Could a product from Lidl or Aldi change your life?
Seán Moncrieff: An encounter in the middle aisle has me wondering, should I do more chain-sawing?
A bit like with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, I struggle to tell the difference between Lidl and Aldi. Photograph: Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images
A bit like with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, I struggle to tell the difference between Lidl and Aldi. If you are a connoisseur of this kind of thing, you may well be outraged by my suggestion that they are largely the same. Online, there are heated debates about which one is superior, or who stole what idea from whom. All I’m describing is my experience, admittedly a relatively ignorant one.
I’m still talking about the shops by the way. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are the same.
These shops ambush me with possibility. I nip in to buy some milk-like drink or bleach, but soon find myself agonising over a chainsaw or a gizmo to remove the fluff from jumpers. Not that I need these items. Or didn’t think I did until I entered the shop. But now I’m wondering if I should do more chain-sawing, if there aren’t all sorts of practical or even creative uses I could put it to? No doubt my new career of wood sawing will play havoc with any jumpers that I want to keep fluff-free. Better get the gizmo as well.
And even though I have no idea what the average price of a chainsaw is, this certainly looks like a bargain. If I don’t buy now – and such products rarely remain long in Laldyland, as I call it – I may go on to live a life filled with regret.
Now, this could be due to one of the many massive character flaws unique to me, but I doubt it. That products regularly appear in Laldyland that I didn’t know I wanted, or didn’t know existed, indicates there is a ready market.
Of course, Lidl and Aldi aren’t the only ones doing it. For decades, JML in the UK has been hawking products with exotic names like the Veggetti 2.0, the Shoft and The Measure It!. Many of them are versions of products you may own already, but often with an otherworldly spin. The Measure It! is, unsurprisingly, a measuring tape. But it sticks to things.
Lure is so powerful
But what I can’t divine is how or why the lure created by these products is so powerful. Perhaps it’s historic. As a child, I was dragged around shops by my parents, where invariably there was some fast-talking man at a stand demonstrating how a set of knives could slice through diamonds or deftly shape a carrot into the shape of an otter. The abilities these devices seemed to promise were almost superhuman: it wasn’t so much about the device itself, but the pleasure of using it.
JML does have an extensive website, but visiting it is slightly disappointing, possibly because the JML experience is not about viewing static pictures but watching the Veggetti 2.0 in action: the man at the stand has been replaced by in-store videos and the near orgasmic pleasure the presenters seem to derive from God-like slicing and dicing.
But this is an old story. Materialism isn’t about the materials, but how we wish to view ourselves. No doubt there are anthropological or evolutionary explanations for this. No doubt, back in our hunter-gatherer past, our ancient ancestors would get a massive blast of oxytocin if they found an edible root or a delicious animal.
Today, we get that blast from shopping, but with a constellation of cultural messages layered on top. Especially if we “discover” something we hadn’t known about before, which can feel like the thing we’ve always been searching for. Products are more than ways of sating our hunger or covering our bodies: each one carries the promise of changing our lives, of making us less time-poor or thinner or better-looking. Happier.
The newly found product tempts you to dream. Not about the thing itself, but the new you, immeasurably improved by this addition. And then you can be as happy as that woman in the JML video. Imagine.