Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Should strategic planners try to make people feel like shit?

Should we as planners try to make people feel bad about themselves and get low self esteem to sell more things?

It´s a controversial question, I know, but one that we need to reflect on and face the reality of. As marketers we are not saving the world; we are not out to do good or aimed to make people happy. We are not God, and even if you can be drawn to the job because you love to listen to stories or decipher the mystery of man, strategic planning is about increasing bottom lines through those stories and the insights that we get from them.

Our job is to sell. To figure out what triggers the mind of the target audience to bring out their credit card and buy. To understand how to manipulate. To influence and inspire – to purchase. In my side business as a coach I listen in order to enrich those people´s lives, but as a strategist I simply need to understand what the key to their wallet is...

In an interesting study Deborah Roedder John at the University of Minnesota asked 250 kids ages 8 to 18 the question “What makes me happy?” and let them choose among different words.

When she looked at the results, she found that the children with higher self-esteem chose words that represented nonmaterial activities and achievements, like getting good grades or skateboarding with friends, whereas children with lower levels of self-esteem chose possessions, like new clothes or an iPod.

This would mean for us who work in marketing, selling material things, that we should lower the level of self esteem in people to get them to run to our shops. We should make people feel as if they are not worthy the love of others, unless they own the razor, the pair of jeans or the kitchen knives we market.

Of course this is what advertisers do when they show pictures of skinny, beautiful people with huge smiles on their faces. They tell us those people are happier than we are, and unless we buy the new wrinkle serum or beer we will be the miserable lonely unloved people we sometimes feel we are... They say celebrities like Kim Kardashian are Perfect and we are not!

Of course we are playing with people´s deepest emotions, fears, dreams, insecurities and drivers. Successful marketing bypass thethinking brain and finds its way into the emotional limbic system that is in charge of our decision making. Ads that change behaviours will manipulate and use psychological insights to persuade. Not to help. Rather to increase the pain.

Dirty business, huh... The similarities between me and Gordon Gekko in Wall street are sometimes too many for me to feel proud of myself. I make people even less connected to the deep knowledge of being perfect as you are; I feed the materialistic, shallow culture we live in.

But... At the same time I am a big believer in that truly effective marketing actually goes a step further than to trick people. If you want loyalty, you better be Good.

Let´s compare with the world of romance. When pick-up artist á la the book “The Game” gets a phone number by making girls feel bad about themselves (and therefore grateful for His attention), they only get a date or two. Never true, pure love. When you on the other hand find a soul mate connection and respect each other, it can lead to a healthy, long term relationship.

Strategic planners can stop at level 1 and find a few ways into people, but if you really want to increase the bottom line for the brand (and the agency) year after year and not just this quarter, you better continue the search into the target audience´s deepest, to find a way to truly make the brand meaningful to them.

Perhaps we can both increase sales and make people happy? I believe we can. We just need to be curious, empathetic and humble. Search for the deep rooted needs within people. By creating another ad decreasing confidence levels in teenage girls, we are taking a shortcut, but we never really stick. By on the other hand serving them something that will improve their lives, we will be loved.

Perhaps I´m naive. What do you think? I believe I can make a difference that both brands and consumers will benefit from by at least thinking about all this. Let´s higher our standards. Let´s match-make brands and people in order for them to marry, not just have a naughty fling.

The study was presented in Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom. 

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