co-founder of
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