OPINION

$100 Oil and Zerophobia

What a difference a single dollar makes — a very big difference indeed. As a matter of fact, the difference can be almost like a mind-altering shock wave, a global hysteria, a cry of the consumer to be heard around every corner of the globe, in addition to being “breaking news” to feed the glitzy TV-media machine.

The current oil prices have been coasting within a few dollars of the US$100 mark for a little while; it is only a matter of time before that anticipated $1 addition becomes the reality.

What does this mean? The global population has parked its emotional weight and awaits that magic number and the rise of that single dollar hitting its anticipated target, like any final goal of the World Cup, the real global shock wave begins.

Consumers all over the world have always found comfort in things that are often priced at the 99 cent range, regardless of whether it’s a small item at $9.99 or $99,000 for a big-ticket item. No wonder it’s so common to see luxury penthouses are priced to sell at $19 million and mega planes being sold for $99 million.

The Zero Barrier

The change from a nine to a zero seems to be where the secret lies. The fear of zeros has many a sociologist and psychologist puzzled for a long time. Studies have shown that people will take a slightly lesser product for $99 than an identical product with more features for $100. Perhaps the 1 percent of the additional cost isn’t the issue, but rather the switch of the number from nine to a zero is the real psychological fear factor.

The mind simply freezes as it approaches that perceived threshold — it simply feels uncomfortable and rejects the notion. All over the world the consumer is happy, day after day, filling shopping bags with items priced at 99 cents or pence or whatever, thinking they’re getting a bargain. Is this what happened when we made the transition from 1999 into 2000? Wasn’t the overblown hysteria over Y2K nothing but a manifestation of this global zerophobia?

All over the globe and particularly for the media-enlightened West, the $100 a barrel price is not only a much bigger fear, but also offers itself as a great punching bag. The West routinely bundles most of its economic and other problems and dumps them on the Middle East. A common reaction at the overly crowded gas stations is to simply place the blame on the Middle East.

Leveraging Fear

Most people haven’t got a clue as to the process or producing oil and shipping it to refineries, where marketing and distribution machines take over and establish local consumer prices. The marketing machines of the big oil companies in the West play on this fear factor well. Big campaigns already have been arranged to tackle the $100 issue.

Throughout the upward swing, in anticipation of breaking the $100 price barrier, information is being released in a highly orchestrated way to ensure the steady justification of higher prices. The slightest notion of disruption in the Middle East is immediately linked to oil flow, alerts go out at bullet speed, retail prices are adjusted and hit the consumer hard, right in the pocketbook.

Among other problems and fears lurks the zerophobia monster, resulting in subliminal attacks on the human psyche, while the poor consumers continue to curse in frustration, only to drive away on their never-ending roads to nowhere.

The stories of endless and upward spirals have been planted for quite a while to soften the fears of consumers by conditioning them to expect $100 as a new standard. After the $100 hoopla, consumers will continue to pay, obediently and without question, until the price starts approaching the $110 threshold where another zero makes itself visible. What can we do about this?

Get Rid of Zero?

We couldn’t possibly eliminate zeros; after all, the number was originally invented by the same oil-producing Arabs.

Corporate communication, branding and global image positioning are huge challenges for countries wishing to lead and project fairness. The price of oil may go up or down, but the globe’s negative perception of OPEC and various other oil producers created by mega oil companies is where the real battle lines are being drawn.

Talk about fear, what will happen when it hits $200? Ouch.


Naseem Javed is recognized as a world authority on Corporate Image and Global Cyber-Branding. Author of Naming for Power, he introduced The Laws of Corporate Naming in the 1980s and also foundedABC Namebank, a consultancy established in New York and Toronto a quarter century ago. Currently, he is on a lecture tour in Asia and can be reached atnj@njabc.com.


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